India: making place for women

iwd_squareToday’s post is by Anna Biernat, Media Coordinator in the OECD Public Affairs and Communications Directorate. Anna holds a master’s degree in Indian studies and has lived and travelled extensively in India.

India has recently grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons. British film-maker Leslee Udwin interviewed one of the rapists from the Delhi gang rape that shook the country in 2012 for a documentary. The rapist, Mukesh Singh, who is facing the death penalty along with three others, expressed no remorse in the interview and blamed the victim for being out at night and fighting back. The documentary “India’s daughter” was shown on BBC Four on 4 March and was scheduled to air on India’s NDTV on Women’s Day. But instead, it kicked up a storm and was banned in India following accusations of glorifying the rapist and creating an atmosphere of fear and tension. Clearly, the ban only drummed up publicity for the film in a way that was beyond the wildest imagination of any marketing executive and sparked a vigorous discussion on Twitter.

A renowned Indian journalist Shekhar Gupta noted on Twitter that 99.9% of those who are outraged at the BBC rape documentary are Indian men, not women.

Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and a critic of the Modi government, said the documentary didn’t tarnish India but exposed some people’s attitudes toward women.

“In our culture, there is no place for a woman,” said one of the rapists’ lawyers. A shocking statement but how true is it? What is really the role of women in modern Indian society? The truth is that while India is one of the world’s fastest growing economies, many Indian women are still trapped in the dark ages. According to a 2012 poll, India is one of the worst countries to be a woman. Female foeticide, child marriage, dowry, domestic slavery and abuse top gender evils. And while in the last 20 years the growing economy has created opportunities for young women to work, female labour force participation in India is low and declining, as shown by the new OECD Economic Survey of India. According to the study, the reasons are complex and include cultural, social and religious barriers, safety concerns and poor infrastructure. But the survey clearly indicates that many women in India would like to work if conditions improved.

I recently travelled to India with OECD Chief Economist Catherine L Mann and two other senior female economists and experts on India. As we presented the survey in different Indian cities, wherever we went, we provoked surprise among our hosts and audience as a four-woman delegation. “Is that common?” people asked. “Not at all,” we responded frankly. “The gender gap remains an issue all around the world, including in the OECD countries.”

Raising female labour force participation can have substantial growth effects. It is estimated that if participation rates for women were to reach those of men by 2030, there would be a 12% increase in GDP across the OECD. In India, growth could raise by 1.5 to 2.4% per year as a result of a combination of pro-growth and pro-gender policies including public investment in infrastructure, safer and better transport, sanitation, health and, last but not least, education. If a household has access to water or electricity, a woman has more time available for outside work. For example, in South Africa electrification led to a large jump in female participation. Safety and availability of transport also impacts ability to go to work, or access markets. Electricity is reaching more and more households and businesses across India but the infrastructure, measured by the share of paved roads or access to water, must be improved.

There’s a saying that if we educate a girl, we educate a family – and a whole nation. Providing girls with education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will, less likely to die in childbirth, more likely to have healthy babies, and more likely to send their children to school. Furthermore, greater gender equality in educational attainment has a strong positive effect on economic growth. In India, much progress has been made in the last decade to increase school enrolment of girls, especially at the primary level, but the gender gap persists. According to the Census of 2001-2011, the male literacy rate stands at 80.9%, which is 5.6 per cent higher than the previous census, while the female literacy rate is 64.6%, an increase of 10.9 per cent since 2001.

In the Economic Survey of India, the OECD provides a number of recommendations to enhance women’s economic participation including extending female quotas in state and national parliaments, modernising labour laws to ensure equal work opportunities for women, enhancing implementation of gender-related laws, and investing in public transport.

Asked about her opinion on the role of women in modern Indian society, a female Indian friend and a journalist gave a simple answer: “It’s a fight every day. Even for women in urban areas. And it is worse in villages. Women need to reclaim their rights.”

Happy Women’s Day!

Useful links

International Women’s Day events in India

India on the OECD iLibrary

OECD data on gender equality


Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now

International Women’s Day Competition: Can you spot the OECD delegation in the photo below?



