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Friday, 14 October 2011 00:00
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It has more to do with economics, less with gender

 

There are about 4 million ‘missing’ women in the world each year—due to, for instance, female foeticide and early childhood deaths of girls—and about 22% of these are in India, 30% in sub-Saharan Africa and 32% in China, according to the World Development Report released Wednesday. Indian women earn around 56% of what men do when it comes to casual labour and 75% when it comes to salaried work, it goes on to say. On Tuesday, the Global Hunger Index ranked India 67th out of 81 countries, on a par with sub-Saharan Africa in terms of malnutrition. How representative are these dismal portrayals?

While ‘Hungry kya?’ (http://www.financialexpress.com/news/ hungry-kya/859192) cited research to point out the bias in the index, the gender bias story is similarly overstated, and needs several correctives. According to NSS data, the female labour force participation rate (LFPR) has declined marginally over the years to 38.6% in 2004-05 as compared to 85.5% for men. The raw numbers are certainly a source of worry, but let's look at what's behind them. Since an important policy priority is raising female education levels, you can't have both rising education levels and rising LFPRs—Surjit Bhalla and Ravinder Kaur find, after adjusting for female education, that the LFPR is actually 46%. More important, as the WDR itself says, globally LFPR follows a U-shape, high at low per capita incomes, low at medium per capita incomes and high at high per capita incomes—that’s why rural LFPRs are much higher than urban LFPRs. Similarly, as fertility levels fall—WDR says what took the US 100 years to achieve in terms of falling fertility, India achieved in 40 years—LFPRs rise. In other words, female LFPRs are certain to rise hugely in the years ahead. Subhanil Chowdhury, in EPW, cites LFPRs according to age group and you find that rural LFPRs for 15-19 year olds is 33 as compared to 59 for 30-34 year olds, which confirms the education-LFPR link.

Similarly, Bhalla and Kaur find that, once you adjust for years of education and years of experience, women’s wages are 87% those of men, not 58% as the raw data suggests. But surely the fact that women are less educated suggests discrimination? The answer is complicated, since male-female education levels differ with income levels, but the WDR has a chart that says less than a fifth of education inequalities in India are due to gender—poverty accounts for two-thirds. India has a long way to go on many issues, but let’s not sell ourselves short.

 

 

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