Last week, the ninth Global Gender Gap Report was published by the World Economic Forum. The annual report was first published in 2006.
The report measures the size of gender inequality in four areas: economic participation and opportunity, education, political empowerment, and health and survival. The economic measure covers salaries, participation and leadership. The education measure covers access to basic and higher levels of education. The political empowerment measure captures representation in decision-making structures. Finally, the health and survival measure captures life expectancy and sex ratio. A score of 0 to 1 is given to represent the gap; 1 demonstrating complete equality, 0 demonstrating complete inequality.
The aim of the report is to create greater awareness regarding the challenges posed by gender gaps, as well as the opportunities to which gender gaps stand as an obstacle. Economic reasoning is prominent in the report; a strong correlation is observed between a country’s gender gap and its national competitiveness. Through the idea that women account for one-half of a country’s potential, the fact that long-term competitiveness is significantly contingent on whether women’s potential is utilized or not, women’s education becomes more important than ever.
Through methodological and quantitative analysis, the report aims to serve as a basis for designing effective measures for reducing gender gaps1. A total of 142 countries have been included in this year’s study.
The study has also highlighted our fetish with relative living standards. One may be surprised to find that Rwandan and Nicaraguan women live in more equitable political conditions than the majority of European women. This demonstrates how we tend not to notice sexism, whether social or institutional, in developed countries.
Inequality: Around the World in Five Regions
Political empowerment is the worst performing indicator in all of the countries ranked last in their respective regions. It is no surprise that this leads to poor performance across all indicators, given that it is highly unlikely that women are able to achieve the best outcomes in their interests as long as they are kept outside of economic and political power centres. Thus, our analysis will look at the worst indicator apart from political empowerment.
Europe and Central Asia
Twelve of the top twenty countries in the index belong to this region. Iceland ranks the highest, with a score of 0.8594. Turkey ranks the lowest, with a score of 0.6183.
Turkey’s area of concern is economic participation and opportunity. The most pressing problem is the prevalence of unpaid labour among women. The government rhetoric calling for an increased fertility rate and announcing plans to integrate women into the economy through part-time work demonstrates a goal of maintaining women in a home-based role, threatening their economic empowerment and autonomy. The parliamentary Women’s and Men’s Equal Opportunities Commission is ineffective, with steps taken in late 2013 for it to be abolished and replaced by a family commission, as was the case with the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs.
Asia and the Pacific
The highest ranking country in the region is the Philippines, with a score of 0.7814, ranking ninth globally. The lowest is Pakistan, with a score of 0.5522, ranking 141st globally.
The gender gap in Pakistan has worsened since 2006. Like Turkey, Pakistan is also performing poorly in economic participation and opportunity. It is ranked second last in this area among the 142 countries. Women are trapped in the provision of non-tradable, unidentified services such as household chores and childcare. Albeit current developments, this is attributed to confinement to the house in Pakistan’s tightly controlled society. The revision of these sociocultural values needs to be taken on by the government, and endorsed by the media in order to trickle down to the public. Government-led microfinance projects have been initiated to support women, especially in rural areas2, 3, 4.
Latin America and the Caribbean
Nicaragua is the region’s best performing country, sixth in the overall world ranking, with a score of 0.7894. Suriname is the lowest ranked, ranking 109th with a score of 0.6504.
Suriname is a lot better off than the lowest ranked countries in the other regions, given the high performance of Latin America and the Caribbean. Suriname’s most problematic indicator is also women’s economic participation and opportunity. Like Turkey and Pakistan, this is attributed to the gendered division of labour, upheld by traditional norms and values. Mass media and civil society campaigns address the issue. Nonetheless, more investments are needed in transforming gender ideology. The Ministry of Education has taken a step in this direction, implementing a revision of gender stereotyping images and texts in teaching materials5.
Middle East and North Africa
Israel leads the Middle East and North Africa region with a score of 0.7005, while Yemen is ranked lowest with a score of 0.5145. Israel is ranked 65th, while Yemen demonstrates the study’s worst performance, being ranked last at 142. Yemen’s most concerning area is also economic participation and opportunity. Gender perspectives have been acknowledged in government policy, with past projects employing affirmative action programmes and quotas. Nonetheless, even if unrestricted by laws, women’s economic empowerment continues to be limited by patriarchal cultural understandings, limiting access to jobs and credit6. Recent conflicts have greatly affected the prospects for women’s economic empowerment, with powerful, extremist interpretations of Islam hindering women’s autonomy in all spheres7.
Rwanda takes the lead in Sub-Saharan Africa, ranking seventh in the world. Chad is the region’s lowest ranked country, with a score of 0.5764, ranking 140th overall.
Educational attainment is Chad’s preliminary problem. It is a problem beyond gender, with low rates of secondary and tertiary enrolment for both men and women. The gender gap exists across all educational categories: the literacy rate, primary, secondary, and tertiary enrolment. Chad is among the 10 lowest ranked countries of the report in terms of literacy rate, and the lowest in secondary and tertiary enrolment. Cultural barriers are the preliminary obstacle to women’s access to education. A prominent problem is that Chad has one of the highest rates of under-age marriage in the world, which deprives girls from the opportunity of continuing schooling. Child marriages continue to occur in a web of tradition, state weakness, and parental inability to cope with a large number of children amidst poverty. This suggests that state policies targeting birth control are needed8, 9.
Gender Gap: A result of sexist ideology
The report is successful in quantifying the inequalities that shape women’s daily lives across the globe. This is particularly important in the Western world, where gender struggle is often masked by high living standards. Nonetheless, despite providing quantitative conclusions, the report can only achieve so much. As demonstrated earlier, barriers that sustain the gender gap in the worst performing countries are cultural. Sexism is a strongly ideological issue that has structural consequences in the areas the report investigates. We need to work to devise feasible solutions to the true, ideological mechanisms that underlie the gender gap indicators provided by the report.
According to the trend that has been derived from the nine years of measurement, we will have to wait 81 years, until 2095 to observe gender parity in the workplace. This comment, made by the report’s lead author Saadia Zahidi, shows how little we have progressed in terms of gender equality, whether we accept it or not.