Gender inequality continues to be one of the most pressing challenges of our times. As per World Bank estimates, while women constitute around 50% of the population, they only account for around 39% of the global labour force, as of 2019. 

The COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to spread and disrupt lives, livelihoods, and economic activities across the world, is also adversely impacting gender equality. As per estimates by a McKinsey study, that used gender disaggregated data from unemployment surveys in the US and India, women’s job loss rates due to the crisis are 1.8 times higher than men globally, at 5.7% versus 3.1%, respectively.

World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 suggests that the health emergency and the economic turndown that resulted from the crisis have impacted women more severely than men, partially reopening gaps that have been previously closed.

The Global Gender Gap measures evolution of gender-based gaps among four key dimensions of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment, and tracks progress across these, over time, for closing gaps.

The key findings of the report revealed that globally the average distance completed to parity is at 68%, which is 0.6% points down from last year. Given this, it is estimated that it would now take more than 135 years to close the gender gap worldwide.

The report also found that among the four key dimensions, gender gap in political empowerment remains the largest globally, with only 22% gap closed till date, followed by economic participation and opportunity. Significant progress has been achieved in closing gender gaps in educational attainment and health and survival, with 95% of the gap closed in educational attainment.

As per the report, till date, India has closed a gap close to 62.5%, which is 4.2% larger than the gap computed in the previous edition, with most of the decline accounted for by the Political Empowerment Subindex. As a result, its rank fell to 140.

It is estimated that taking action now could advance gender equality and potentially add US$ 13 trillion to global GDP by 2030, while delaying action could reduce GDP by around US$ 5 trillion.

The current situation has necessited the need for urgent action from global policymakers to take appropriate measures to boost women empowerment and close the widening gender gap. Government and industry must also play a key role by directing efforts for achieving gender parity faster, as this will also hasten the process of economic recovery, by fostering social and inclusive development.

CII undertakes various actions to strengthen women’s role and participation in the economic sphere. It conducts periodic studies, prepares manuals and reports on women empowerment in the workplace and also organizes discussions and gender sensitization programmes with partner organizations such as the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to promote gender equality.

To encourage and celebrate the spirit of women who have emerged winners amidst the most difficult of circumstances, the CII Foundation launched the Women Exemplar Award in 2005. Each year, three women are recognized for their achievements and presented the award. Over the years, the women exemplars have formed a strong pool of women community leaders and during the COVID-19 waves, they played a significant role in relief and rehabilitation efforts. 

CII also conducts and prepares in-depth research reports on women and gender equality and provides various policy suggestions for boosting women empowerment.

The research study “Declining Female Labour Force Participation in India: Concerns, Causes and Policy Actions”, undertook a detailed analysis of trends in female labour employment across industry sectors in India, focussing both on urban and rural areas.  

Its policy suggestions included emphasis on incentives for creating greater opportunities for women in underrepresented sectors such as services, construction and communications, strong focus on expanding education for women, especially the girl child, raising digital and financial literacy through training and skill development programmes, focus on workplace incentives including women safety, and flexible working hours, among others. 

CII‘s report Engendering the Manufacturing Sector: Women in Manufacturing – Status, Challenges and Action Plan, in collaboration with UNDP, assesses the present status of Indian women in both traditional and non-traditional sectors of manufacturing.

The study focusses on six key manufacturing sectors and identifies challenges and gaps in these sectors. It further examines some of the company best practices and multi-stakeholder initiatives for promoting a diverse and inclusive workforce. The study  also presents an Action Plan 2025 as a way forward to boost women participation in the Indian manufacturing sector. 

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