Fewer nations closing gender gap, study says
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Fewer countries made progress toward
improving equality between men and women this year, according to a ranking of
135 nations by the World Economic Forum.
Nordic countries did the best job, with
Iceland holding the number-one position for the third year in a row, followed
by Norway, Finland and Sweden, in the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index, which
measures the difference between men’s and women’s economic participation and
opportunities, educational attainment, health and survival and political
The United States
rose to number 17 -- climbing two positions -- in part because women now make
up almost half of the labor force and the income gap narrowed. It was followed
by Canada in 18th place.
While differences in health and education are
disappearing worldwide, women still lag behind in economic participation, which
includes salaried and skilled jobs and political representation, according to a
Bloomberg report on the index.
Of the countries surveyed, 55 percent
narrowed the gender gap, compared with 59 percent the previous year. Some 85
percent of the countries improved gender-equality ratios since the first survey
"Women make up one-half of the brain power of
the human capital that’s available to an economy,” Saadia Zahidi, head of the
World Economic Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity program and co-author of
the report, told Bloomberg. "If that one-half is not fully integrated into a
particular country’s development and into its development over time, it’s
fairly evident that there would be a detrimental effect.”
Added Laura D’Andrea Tyson, co-author of the
report: "Labor-force participation is where the success starts to drop off.”
The World Economic Forum looks at how
countries divide resources and opportunities for men and women, regardless of
the level of resources available.
The Philippines came in eighth, followed by
Lesotho, an African country, in ninth place. It was the only sub-Saharan
country found to have no gap in education and health. Among the top 20, Cuba improved most,
moving to 20th this year from 24th in 2010.
China, Japan and India maintained their
standings or did slightly worse this year. China stayed at number 61, while
Japan slipped four slots to 98th and India one place to 113th.
Among countries that declined this year was France, which dipped to 48th place
after rising to 15th in 2008, and compared with its 70th place standing in the
2006 survey. France is also lowest ranked in terms of wage equality out of 131
nations that responded to that question, according to the report. The
perception among business leaders there, Zahidi said, is that "women are
earning far less than men for similar work,” particularly among high-skilled
France’s government will punish companies
with 50 or more employees that don’t introduce measures to eliminate wage inequality
under a retirement reform law scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2012. France
will also penalize companies with more than 500 employees whose boards aren’t
40 percent female by 2017.
Some of France’s neighbors -- Germany, Spain
and Switzerland -- already rank in the top 15, with Belgium improving to 13th
from 33rd two years ago. The United Kingdom slipped to 16th place from 15th.
Arab nations showed mixed results. Policy
makers are waiting to see what effect, if any, the political turmoil known as
the "Arab Spring” will have on the gender gap."I don’t think anybody knows how this will evolve,” Melanne
Verveer, U.S. ambassador at-large for global women’s issues, told Bloomberg
before the report was released. "Tunisia will be interesting to watch. Women
there have enjoyed greater rights there than in any of the other Arab
countries.” Tunisia ranked 108th after 107th last year, while Egypt improved to
123rd from 125th in 2010, the report showed.
Fostering gender equality can have a
cascading effect, Zahidi said, with smaller gaps linked to higher gross
domestic product per capita and rankings on human development gauges.
"A world where women make up less than 20
percent of the global decision makers is a world that is missing a huge
opportunity for growth and ignoring an untapped reservoir of potential,” Klaus
Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum, said in a statement.