The Global Gender Gap

The ‘Global Gender Gap’ report, published annually by the World Economic Forum, attempts to quantify the magnitude of gender based disparities across the world, and track their progress over time. The series’ recently published 8th report highlights both positive and negative conclusions. At a very high level, the gap between men and women has narrowed slightly in the past year, but no country in the world has yet achieved gender equality.

For the fifth year in a row, Iceland has been rated the country with the world’s smallest gender gap, and is joined at the top by its Nordic neighbours Finland, Norway and Sweden. All have closed over 80% of the gender gap (where 100% would represent full equality) based on political participation, economic equality and rights like education and health.

The UK ranked 18th out of 136 countries – the same position as last year, although there have been some small improvements in its overall score. The WEF stress that this ‘highlights some important points that the UK must address if it is to truly tackle its gender gap as there are worrisome points across all four pillars’. Overall the UK is given a score of 0.744, putting it above Austria, Canada and Luxembourg but below Cuba, Lesotho and South Africa. Of the four pillars used for assessment, the UK is ranked 29th for political empowerment, 31st for
educational attainment, 35th for economic participation and opportunity and 92nd for health and survival.

Overall, the gender gap narrowed slightly across the globe in 2013, and while 80% of the countries have made progress, that still leaves 20% – 27 countries – making no progress at all or falling behind. For example, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have invested in education and health, but have not integrated women into their economy, and the Middle East and North Africa were the only regions not to improve in the past year. Elsewhere, the highest-ranked Asian nation was the Philippines (5th), praised for its success in health, education and economic participation, otherwise Asia’s major economies performed poorly, with China in 69th place and Japan 105th. The United States fell one spot this year to 23rd, despite a minor improvement on the Women in Parliament indicator (17% in 2012 to 18% in 2013).

On average in 2013, over 96% of the gap in health outcomes, 93% of the gap in educational attainment, 60% of the gap in economic participation and 21% of the gap in political empowerment has been closed. However, no country in the world has yet achieved gender equality. Change is definitely slow.

Countries and companies can be competitive only if they develop, attract and retain the best talent, both male and female. While governments have an important role to play in creating the right policy framework for improving women’s access and opportunities, it is also the imperative of companies to create workplaces where the best talent can
flourish. Civil society, educators and media also have an important role to play in both empowering women and engaging men in the process. The four key areas of health, education, economics and politics cannot be overlooked, and to engage in change initiatives, countries, companies and other stakeholders must be able to understand the context, assess the starting point and actively track progress. Only then will the pace of change be transformed on what is a fundamental issue of our time.

The full report can be downloaded here: