India’s improvement by eight places, or 1.4 percentage points, to 127 out of 146 countries is a result mainly of the recognition by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which conducts the annual rankings, of women’s participation in local governance where 33% of seats (50% in some states) are reserved for women.
Last year, India had ranked 135. This year it continues to lag behind its neighbours Bangladesh (59), Bhutan (103), Sri Lanka (115) and Nepal (116). Pakistan comes in pretty much at the bottom at 142.
The WEF gender ranking of countries is based on four parameters: Economic participation, education, health, and political participation.
Education is India’s biggest achievement with gender parity at all levels. However, the country falters when it comes to economic participation with only 36.7% parity and a dismal female workforce participation rate of 29.4%, according to the latest Periodic Labour Force Survey.
While there have been improvements in parity in wages and income, there’s been a decline in the number of women in senior positions and technical roles.
At the local level, women are taking up leadership roles in panchayats. But women’s participation in Parliament and the assemblies still remains embarrassingly low, even though at 15.1%, India’s Parliament is seeing the highest participation by women ever.
Globally, the largest gaps to have been closed are health and survival and education with 96% and 95.2% parity. But the gender gaps in economic participation (just 60.1% parity) and political participation (22.1%) remain wide.
At this rate, it will take another 131 years to achieve gender parity in the world.
[Read the Global Gender Gap Report 2023 here]
How Iceland does it
In her book, Secrets of the Sprakkar, Canada-born Eliza Reid, writer, entrepreneur and wife of Iceland’s President Gudni Johannesson, writes about her first job soon after moving to live in the country in 2003. Johannesson was still a post-doc student and she needed the job to support them both.
Like most tech start-ups, the company where she got that job was dominated by men. Of the 15 employees, only four, including Reid, were women. So was the CEO, Halla Tomasdottir.
At the first board meeting Reid attended there was Tomasdottir, newly returned from maternity leave, her baby daughter at her breast. “No one batted an eye, no one made a ‘joke’ and at least one male board member later bounced the wee one on his lap while Halla addressed a point on the agenda,” she writes.
Unnur Bra Konradsdottir nursing her baby (Source: Video ScreenGrab)
This nobody-cares-that-you’re-breast-feeding approach is what led to probably the world’s first live telecast of a member of Parliament (MP) nursing her baby. The year was 2016 and MP Unnur Bra Konradsdottir had a new baby. With Parliament in session, Unnur was feeding her baby daughter when called upon to stand and address a point of order in the agenda.
She had two choices. One to pluck the baby from her breast and put her screaming into the stroller. And two, just leave the baby latched on and get up and speak. Unnur chose the latter. The TV cameras were relaying the proceedings live and, so, to Unnur Bra Konradsdottir goes the credit of being the first MP in the world to breast-feed her daughter live on TV.
It takes a village
“The debate is no longer whether gender equality is an important objective but how best to achieve it,” writes Reid. Iceland’s parental leave policy is one of the cornerstones to that equality: Three months leave, paid by the government, for each parent and an additional three months that can be taken by either parent or split between the two.
A near obsession with fresh air means that children are often left sleeping in their strollers outside cafes or restaurants while their parents enjoy a coffee inside. By the age of eight or nine, most kids take public buses on their own. After-school programmes, subsidised by the state, are encouraged. This investment in childcare shows in women’s workforce participation with over three-quarters of Icelandic women over 15 economically active outside their home.
And yet, even Iceland hasn’t achieved 100% parity. Women on average earned 30% less than men in 2019. And only 13% of the country’s CEOs in the top 800 companies are women. Only 1.4% of funding from investment funds goes to companies founded by women.
In 2018, Icelandic women walked out of their respective workplaces at 2.55 pm, a time chosen to highlight the gender gap in wages in addition to gender-based violence and harassment. The women’s strike was following a tradition begun in October with the first strike to demonstrate the indispensable work of women for Iceland’s economy. As many as 90% of Icelandic women participated in the “day off” by either not showing up to work or refusing to perform any housework.
Lisabeth Salander, the heroine of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy was also a survivor of domestic violence (Source: Video ScreenGrab)
Domestic violence and sexual assault are alarmingly high, and while this might partly have to do with higher levels of reporting there is no masking the taint of the “Nordic paradox” that shows up in the hospitals of Reykjavik.
[Read the study in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health that analyses the prevalence of hospital visits due to intimate partner violence]
A 2018 survey by the University of Iceland found that one in four Icelandic women had been raped or sexually assaulted during her life, yet only 12% press charges and amongst those who do, three-quarters will have their cases dismissed.
But, legislation has been largely progressive. Laws refer to parents and not mothers and fathers. In 1996, Iceland became the fourth country in the world to recognise same-sex unions and same-sex marriage has been legal since 2010. A year earlier, in 2009, Johanna Sigurdardottir became the world’s first openly gay head of government and the country’s first female prime minister.
[In September I interviewed Eliza Reid in Iceland for Mind the Gap. You can read that interview here]
Just 47 of the 382 heads of multilateral organisations since 1945 have been women. Thirteen of these organisations including the big four development banks, the International Labour Organisation, and the United Nations itself have never been led by a woman.
Can’t make this s*** up
In 1996, a daily wage worker employed by Himachal Pradesh since 1987 took maternity leave for three months. That year, she was able to work only 156 days instead of the 240 days required by the administrative rules to be considered a regular employee. Even though a tribunal ruled that her maternity leave should be considered ‘continuous service’ under the Industrial Disputes Act, the state of Himachal Pradesh objected saying there was no provision to grant maternity leave to a daily wage worker.
Fortunately, justices Tarlok Singh Chauhan and Virender Singh of the Himachal Pradesh high court have ruled: “Maternity leave is a fundamental human right…which cannot be denied.”
The baby for whom the daily wage worker had taken maternity leave is now 27 years old.
The long(ish) read
In August last year, the US Army announced that it was developing an Army Tactical Brassiere (ATB) for the 15% women who made up its active-duty force. So, how is it different from a sports bra? The team’s project engineer—yes, actually—says it will “reduce the cognitive burden on the wearer” while a military website claims an improvement in “overall soldier performance and lethality”.
Exactly how? This New Yorker story by Patricia Marx has the nitty-gritty.
What’s making news
We need to hang our heads in shame that dowry remains India’s ugly reality
(Trigger warning: suicide, dowry death and harassment)
On Tuesday, holding her twin children, just 18 months old, in her arms Gandam Soundarya jumped off a multi-storey building in Bansilalpet in Telangana’s Secundrabad. Her parents say she was a victim of dowry harassment with fresh demands made by her husband leading her to take this desperate step.
Three days later, in a separate incident, a 36-year-old housewife, M Mahalaxmi, set herself and her 22-month-old daughter ablaze also apparently a death by suicide due to dowry demands.
Despite the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, dowry not only persists, it thrives. In 2021, there was a 31% increase in registered cases over the previous year, according to National Crime Records Bureau data. As many as 28,279 dowry-related deaths, over 77 day, were reported for the same year.
We need to start calling these deaths for what they are: Femicide, and we need a nation-wide response involving law-makers and civil society to tackle this.
Want protection from the police? Get married first: Allahabad high court
An interfaith live-in couple went to the Allahabad high court, to get protection from what they say is harassment by the Uttar Pradesh police. According to the plaint, the police has filed a first information report based on a complaint by the 29-year-old Hindu woman’s mother. But the court has turned down the request for protection noting the couple “had not expressed their willingness to marry in the near future.”
Justices Sangeeta Chandra and Narendra Kumar Johari added that observations by the Supreme Court on the rights of live-in couples “cannot be considered to promote such relationships”. The law, noted the judges has “traditionally been biased in favour of marriage. It reserves many rights and privileges to married persons to preserve and encourage the institution of marriage.”
…And the good news
Wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Sakshee Malikkh and Bajrang Punia with supporters during their candlelight protest march, at India Gate (Source: Hindustan Times)
A small reprieve for India’s leading wrestlers who were caught up in protests against sexual harassment by Wrestling Federation of India head Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshee Malikkh will be given an opportunity to appear in a one-bout selection trial for the upcoming Asian Games from September 23 in Hangzhou, China.
AROUND THE WORLD
Pia Klemp (Source: The Morning Star)
Sea rescue missions, are the topic du jour so this is as good a time as any to talk about Pia Klemp, a German sea captain who faces a 20 year prison sentence for helping to rescue 1,000 migrants at risk of drowning in the Mediterranean sea. Describing her as a “victim of the far-right Italian government’s crackdown on desperate migrants trying to reach Europe by sea”, The Morning Star reports that the captain of luventa, along with the Sea Watch III rescue ship, saved migrants from a “possible watery grave”. Klemp insists her actions are lawful and protected by the 1982 United Nations law of the sea, has vowed to fight her case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
In Slovakia, Zuzana Caputova, the country’s first woman head of state, announced on Tuesday that she will not be running for a second term. She said she did not think she had the strength to take on another mandate.
Caputova’s logging out follows that by other women in politics including Finland’s Sanna Marin in April, Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon in February and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern in January.
The Catholic church is preparing for steps to promote women to decision-making roles and for the “radical inclusion” of the LGBTQI community. On Tuesday, the Vatican released a working document, the result of a two-year consultation process that will form the basis of discussion for a meeting of bishops and laypeople in October.
…And the good news
Estonia has become the first Baltic country to approve same-sex marriage starting in 2024. Meanwhile, in India, we’re waiting for the Supreme Court judgement on the same issue.