Gender equality

Monday, 28 October 2013 00:51 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

TRADITIONALLY Sri Lanka has an image of being a place where the gender gap is small if not downright negligible, but a new study shows that this development is under threat and fresh policies need to be introduced to ensure that men and women have equal space. Sri Lanka is ranked 55th among 136 countries across the world in terms of gender gap, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2013 released by the World Economic Forum on Friday. Sri Lanka significantly worsened from its 2012 position of 39th place. From this region, Sri Lanka dropped furthest, widening its gender gap on the Political Empowerment sub-index and falling eight places to 30th. Sri Lanka falls 16 spots, relative to its performance last year, due to a fall on both the Economic Participation and Opportunity (from 105th to 109th place) and the Political Empowerment (from 22nd to 30th place) sub-indexes. The eighth edition of the report introduced by the Forum in 2006 shows 86 out of 133 countries improved their gender gap since 2012, with the area of political participation seeing the greatest progress. However, this sphere has gone from bad to worse in Sri Lanka where female representation is at a significant low. In fact even the Women’s Affairs portfolio has been handed over to a man. High levels of political violence during polls is another reason why female representation is low. The dark image politics has will not go any favours for promoting gender equality in politics and even though the first version of the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ pledged a quota system for women, but this was conveniently dropped in the subsequent edition. The report’s index assesses 136 countries, representing more than 93% of the world’s population, on how well resources and opportunities are divided among male and female populations. It measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four areas: economic participation and opportunity-salaries, participation and highly skilled employment; educational attainment — access to basic and higher levels of education; political empowerment — representation in decision-making structures; and Health and survival — life expectancy and sex ratio. According to the report, India ranked 101st, Bhutan 93rd, Bangladesh 75th, Pakistan 135th, and the Maldives 97th. Philippines was a surprise entry among the top ten countries that include Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, New Zealand, Denmark, Switzerland and Nicaragua. Likewise, the US is ranked 23rd, Canada 20th, and China 69th, according to the report. The high levels of rape and abuse among Sri Lankan women and the inability for Sri Lanka’s judicial system to provide swift justice to them would be another cause of concern. By some estimates a woman in Sri Lanka is abused every 30 minutes and the involvement of high level political figures along with an almost enshrined environment of impunity makes for poor reading. A glass ceiling, seen as much in the private sector as its public counterpart, also hinders the capacity for men and women to work as equals in Sri Lanka. The scant attention to providing basic logistical support such as childcare means that women have to make a hard choice between family and career, with the latter usually losing out. Substance abuse, neglect by policy makers and a lopsided social view are all elements that make life for women harder on many levels in Sri Lanka. If the numbers don’t make people notice, the suffering behind them certainly should.