Do we really have a good picture of women’s well-being?

BLI InitiativeToday’s post is from the OECD Statistics Directorate

Lack of data limits the ability to measure women’s conditions in an accurate and comprehensive way, and to make informed decisions about how women and girls fare. The post-2015 development agenda will translate into an increased demand for gender statistics that are regularly produced and provide solid and objective evidence. However, there are many data gaps in national and international monitoring of gender inequality, particularly in less-traditional areas of official statistics. Countries face many challenges in mainstreaming the gender dimension into data production, analysis and dissemination.

To address this, the OECD is working with the United Nations and the World Bank through the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality (EDGE) Initiative to build national capacity to produce and disseminate gender statistics and create standards for data collection. We are also contributing to improving access to gender statistics through our Gender Data Portal, which gathers information on various topics of relevance to the post-2015 development agenda, including education, employment, entrepreneurship, unpaid work.

In terms of the metrics themselves, gender parity is not sufficient for measuring gender equality. Indicators that measure the quality of change are also necessary. For example, women may have similar rates of paid employment as men but this does not mean that they are paid the same or that they have the same opportunities for career advancement. Across OECD countries, women working full-time earn on average 16% less than men, although there is substantial variation amongst countries. Moreover, wage penalties increase as women get older and have children. Among women of child-bearing age who work full-time, those with children earn 22% less than men and 7% less than childless women. Conventional statistics do not measure the security of jobs either, which is particularly important since women’s paid employment is often more vulnerable than men’s, especially in developing countries. The OECD’s work on job quality may shed new light on the working conditions that women face around the world.

Women do not stop working when they leave their offices. At home, women still bear the brunt of unpaid work, such as child-rearing and household tasks. Across the OECD, women spend twice as much time as men on household chores and parenting. In other words, if women and men were to share unpaid tasks equally, women would gain 5 hours of free time per week. There are large variations from country to country: an average Italian woman spends 22 hours (or almost 3 full-time workdays) more than her partner on unpaid work per week, while this gap averages 5 hours in the Nordic countries.

When both paid and unpaid work are combined, the gender gap in working hours narrows, but it’s still the women who put in the longest hours. However, this kind of work is too often under-recorded or undervalued. Time-use data and statistics on time spent on domestic chores and caring are available only in around a third of countries of the world. An even smaller number of countries “value” this unpaid work through satellite accounts for household production. The OECD is contributing to fill this gap through its Time-Use Database, which gathers detailed information on how total time per day is spent in different activities in OECD countries and selected emerging economies.

Time spent in unpaid work and leisure

Minutes per day

Unpaid work and leisure
Click to see full size

Another important issue is the fact that data is simply not being collected for certain areas. Not because it is not possible, but because it has not been thought of or because power imbalances between men and women in institutions shape data collection priorities.

A good example is gender-based violence. The absence of an indicator on violence against women (VAW) in the MDG framework due to lack of data was a ‘missed opportunity’. Only half the countries in the world currently produce official statistics on violence against women. And yet both the extent of such violence and costs of this form of discrimination call for action. Worldwide, 35% of all women report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence from their intimate partner or others in their lifetime. In the OECD area, one in four women reports having been a victim of such forms of violence at least once in her life. We expect great improvements in the cross-country comparability of data on VAW after the recent release of the Guidelines on Collecting Data on VAW by the UN Statistics Division. But we should also explore other data sources, such as records from shelters, hotlines, hospitals, the press or Internet searches. The OECD is currently undertaking research on the determinants of violence against women and on the costs of such violence to women.

Finally, a significant challenge relates to the need to measure gender equality and women’s rights for different demographic and social groups. Lifecycle analyses suggest that women and girls face constraints that can be age-specific or may be specific to different socio-economic groups. Disaggregated statistics along these lines should be promoted to assess how gender interacts with other ‘disadvantages’ or characteristics.

