The World Economic Forum has just released its annual Global Gender Gap Report and at first glance, it may appear like there is good news for India. Out of 144 countries evaluated, the 2016 report has given India an overall rank of 87 – worse than Bangladesh but still a significant improvement from being ranked 98th in the report of 2006.

But this overall progress in bridging gender disparities is no cause for celebration. In the same report, India has come in the bottom three countries on the specific index of women’s health and survival, with a rank of 142 out of 144. For a whole decade, India has remained the world’s least-improved country when it comes to bridging the gap between men’s and women’s health.

The World Economic Forum introduced the global gender gap index 11 years ago to measure gender inequalities in education, health, economy and politics. By ranking countries on these four key indicators, the annual reports aim to create benchmarks and generate global awareness on gender equality.

Collectively, in this year’s report, countries around the world have shown an overall improvement in bridging the gender gaps in health and education. The gaps in economic participation and political empowerment, meanwhile, remain wide. India’s position, however, changes dramatically from one index to another – the country has fared extremely well in closing the gender gap in education enrolment, while simultaneously failing so miserably at improving women’s health and economic participation.

Here is a closer look at the different indices covered in the global gender gap report, and how India has fared in each category:

Health and survival

This covers a country’s sex ratio and female healthy life expectancy.

According to this year’s report, 38 countries around the world have managed to successfully close the gender gap on these indicators, but India, Armenia and China have fared the lowest.

India’s poor performance here is largely due to its sex ratio of just 943 females to 1,000 males. On this sub-index, India ranks 142nd.

In comparison, the country ranks 71st in healthy life expectancy of females. Indian women are also married at a younger age compared with Indian men – while 74% of Indian women are married before the age of 25, just 35% of men are married by that age.


This covers female literacy and enrolment in educational institutions.

Globally, gender gaps in education have narrowed down tremendously, with very small gaps in primary and secondary education and almost complete parity in tertiary education. While women and men emerge from tertiary education with similar skills and knowledge, there is a rather wide global gender gap of 47% in the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – with more men taking up these fields than women.

Under education, India ranks 124th on female literacy rate, with 63% women and 81% men literate. Ahead of India in on this sub-index are countries like Sri Lanka, Botswana and the Maldives. This is despite India having no gender gap in enrolment in primary and secondary education, and just a 2 percentage point gap in enrolment in tertiary education.


This covers participation of women in the workforce, wage gaps and the ratio of women in senior work positions.

The world in general is not doing too well on this index: globally, 54% of working-age women take part in the formal economy, as compared to 81% of men. In India, just 28% of females participate in the formal workforce, in comparison to 82% of males. On this sub-index, India’s rank is 135.

On wage equality, India ranks 103rd – worse than Nepal, Iran, Bhutan, Yemen, Uganda and dozens of other countries. The report notes that Indian law does not actually mandate wage equality for men and women.

Another sub-index explored in the report is unpaid work. Men, on an average, do just 34% of the unpaid work that women do across the world. “Research shows that this imbalance starts early, with girls spending 30% more of their time on unpaid work than boys,” the report says. Even in general, combining both paid and unpaid work, women put in 50 minutes more of work time each day than men.

Indian women work for an average of 537 minutes per day, as compared to 442 minutes a day put in by men. While women do 66% of unpaid work in a day, while men do just 12%. Financial independence, too, is lower for Indian women. While 62% of Indian men have some kind of bank account, the figure is just 43% for women.

The appointment of women to senior positions at work is also a reflection of the gender gap being bridged. Globally, the average female representation on boards of companies is just 14%. For India, the figure is even lower – women constitute just 10% of the boards of publicly traded companies.


This covers the presence of women as heads of state as well as in ministerial or parliamentary positions.

The majority of countries evaluated in the report have never had a female head of state. In comparison, India has had two female heads of state – Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Present Pratibha Patil – whose terms jointly add up to 21 years of being ruled by women. On this sub-index, India’s rank is 2nd, after Bangladesh.

But on the participation of women in Parliament, India lags behind Bangladesh, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, and more than a hundred other countries, with a rank of 112. In comparison, India ranks 50th on the presence of women in ministerial positions, with 22% of Indian ministers being women. Finland fares the best in this category, with women forming 63% of their ministers.

On the whole, the Global Gender Gap Report paints a grim portrait of the world, indicating that progress on overall gender equality is actually slowing down.