On November 19, the World Economic Forum released its annual report,
The Global Gender Gap Index.
2015 marks the tenth year of the study, whose metrics track the progress of 140
countries in creating better gender equality in political, economic, and social
The Index, which stresses itself as a marker for progress by which nations and economies can realize problematic areas, has acted as a compelling tool for the creation of governmental, legal, and corporate measures to improve the inclusion of women. Though the incentive of adding half of the world’s talent pool to the global economy speaks for itself; with various studies pointing out that greater gender equality leads to greater overall societal health and happiness, along with better bottom lines; the most startling highlight of the 2015 study was this chilling fact:
Despite global efforts, which have acted tidally (with waves of advancement in some sectors and regions being alarmingly balanced by an undertow of digression in staple areas), the global gender gap itself has only closed 4% in the past ten years—suggesting that it will take 118 years for the gap to close completely, at the current rate of growth.
Before we all jump into our time machines and tumble optimistically into the year 2133, the 2015 Gender Gap Index points out that it isn’t all doom and gloom— Progress of scale is, after all, still progress.
Patterns of change have emerged from the study, which highlights parity in the area of Women’s Health and improvement in Politics. While equality has fallen behind in other areas; economic empowerment being starkest; these failures also have a silver lining, as they display the meaningful link between inequality and the stagnation of GDP, prompting leaders and policy-makers to affect much-needed resolutions.
Countries like China and Japan have been put in a self-conscious position this year, while the Philippines and France have much to be proud of.
The Index measures national gender equality based on four “pillars”: Economic Participation and Opportunity (including salary, leadership, and inclusion), Political Empowerment (policy, representation, and leadership), Health and Survival (life expectancy, sex ratio, childbirth and wellness), and Education (access and available levels of).
Economic Participation & Opportunity
Economic wins this year were especially notable in workforce participation and salary. Since the Global Gender Gap Index’s inception in 2006, a quarter of a billion more women have been engaged in labour—whether through efforts on the part of government and companies to foster inclusion, or simply as a result expanded local definitions of the workforce to include the part-time, contract, and agricultural positions that women often account for depends largely on the region. The increase in female involvement helps provide a broader understanding of what women are capable of, and of their contribution to improving global GDP.
Women’s average salary has increased from 11k per annum to 21k per annum over the last ten years—however, this only puts women’s current average salary today on par with the average salary of men ten years ago. As the salaries of men have also increased overall with inflation, and as not a single country has achieved overall pay equality (it is lowest in New Zealand, at a gap of 5.62), this area still needs development.
Although more women than men have been enrolling in Universities across 97/140 countries, women in the workplace only make up the majority of leaders in four countries, and the majority of skilled workers in 68, which does not reflect the supposed link between higher education and better job prospects and mobilisation. Supporting this notion, while the overall Global Gender Gap has closed by 4%, Economic Empowerment was the only key pillar where the gap closed by only 3%.
The study importantly noted that wage and labor force parity has stagnated since 2009. However, stagnation does not imply a backtrack: only 16% of countries lost ground in this area since 2014, with Saudi Arabia improving the most compared to its start point, while Bahrain improved the most overall. Countries that did lose ground were Jordan, overall, and Tanzania in absolute terms. 80% of countries made some form of absolute progress with labour participation, where Nepal especially excelled, while France, Ghana, and Colombia showed a notable increase of women in senior and managerial positions. Women in technology and other skilled professions were better included over the past year in Albania, Lesotho, and Guatemala.
Some of the world’s best progress has taken place in the political world. Although women make up only 19% of the world’s Parliamentarians and 18% of its ministers, half of the world’s leadership is now female. Famously, when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked why he’d made the historic choice to have a 50/50 parliament, he answered “Because it’s 2015.”
Despite the year, and the inspirational progress, Political Empowerment is actually the pillar where the gap is at its widest. Only four countries have ministerial parity, and only two have parliamentary parity. Though only 13% of countries lost ground in this area since 2014, countries like Sri Lanka have nosedived.
Often, however, the most troubled areas are where the biggest improvement in the shortest time is possible. The UAE has done the best this year from its original start point, while Jordan showed the most improvement overall. Bolivia also impressed, as did France, and Iceland, the stronghold for gender equality—each closing between 20-35% of their national gaps.
Health & Survival
When it comes to the Health pillar, gender equality is in better shape than anywhere else. 40 countries have closed the gap (5 of them since the 2014 study), and 96% of countries have equalized statistics. Georgia has particularly made leaps forward from its start point.
However, regardless of overall performance, the gap in Health and Survival has also widened since 2006. 39% of countries overall have worse scores than ten years ago: a startling number. India, laudable for gaining six spots in the Index ranking overall, was also the country with the biggest slip in this category.
As noted, more women than men are enrolling in higher education worldwide. 25 countries have completely closed the gap, with the most development being in the realm of higher education. Countries with stable secondary schooling have been able to mobilise to promote women entering higher degree training.
Despite this fact, the overall gap in education has widened 22% since 2006, with much of that gap being focused on a lack of secondary schooling in certain national landscapes. Also of note, despite the high numbers of women achieving degrees and diplomas in technical fields, employment opportunities, leadership roles, and reasonable wage earnings are still in the majority denied to these women in favour of male candidates, illustrating how Education must work more closely with Economic Empowerment to achieve meaningful societal results.
