Equal and effective involvement of men and women in education and labour market would mean that both men and women will be able to contribute equally towards children’s wellbeing, intellectual development and cognitive growth, household economy and welfare. To elaborate it further, through reduced gender inequality when women get educated they tend to play an important role in family decisions, decisions about health, both for themselves and their family members, it leads to better nutrition, lower infant mortality, better health of family members, better contribution towards building a prosperous and healthy society. In short, gender equality means men and women contribute equally towards the progress of family, society and economy at large. These benefits, in turn, translate to reducing the cost of health services for the economy, more civic participation and an improved economic growth.
Gender equality in education and employment can have a long-term sustainable positive impact on both society and economy. Hence, economies around the world work towards promoting gender equality. An important principle of human development is to provide equal opportunities to all people, irrespective of their gender in all spheres of life. Nevertheless, we must remember that based on the social, cultural and political context the opportunities might remain unequally distributed across various countries.
Amongst various other indices that measure gender inequality, the global gender gap index by the World Economic Forum (WEF) examines the gap between men and women under four criteria, i.e. economic, political, education and health. The index is calculated by taking into account the gender-based gaps in resources and opportunities, capturing the outcome variable rather than the input (such as where do men and women stand in education, health, economic and political fronts) and ranks countries based on gender equality.
WEF in its Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI) 2016 has ranked Oman at 133, which is an increase by two places compared to 2015. In terms of the sub-indicators, the economy is ranked at 126, 97, 99 and 142 in Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment respectively. In fact, 2016’s gender gap report indicates that except for Educational Attainment and Health and Survival, the Sultanate could not make up the top 100 ranks. The figures also suggest that while the Sultanate has improved its ranking in Economic Participation and Opportunity, and Health Survival, it remained constant in Political Empowerment and resided in Educational Attainment.
As a comprehensive, consistent and a robust measure, the index should ideally be seen by both policy makers and various government departments as a tool to look at the complex challenge in reducing gender inequality. A low rank by GGGI that translates to high levels of gender inequality suggest that women’s capabilities, choices and opportunities are limited in Oman. This means that according to the report, women’s development, as opposed to men's, is lower in critical dimensions of human development such as education, health, standard of living. But anyone either living in Oman or is associated with the country would not accept this! At least I would not!
Now, does GGGI tell us the full story? Can this be taken as a true representation of gender inequality? Not really! This is because GGGI does not provide information on women’s work outside the formal sector. In a country like Oman or elsewhere, isn’t women’s participation outside formal sector such as in informal work, unpaid and reproductive work critical to understanding women’s participation in the economy? Yes, it is indeed important and these figures must be taken on board. In addition this, in spite of its comprehensiveness, my view is that individual’s opinion on this issue matters. Let us not forget that numbers are numbers and they do not necessarily reflect individual’s opinion on the issue.
With the changing structure of the economy, changes in the lifestyle and family structure, with women’s desire to improve their skills and contribute to their household income, there is an increasing number of women entering into education. If one looks at the higher education statistics provided by Oman National Statistics (ONS), more women are entering education. The recent figures provided by ONS suggest that about 10573 women have graduated in the year 2015/2014 as opposed to 8490 men. Indeed, gains in education are likely to get translated into better labour market outcomes. Today, women in Oman have the skills that employers need and women are becoming more entrepreneurial!
The global gender report rankings in the past and the eventual unacceptance of the reports by women all over Oman tells us that it is the right time that we gain a deeper understanding of this issue. In my opinion, rather than looking at the figures partially and ranking the economy, an inclusive study that takes on board numbers in the formal and informal sector and as well as the views, attitudes, perceptions, experience and feelings of the young men and women in Oman is required. Such a study I believe will help policymakers and think-tank institutions engaged in implementing equity oriented policy for closing the gender gap in education and labour market.