Posted on November 02, 2017

A decade of slow but steady progress on improving parity between the sexes came to a halt in 2017, with the global gender gap widening for the first time since the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report was first published in 2006.

The findings in this year’s report, published today, show that, overall, 68% of the global gender gap has been closed. This is a slight deterioration on 2016 and 2015, when the gap was 68.3% and 68.1%, respectively. Behind the decline is a widening of the gender gap across all four of the report’s pillars: Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, Economic Opportunity and Political Empowerment. These latter two areas are of particular concern because they already carry the largest gaps and, until this year, were registering the fastest progress.

At the current rate of progress, the global gender gap will take 100 years to close, compared to 83 last year. The workplace gender gap will now not be closed for 217 years, the report estimates. But with various studies linking gender parity to better economic performance, a number of countries are bucking the dismal global trend: over one-half of all 144 countries measured this year have seen their score improve in the past 12 months. “We are moving from the era of capitalism into the era of talentism. Competitiveness on a national and on a business level will be decided more than ever before by the innovative capacity of a country or a company. Those will succeed best, who understand to integrate women as an important force into their talent pool,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum.

Qatar loses 11 spots in the World 3 [qatarisbooming.com].jpgThe Global Gender Gap Index 2017

The Middle East and North Africa is the lowest-ranked region in the Index with an average remaining gender gap of 40%. In addition to Israel (44), the region’s best-performing countries are Tunisia (117), the United Arab Emirates (120) and Bahrain (126). The region is home to four of the world’s five lowest-ranking countries on Political Empowerment – Kuwait (129), Lebanon (137), Qatar (130) and Yemen (144). However out of the 17 countries covered by the Index in the region this year, 11 countries have improved their overall score compared to last year.

At the top of the Global Gender Gap Index is Iceland. Having closed nearly 88% of its gap, it has been the world’s most gender-equal country for nine years. The gap between Iceland and the second-placed country, Norway, actually widens as both Norway and third-placed Finland saw their gaps widen this year. The top five is completed by Rwanda (4) and Sweden (5). The next two countries in the Index, Nicaragua (6) and Slovenia (7), also achieve symbolic milestones this year closing 80% of their gaps for the first time. Ireland (8), New Zealand (9) and Philippines (10) make up the top 10.

Among the G20 group of countries, France (11) is ranked highest on gender parity, followed by Germany (12), the United Kingdom (15), Canada (16), South Africa (19) and Argentina (34). The US drops four places to 49 while, at the lower end of the group, no fewer than six countries rank at or above 100. These are China (100), India (108), Japan (114), Republic of Korea (118), Turkey (131) and Saudi Arabia (138).                                                                

Looking at the individual pillars of the Index, the report finds that in 2017 that 27 countries have now closed the gender gap in Educational Attainment; three more countries than last year. A total of 34 countries – four less than last year – have closed their Health and Survival gender gaps. Only six countries have closed the gap in both of these pillars. In Economic Participation and Opportunity, no country has fully closed the gender gap but 13 countries (two more than last year) have closed more than 80% of their gap. Political Empowerment has the widest gender gap with only Iceland having closed more than 70% of the gap. Four countries have crossed the 50% threshold and 34 countries have closed less than 10% of the gap (five less than last year). Weighted by population, 95 countries rank below the Political Empowerment sub-index world average (0.227) this year.

“In 2017 we should not be seeing progress towards gender parity shift into reverse. Gender equality is both a moral and economic imperative. Some countries understand this and they are now seeing dividends from the proactive measures they have taken to address their gender gaps,” said Saadia Zahidi, Head of Education, Gender and Work, World Economic Forum.

Time to Parity

At this rate of progress, it will take another century to close the overall global gender gap, compared to 83 years last year. The most challenging gender gaps remain in the economic and health spheres. At the current rate of change, it will take another 217 years to close the economic gender gap. This represents a reversal of progress and is the lowest-value measured by the Index since 2008. The Forum’s Closing the Gender Gap project aims to accelerate the pace of change on gender parity through global dialogue and a national public-private collaboration model currently active in three countries with further expansion planned for 2018.

Progress across the health gender gap remains undefined. Formally the smallest gap, progress has oscillated with a general downward trend. Today, the gap is larger than it stood in 2006, in part due to specific issues in select countries, in particular China and India. Although it exhibits the most progress, the political gender gap is the widest and could take another 99 years to close. On the other hand, with current trends, the education gender gap could be closed within the next 13 years.

All regions record a narrower gender gap than they did 11 years ago, despite stalled progress at the global level. At today’s rates of progress, the overall global gender gap can be closed in 61 years in Western Europe, 62 years in South Asia, 79 years in Latin America and the Caribbean, 102 years in Sub-Saharan Africa, 128 years in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 157 years in the Middle East and North Africa, 161 years in East Asia and the Pacific, and 168 years in North America.

Qatar loses 11 spots in the World 2 [qatarisbooming.com].jpg

The Economic Case for Parity

Various studies have suggested that improving gender parity may result in significant economic dividends, which vary depending on the situation of different economies and the specific challenges they are facing. Notable recent estimates suggest that economic gender parity could add an additional $250 billion to the GDP of the United Kingdom, $1,750 billion to that of the United States, $550 billion to Japan’s, $320 billion to France’s and $310 billion to the GDP of Germany.

Other recent estimates suggest that China could see a $2.5 trillion GDP increase from gender parity and that the world as a whole could increase global GDP by $5.3 trillion by 2025 if it closed the gender gap in economic participation by 25% over the same period. Given associated government revenue shares in GDP, the latter achievement would also unlock an additional $1.4 trillion in global tax revenue, most of it ($940 billion) in emerging economies, suggesting the potential self-financing effects of additional public investment into closing global gender gaps.

The economic case for parity also exists at the industry and enterprise-level and a key avenue for further progress entails addressing the current imbalances by sector. In research with LinkedIn, the report finds that men are under-represented in education, and health and welfare, while women are under-represented in engineering, manufacturing and construction, and information, communication and technology. Such segmentation by gender means that each sector loses out on the potential benefits of greater gender diversity: greater innovation, creativity and returns. However these gaps are not only a pipeline problem, i.e. regardless of the levels of women going into professions, across the board men hold more leadership positions. Consequently, it will not be enough to focus on correcting imbalances in education and training; change is also needed within companies.  

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