In terms of successes in this pillar, Burkina Faso decreased its gap the most from its original start point, as well as in absolute terms. In contrast, Malaysia has had the biggest setbacks in both calculable categories.
Country Shifts & Index Rankings: Who Rose, Who Fell, and What It Means
When looking at how the countries performed overall, it comes as no shock to most that the Nordic countries are a bedrock for gender equality, with Iceland ranking 1st on the overall Index, followed by Norway, Finland, Sweden, and then breaking the paradigm, Ireland. The United Kingdom, by comparison, ranked 18th, which nonetheless placed it back on par with its 2013 rank, after a bad year for economy and health in 2014. The United States slipped an embarrassing eight ranks, to 28th, for both wage and political equity losses. Rwanda, with its high political parity, ranks 6th on the list in its second year on the Index, and New Zealand gained three places to nab the 10th spot.
Though no single country managed to close its gap wholly, the 2015 spectrum starts with 88% closure at its highest (Iceland), and 48% at lowest (Yemen). In the “BRICS” countries, South Africa, at 17th, ranked highest, with large numbers of female participants in politics bolstering numbers. India, which ranked 108th and is the lowest scoring of the “BRICS”, nonetheless has improved by six spots, while China slipped 4 spots to 91st (in large part due to sex imbalance of the born population).
Countries within Europe and Central Asia take up 14 of the top 20 spots—an improvement since 2014. Within the sector, Estonia and Slovenia improved the most, while Belgium and Denmark have shown the most deterioration. France also made some of the region’s largest strides in closing its gap, across sectors. Turkey, at 130th, ranked worst in the region. In Asia and the Pacific, the Philippines (7th) is the region’s powerhouse, while New Zealand and Australia are the only other countries in to make the top 50. Japan, ranked at 101st, has shown some improvement since 2014, but losses in Economic Empowerment have prevented it from attaining a spot on the top 100, despite Prime Minister Abe’s radical plans to achieve better equality. Iran and Pakistan were the lowest performing, at 141st and 144th respectively.
Within Latin America and the Caribbean, Nicaragua ranked the highest (12th), which is nonetheless a 6-spot slip from 2014, due to decreased wage parity and political participation. Eleven countries in the region made the top 50, with Guatemala and Paraguay ranking lowest overall, at 106th and 107th. Lower rates of participation in the workplace and governance play a huge role in sapping scores across this area. Nonetheless, overall it has shown the most absolute improvement among all regions surveyed.
In The Middle East and North Africa, Israel ranked the highest at 53rd, with Kuwait coming in at second in far-off 117th place. Staggering scores in this region have less to do with increased gaps (which are already quite wide), and more to do with the progress of other countries previously ranked in the bottom half eclipsing stagnant Middle Eastern and Northern African countries in the four pillars. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, had three countries in the top 20 spots, with high political participation and improved pay equality, including Namibia, which is one of the top-five countries for total progress in 2015. Despite being the region’s largest economic power-houses, Nigeria ranked only 125th, a disappointing find, but still a stride away from the region’s lowest-ranking country, Chad (142nd).
North America showed the least overall absolute progress of any region. However, the metrics were largely stagnant, showing that there was also no extremely significant overall widening of gaps. Compared with the progress of other nations, however, along with the USA, Canada also fell 11 ranks from 19th to 30th, while Mexico improved, from 80th to 71st.
Out of the 109 nations that have been involved in the Index since its inception, 103 have made strides towards closing the gender gap, while six have seen significant setbacks: Mali, Sri Lanka, Jordan, Iran, Croatia, and the Slovak Republic.
The Index & Meaningful, Sustainable Change
While the Gender Index Gap may seem, at first glance, a confusing batch of metrics, its impact at local levels has certainly been felt, as illustrated by the overall reductions in the gender gap worldwide. The data allows for governments to both identify key areas of improvement where they must ratify actionable change and create more equitable systems, while high-ranking countries have proven a link between progress and prosperity across sectors, and function as a role model and goal model for other nations to aspire.
The Index especially points out that the world is on the brink of a “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, which will highlight tech, bio, and eco sectors while making traditional roles in production, consumption, and delivery (many of which women have high participation rates in) obsolete or stymied. It is therefore fundamental to bridge these gaps in order to promote women’s ability to enter new roles during their foundation and to have a place in shaping the rhetoric of oncoming economic opportunities and shifts, in part to drive sustainable growth by tapping into an underutilised resource, and in part to recognise that access to equivalent rights and status is a basic keystone of civilisation, making for better societies, and a driver for moral and fiscal fruition.
The habitual measurement of these gaps as they widen and shrink helps to cut out the course that legislation must take to mitigate the economic and social losses that failures in gender equality creates, while giving countries a system of checks and balances by which to mark progress, and measure need.
With better governance and more insight, we may not have to wait for 2133.---
This article is part of TheToolbox.org's #WomenInFront series, powered by Humanise. Learn more about the initiative at WomenInFront.net, or join the conversation on social media: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.