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Pandemic Blow: Global gender gap worsens by a generation

Another generation of women will have to wait for gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt, closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.
 
This year, the Global Gender Gap index benchmarks 156 countries, providing a tool for cross-country comparison and to prioritize the most effective policies needed to close gender gaps. Preliminary evidence suggests that the health emergency and the related economic downturn have impacted women more severely than men, partially re-opening gaps that had already been closed.
 
Global trends & outcomes
 
  1. The gender gap in Political Empowerment remains the largest of the four gaps tracked, with only 22% closed to date, having further widened since the 2020 edition of the report by 2.4 percentage points. Across the 156 countries covered by the index, women represent only 26.1% of some 35,500 parliament seats and just 22.6% of over 3,400 ministers worldwide. In 81 countries, there has never been a woman head of state, as of 15th January 2021. At the current rate of progress, the World Economic Forum estimates that it will take 145.5 years to attain gender parity in politics.
 
Widening gender gaps in Political Participation have been driven by negative trends in some large countries which have counterbalanced progress in another 98 smaller countries.
 
2) The gender gap in Economic Participation and Opportunity remains the second-largest of the four key gaps tracked by the index. According to this year’s index results 58% of this gap has been closed so far. The gap has seen marginal improvement since the 2020 edition of the report and as a result we estimate that it will take another 267.6 years to close.
 
The slow progress seen in closing the Economic Participation and Opportunity gap is the result of two opposing trends. On one hand, the proportion of women among skilled professionals continues to increase, as does progress towards wage equality, albeit at a slower pace. 
 
On the other hand, overall income disparities are still only part-way towards being bridged and there is a persistent lack of women in leadership positions, with women representing just 27% of all manager positions. Additionally, the data available for the 2021 edition of the report does not yet fully reflect the impact of the pandemic. Projections for a select number of countries show that gender gaps in labour force participation are wider since the outbreak of the pandemic. Globally, the economic gender gap may thus be between 1% and 4% wider than reported.
 
3) Gender gaps in Educational Attainment and Health and Survival are nearly closed. In Educational Attainment, 95% of this gender gap has been closed globally, with 37 countries already at parity. However, the ‘last mile’ of progress is proceeding slowly. 
The index estimates that on its current trajectory, it will take another 14.2 years to completely close this gap. In Health and Survival, 96% of this gender gap has been closed, registering a marginal decline since last year (not due to COVID-19), and the time to close this gap remains undefined. 
 
For both education and health, while progress is higher than for economy and politics in the global data, there are important future implications of disruptions due to the pandemic, as well as continued variations in quality across income, geography, race and ethnicity.
 
India ranks low on gender gap
 
Following the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia is the second-lowest performer on the index, with 62.3% of its overall gender gap closed. In addition, progress has been too slow in the recent past, and this year has actually reversed. A decline of approximately 3 percentage points has resulted in a significant delay in the projected time needed for this region to close gender gaps, now estimated at 195.4 years. 
 
Within the region, a wide gulf separates the best-performing country, Bangladesh, which has closed 71.9% of its gender gap so far, from Afghanistan, which has only closed 44.4% of its gap. India is the third-worst performer in the region, having closed 62.5% of its gap. Because of its large population, India’s performance has a substantial impact on the region’s overall performance. Home to 0.65 billion women, India has widened its gender gap from almost 66.8% closed one year ago to 62.5% this year. 
 
In addition, only Bhutan and Nepal have demonstrated small but positive progress towards gender parity this year, while all other countries in this region have registered either slightly reduced or stagnant performances.
 
In conclusion, across economies, pre-existing gender gaps have exacerbated the asymmetric effect of the pandemic, in terms of employment and labour force participation. By industry, we have seen a widening of gender gaps in some of the sectors most heavily impacted by COVID-19, and a more pronounced emerging gender gap demonstrated by a reversal of gender parity in leadership positions. 
 
By disrupting childcare support for families, the pandemic has had a significant impact on the lives of working parents. In the current context, this impact has been most acutely felt by working women with children who commonly continue to take on a larger share of care work in the household.
 
The pandemic has re-emphasized the need for resilient and sustainable childcare systems. Recovery policies will need to reflect these lessons and focus efforts to invest in childcare infrastructure while reforming the care services sector to offer a more varied range of options. As a job-creating sector, investment in the care economy can prove to be a social infrastructure investment with high returns for the economy and society.

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