Useful links

OECD data on gender equality

Work-life balance in the OECD Better Life Index


Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now

A closer look at gender gaps in education and beyond

PISA genderToday’s post is from OECD Deputy Secretary-General Stefan Kapferer

“In a world in search of growth, women will help find it, if they face a level playing field instead of an insidious conspiracy.” Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, didn’t mince words last week when she called for dismantling the legal barriers that prevent many women around the world from participating in their economies. She framed her argument in economic terms, saying that a previous study found that having as many women as men in the labour force could boost economic growth by 5% in the United States, 9% in Japan and 34% in Egypt.

A new PISA report, The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence (pdf), shows that the barriers against women’s full participation in the work force are not necessarily written into law. They can be as seemingly innocuous as parents’ expectations for their daughter’s future or students’ beliefs in their own abilities.

For example, the report, released today, finds that less than 5% of 15-year-old girls in OECD countries contemplate pursuing a career in engineering or computing, while 20% of boys do. What accounts for this gender difference in career expectations? PISA finds that girls – even high-achieving girls – have less confidence in their abilities in mathematics and science, and are more anxious towards mathematics, than boys. On average across OECD countries, the difference in mathematics performance between high-achieving girls and boys is 19 PISA score points, the equivalent of around half a year of school. But when comparing boys and girls who reported similar levels of self-confidence in mathematics and of anxiety towards mathematics, the gender gap in performance disappears. If girls don’t believe in their aptitude for certain subjects, why would they continue to study those subjects when they are no longer required to?

The study also finds that, when required to “think like scientists” at school, girls underperform considerably compared to boys. For example, girls tend to underachieve compared to boys when they are asked to formulate situations mathematically. On average across OECD countries, boys outperform girls in this skill by around 16 PISA score points – the equivalent of nearly five months of school. Boys also outperform girls – by 15 score points – in the ability to apply their knowledge of science to a given situation. This gender difference in the ability to think like a scientist may be related to students’ self-confidence. When students are more self-confident, they give themselves the freedom to fail, to engage in the trial-and-error processes that are fundamental to acquiring knowledge in mathematics and science.

More worrying still is the fact that, in 2012, 14% of boys and 9% of girls did not attain the PISA baseline level of proficiency in any of the three core subjects measured in PISA – reading, mathematics and science. Why are boys more likely to be among the lowest achievers in school? The report finds that gender differences in school performance are linked to gender differences in student behaviour, both in and outside of school. For example, boys spend one hour less per week on homework than girls – and each hour of homework per week translates into a 4-point higher score in the PISA reading, mathematics and science tests. Outside of school, boys spend more time playing video games than girls and less time reading for enjoyment, particularly complex texts, like fiction. Reading proficiency is the foundation upon which all other learning is built; when boys don’t read well, their performance in other school subjects suffers too.

While the report makes clear that there are no innate gender differences in academic ability, it also shows that, unfortunately, there are also no gender gaps in how well – or badly – prepared 15-year-olds are to enter the working world or continue their studies after compulsory education. PISA shows that girls are more likely than boys to get information about future studies or careers through Internet research, while boys are more likely than girls to get hands-on experience by working as interns, job shadowing or visiting a job fair. But across the OECD countries that distributed a questionnaire about career expectations, almost one in four girls and one in five boys reported that they did not know how to search for a job. Some 43% of girls and 37% of boys reported that they had not mastered the skills needed to perform well at a job interview; and almost one in three boys and girls reported that they had not acquired the skills needed to write a CV or a summary of their qualifications.

So how can we dismantle some of these barriers to boys’ and girls’ personal fulfilment and to their full participation in their societies later on? The report emphasises that parents and teachers can become more aware of their own gender biases. For example, why is it that in all countries and economies surveyed about parents’ expectations for their children were parents more likely to expect their sons, rather than their daughters, to work in a STEM field – even when boys and girls perform equally well in mathematics and science? Why is it that teachers consistently give girls better marks, even when boys and girls perform similarly on the PISA test? And why aren’t employers seeking and welcoming equal numbers of girls and boys for internships or job shadowing?

As this report makes clear, we are all responsible for giving our children equal chances to succeed in school and in life. Not only does it make economic sense, it is simply the right thing to do.

Useful links

PISA in Focus N°49: What lies behind gender inequality in education?

Why boys and girls still don’t have an equal chance at school on the educationtoday blog

Try the PISA questions