“It Would Take 202 Years To Close The Gender Gap”: Human Development Report, 2019

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Every year, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) releases the Human Development Report (HDR). Focusing on the ‘beyond’ aspect of the development gap among the countries, 2019’s HDR, titled Beyond Income, Beyond Averages, Beyond Today: Inequalities In Human Development In The 21st Century, demystifies the arguments of inequality “framed around economics.”

It uncovers the patterns of economic distributions and opportunities and zooms in on the biases often left unaddressed during the data collection and analysis process that affects women the worst. It compels policymakers to make informed decisions by presenting convincing data that supports UNDP’s recommendations.

In The World ‘Designed For Men’

2019’s HDR is 366-pages long. Each page is full of information that will take a day each to digest its key findings and recommendations — a befitting timeline if you’d want to deep-dive into it this leap year. This was a joke, but that the world is designed for men is not.

Chapter 4, titled Gender Inequalities Beyond averages: Between Social Norms And Power Imbalances, of the report begins with this declaration: “[g]ender inequality is arguably one of the greatest barriers to human development.”

It also reminds us of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing Platform for Action 1995) that desired to achieve gender parity, but not much has been or achieved in this regard. Women, still, are discriminated against in almost all spheres of social and economic participation.

As I immersed myself in reading this chapter to frame my case for this article, I was shocked when I encountered this declaration: “Based on current trends, it would take 202 years to close the gender gap in economic opportunity.”

The ‘equal’ world that I dream of is no longer there on the horizon. I wonder what’re doing. No. I wonder, is what we do helping in any way to create a level-playing field for women? Is it enough? Reading this report, I think: No!

Figure 1. Gender Inequality Index: Regional Dashboard

Source: Human Development Report, 2019.

Why This Imbalance?

The report presents two trends, well supported by feminist experts, that reflects “intrinsic imbalances in power”:

  1. Gender inequalities are intense, widespread and behind the unequal distribution of human development progress across levels of socioeconomic development.
  2. Gender inequality tends to be more intense in areas of greater individual empowerment and social power. This implies that progress is easier for more basic capabilities and harder for more enhanced capabilities.

The revealing part wasn’t these two trends, but the usage of two things in the second trend: “basic capabilities” and “enhanced capabilities.”

Figure 2. Remarkable Progress In Basic Capabilities, Much Less In Enhanced Capabilities

Source: Human Development Report, 2019.

The report highlights that women, when trying to break the glass ceiling, are aiming for the positions of power and influence they’re faced with great resistance. It’s at those positions where women are underrepresented.

The inference that can be drawn is simple: The higher the power and responsibility, the wider the gender gap. The report also reveals that, in 2019, of only 24% occupied a position in national parliaments and other political portfolios, which again were unevenly distributed — mostly were given social welfare and family planning portfolios. This confirms a deeply-rooted gender bias all over the world.

“Norms influence expectations for masculine and feminine behavior considered socially acceptable or looked down on. So, they directly affect individuals’ choices, freedoms, and capabilities.” — Human Development Report, 2019.

Figure 3. The Greater The Empowerment, The Wider The Gender Gap

Source: Human Development Report, 2019

Although a relief-sign is that women have successfully smashed the barriers and have entered the corporate world, but they are still underrepresented in the senior positions and board.

Their reproductive role, along with social norms, plays a major part in the parity in positions of power. (See Figure 4 to understand the impact of social norms and the role that they play in ensuring women’s exclusion.)

Figure 4. How Social Beliefs Can Obstruct Gender And Women’s Empowerment

Source: Human Development Report, 2019 (Mukhopadhyay, Rivera, and Tapia, 2019.)

What We Need

Researchers (Mukhopadhyay, Rivera, and Tapia) prepared a “multidimensional gender social index” that helps measure gender biases, beliefs, and prejudices.

Across the different dimensions it has a question — for example, “Men make better political leaders than women do” — where the interviewee has to place the belief on a scale ranging from “strong disagreement” to “strong agreement.” The survey — amassing data of 77 countries (81% of the world’s population) in first waves and in the last waves of data collection, surveyed 59% of the population in 32 countries — revealed that countries with higher social norms biases had higher gender inequality.

It’s nothing surprising because men — including me — are trained from the time we’re born on how to ‘treat’ girls, daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, and/or partners. Women start facing discrimination right from their birth. Not cared for in the childhood, not given proper education, not paid properly once they’re out in the world to work, not respected at their in-laws’, not cared for during their pregnancy.

Image credit: Mashable

Their mental, reproductive health suffers. And, those who’ve managed to break the basic structure of power and have entered a level-playing field find yet another area where they’re targeted and bullied: the online space, what the report called ‘digital public space.’ Women who are active in politics face more violence than men do.

This is a vicious loop that has to be broken by providing basic amenities to young girls right from the beginning. Besides those basic amenities, we must focus on ensuring that at each-and-every stage of their socio-economical and political development.

From education, participation in collegiate-level activities, student politics, growth in employment opportunities, there must be an adequate mechanism to restore justice whenever they’re wronged or aren’t given their due, and to ensure that they are provided with opportunities.

Besides those basic amenities, we must focus on ensuring that at each-and-every stage of their socio-economical and political development.

The report also highlighted that we need better mechanisms to collect data in order to show a better (or rather, a truer) picture in order to arm policymakers with relevant insights that can help them make inclusive policies. We need policies that provide us with the hope that we don’t have to wait for two centuries to see the gender gap closing.

Editor’s note: Do you want to know where India stands in the Human Development Index (2019)? You can access the report, released on December 9 (2019), here.

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