Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The best place to be a woman

In a week that has seen women in Saudi Arabia -- the only country in the world where women cannot drive -- continue their fight to break the taboo, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has published its annual Global Gender Gap Index.
So where is the best country to be a women? Iceland, for the fifth year running, has the world’s smallest gender gap.
The 397-page Index was introduced in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude and scope of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress.

It benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education and health criteria. It provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups and over time.

The rankings are designed to build among a global audience greater awareness of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them.
Iceland’s ranking means it is where women enjoy the most equivalent access to education and healthcare and where they are most likely to be able to participate fully in the country's political and economic life.
Iceland is joined at the top of the The Global Gender Gap Report, 2013 by its Nordic neighbors Finland, Norway and Sweden.
Overall, the gender gap narrowed slightly across the globe in 2013, as 86 of 133 countries showed improvements.
However, "change is definitely slow," says Saadia Zahidi, one of the report's authors.
From BBC News Online
In summing up the report, Zahidi tells BBC News Online Europe has seven countries in the top 10. The UK is 18th and the U.S. is 23rd.
The Philippines, at fifth, is the highest-ranking Asian nation and Nicaragua is the highest-placed country from the Americas, at 10th.
The G20 group of leading industrial nations has no representative in the top 10, nor does the Middle East or Africa.

Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is where some of the greatest gender inequalities exist, the report says.
But the picture is far from uniform.
For instance, the Gulf states have tended to invest heavily in female education, with a reverse gender gap taking place in the United Arab Emirates. Many more women than men are now finishing university here. This contrasts with countries like Yemen, where levels of female education are very low.
MENA closed 59% of its overall gender gap in 2013. Compared to 2006, the region shows a very slight improvement, despite the fact that the Middle East region witnessed a fall in its overall score compared to last year.
The region ranks the lowest on the Economic Participation and Opportunity and Political Empowerment sub-indexes with, respectively, only 39% and 7% of the gender gap being closed.
From BBC News Online
Thirteen of the 20 lowest performing countries on the Labor force participation indicator are from the region as are 11 of the lowest on the Estimated earned income indicator. Seven of the lowest countries on the Political Empowerment sub-index are also from MENA.
The highest-ranking economies of the region have made vast investments in increasing women’s education levels in the last decades.
In Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Algeria, Oman, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, the tertiary education enrolment rates for women are higher than those of men. However, these countries have had varying degrees of success at integrating women into the economy and in decision-making in order to reap the benefits of this investment. Six out of the 10 high-income countries that rank the lowest on the overall Index are from the region.
The UAE (109) continues to hold the top position among the Arab countries and is the only country from the region that has fully closed the educational attainment gap.

However, it falls two places in the overall ranking this year because of a decrease on the Wage equality for similar work and in the Estimated earned income indicators.

From the Global Gender Gap Index report
The UAE ranks sixth on the Literacy rate indicator and seventh on the Enrolment in primary education indicator.

The UAE is followed by Bahrain (112), Qatar (115), Kuwait (116) and Jordan (119).

Qatar maintains the same overall ranking as last year although there has been a small improvement in the overall score. Qatar ranks the highest of the region on the Estimated earned income indicator but the lowest of the region on the Healthy life expectancy indicator.

Kuwait falls seven spots this year because of losses in the Labor force participation, Wage equality for similar work and Estimated earned income indicators.

Jordan moves up two places. Its improvements are driven by gains in the Educational Attainment and Political Empowerment sub-indexes.

Next are Oman (122), Lebanon (123) and Algeria (124).

Oman ascends three places relative to its 125th position in the 2012 ranking thanks to gains on the Economic Participation and Opportunity and Educational Attainment sub-indexes. Oman obtains the best score from the region on the Wage equality for similar work indicator.

From the Global Gender Gap Index report
Lebanon moves down one place this year. Lebanon is one of the two regional countries that has fully closed its heath and survival gender gap.

Women’s Education

Some countries that have made the key investments in women’s education but have generally not removed barriers to women’s participation in the workforce and are thus not seeing returns on their investments in the development of one half of their human capital.

This group includes Japan, the UAE and Brazil. They have an untapped but educated talent pool and would have much to gain through women’s greater participation in the workforce.

A report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Countries found that restricting job opportunities for women is costing the region between $42 and $46 billion a year.

Research by the World Bank demonstrates that similar restrictions have also imposed massive costs throughout the Middle East, where decades of substantial investment have dramatically reduced the gender gap in education but the gender gap in economic opportunity remains the widest in the world.

Gender equality vs. women’s empowerment

The third distinguishing feature of the Global Gender Gap Index is that it ranks countries according to their proximity to gender equality rather than to women’s empowerment.

Its focus is on whether the gap between women and men in the chosen indicators has declined, rather than whether women are “winning” the “battle of the sexes.”

Hence, the Index rewards countries that reach the point where outcomes for women equal those for men, but it neither rewards nor penalizes cases in which women are outperforming men in particular indicators.

So, are we all moving to Iceland? Probably not just yet…