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economic equality fails to match health and education progress for women worldwide

The sixth annual World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2011 shows a slight decline over the last year in gender equality rankings for New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom this year, while gains are made in Brazil, Ethiopia, Qatar, Tanzania and Turkey.

Nordic countries (Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) continue to hold top spots having closed over 80% of their gender gaps, while countries at the bottom of the rankings still need to close as much as 50%.

  • Women hold less than 20% of all national decision-making positions
  • India ranks lowest on gender parity among the BRICS countries
  • USA continues to improve, moves up two places
  • UAE ranks highest in the Arab World with Saudi Arabia improving the fastest over past 6 years
  • Gender gap worsening in Nigeria, Mali, Colombia, Tanzania and El Salvador over past 6 years

Reporting on national policies designed to facilitate female workforce participation in almost 60 countries, shows that while 88% of countries have legislation prohibiting gender-based workplace discrimination, less than 45% have a national benchmarking tool. According to the report, 20% of countries surveyed have mandated female corporate board representation and 30% have mandated political participation. 

“Smaller gender gaps are directly correlated with increased economic competitiveness,” says Saadia Zahidi, Senior Director, Head of the World Economic Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme and report co-author. “With the world’s attention on job creation and economic growth, gender equality is the key to unlocking potential and stimulating economies."

“Gender gaps close when countries recognize the economic and social imperatives. With the right policies, change can happen very quickly," says co-author Laura Tyson, S.K. and Angela Chan Professor of Global Management, Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley, USA.

International scores for health and education are encouraging with 96% of the health gaps and 93% of the education gaps already closed. Around the world, economic and political participation continue to show the largest gaps.

“Female healthy life expectancy and literacy levels remain alarmingly low across many parts of Africa and Asia. In Latin America, women have more schooling than men but marriage and motherhood are still not compatible with a fuller economic and political participation of women. We’ve come a long way but there is still a long road ahead of us,” says report co-author Ricardo Hausmann, Director of the Centre for International Development at Harvard University.

The Global Gender Gap Report’s index assesses 135 countries, representing more than 93% of the world’s population, on how well resources and opportunities are divided amongst male and female populations. The report measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four areas:

Economic participation and opportunity –salaries, participation and highly-skilled employment
Education – access to basic and higher level education
Political empowerment – representation in decision-making structures
Health and survival – life expectancy and sex ratio

“A world where women make up less than 20% of the global decision-makers is a world that is missing a huge opportunity for growth and ignoring an untapped reservoir of potential,” says Klaus Schwab, Founder and Chairman of the World Economic Forum.