The United States slipped in this year’s scorecard measuring equality between women and men while Nordic countries remained at the top of the list and Muslim countries at the bottom.
No country managed to close the gender gap entirely, the Swiss-based World Economic Forum found, but women in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland came closest to achieving equality with men in education, employment, health and politics.
The Global Gender Gap Report released Thursday, which ranked 128 countries representing 93 percent of the world’s population, showed that the highest ranking countries closed about 80 percent of the gender gap while the lowest ranking closed just over 45 percent.
Klaus Schwab, the forum’s founder and executive chairman, said in a statement that the report captures the magnitude of gender-based disparities across the world and tracks them over time.
“As policymakers and business leaders seek to address talent shortages, there is increasing urgency to close gender gaps and leverage the talents of both women and men,” he said.
At a news conference launching the report, co-author Laura Tyson, a professor of business administration and economics at the University of California at Berkeley, said most countries have done very well in closing the health and education gaps but there are wide variations in economic and political opportunities for women.
“One half of the talent pool of nations is female, and if you educate and maintain the health of, and give economic and political opportunity to that talent base, you’re likely to have a healthy economy,” said Tyson, who was former President Bill Clinton’s top economic adviser. “One of the things we found both this year and last year is that if you rank countries on their competitive index … and you rank them on their gender gap you can see a correlation.”
Ricardo Hausmann, another co-author who directs the Center for International Development at Harvard University, said there are still some very important gaps, but he is “somewhat optimistic” because the gaps are narrowing in many countries.
Out of 115 countries that the index ranked last year, only 25 countries lowered their ranking this year “so there is a trend toward improvement.”
Hausmann said he also found it “extremely surprising” that in a survey of 141 countries, 83 had more women than men in college, which could have an impact on gender equality in the future.
One of the biggest surprises this year was the United States dropping from 23rd place in 2006 to 31st place in this year’s rankings.
The U.S. now ranks behind South Africa, Cuba, Colombia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Lesotho and Namibia, and just one spot ahead of Kazakhstan.
Hausmann said the U.S. ranks “very poorly in political participation of women,” noting that only 13 percent of Congress is female. While many women have jobs, he said, there are “very, very big gaps” in the incomes between men and women and these two elements explain the lower U.S. ranking.
According to the report, women in predominantly Muslim countries are struggling to compete for jobs, win equal pay and hold political office, falling behind the rest of the world in eliminating discrimination.
Many Islamic countries are at the bottom of the rankings including Iran at 118, Egypt at 120, Turkey at 121, Morocco at 122, Saudi Arabia at 124, Pakistan at 126 and Yemen at 128.
Saadia Zahidi, who runs the forum’s women leaders program and is the report’s third co-author, said women living on the Arabian peninsula receive nearly as much education and health benefits as men there, “but they’re held back on political participation and economic empowerment.”
The world’s most populous nations China and India were hurt in the study by the preference of many parents for boys, which has led to abortions and infanticide being directed primarily against girls. China ranked 73rd and India 114th.
“There’s a widening gap between India and Pakistan, and even between Bangladesh and Pakistan, where Pakistan is falling further behind,” Hausmann said.
But he said he was “optimistic” about Latin America because there are more educated girls than boys and labor force participation is rising very quickly for women.
Associated Press Writer Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report
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