By: Syed Mohammad Ali
This past week, the World Economic Forum released the annual Global Gender Gap Report, which aims to quantify the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracks their progress over time. The news for Pakistan is not good, since the current year’s report has ranked it 141 out of 142 countries ranked, placing it only above Yemen out of all the countries for which data was available.
Critics usually dismiss rankings like the Gender Parity Index as being unrepresentative of ground realities, while its proponents claim that they have consistency about them and they cannot be lightly dismissed. Whether women in Pakistan are really worse off than 140 other countries in the ranking, including Syria, other Middle Eastern, or African states, may be debatable. However the index is based on the same indicators which do show trends over time. Nine years of this ranking reveal the pattern of change around the world relative to countries’ own past performances.
The Global Gender Gap Index aims to measure significant aspects of gender equality by considering relative gaps between women and men across four key areas: health, education, economy and politics. In terms of economic participation and opportunity, women’s salaries, participation in the workforce and their inclusion in leadership positions are being taken into account. Concerning the issue of education, their access to basic and higher levels of education is the criteria. For political empowerment, the representation in decision-making structures is noted. Finally, with regard to health and survival, women’s life expectancy and the male to female sex ratio are noted.
Thirteen out of the 14 variables used to create the overall index use publicly available data from other international organisations such as the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Health Organisation.
Pakistan’s ranking has slipped from 112 in 2006 to 141 in the economic participation and opportunities for women criteria. All the other key indicators also show a declining trend. This is indeed a worrying sign and our decision-makers need to give serious attention to the domestic causes of these deteriorating circumstances for gender parity.
While the need for developing countries, like our own, to take more practical and proactive steps to empower women cannot be emphasised enough, it is also necessary to take into account the broader global political economy, which tends to accumulate wealth in developed countries while further exacerbating inequalities within the developing world, including the marginalisation of women.
The existing hierarchical global production system not only limits economic participation and opportunities for women in developing countries, but also undermines the prospects of improving their health, education and political involvement. Yet, aggressive promotion of transnational corporations, which accrues profits for developed countries, while undermining local economic opportunities within developing countries, in turn compelling more women to accept low paying jobs just to ensure household survival, is nowhere acknowledged in this index.
It is thus rather ironic that the World Economic Forum, which provides a platform to the existing lopsided political and corporate leadership of the world to set lopsided global industrial and agricultural agendas which intrinsically marginalise women across the developing world, then creates an index to measure their deprivation without admitting its own role in exacerbating their deprivation.