Women gain as gender gap 'narrows'

Saadia Zahidi of the World Economic Forum explains the thinking behind the report

For five years in a row, Iceland has been rated the country with the world's smallest gender gap by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The rating means Iceland is the country where women enjoy the most equal access to education and healthcare. It is also where women are most likely to be able to participate fully in the country's political and economic life.

Iceland is joined at the top of the The Global Gender Gap Report, 2013 by its Nordic neighbours Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Overall, the gender gap narrowed slightly across the globe in 2013, as 86 of 133 countries showed improvements. However, "change is definitely slow", says one of the report's authors, Saadia Zahidi.

Explore the maps below to find out how countries compare overall - as well as in key areas of daily life, such as in health, education, employment and politics.

INTERACTIVE
  • Overall
  • Health
  • Education
  • Economics
  • Politics

Overall gender gap

Europe has seven countries in the top 10. The UK is 18th and the US is 23rd.The Philippines, at fifth, is the highest ranking Asian nation and Nicaragua is the highest-placed country from the Americas, at 10th.

The G20 group of leading industrial nations has no representative in the top 10, nor do the Middle East or Africa.

Top countries

1. Iceland

2. Finland

3. Norway

4. Sweden

5. Philippines

6. Ireland

7. New Zealand

8. Denmark

9. Switzerland

10. Nicaragua

Most equal Least equal No data

Overall gender gap

Europe has seven countries in the top 10. The UK is 18th and the US is 23rd.The Philippines, at fifth, is the highest ranking Asian nation and Nicaragua is the highest-placed country from the Americas, at 10th.

The G20 group of leading industrial nations has no representative in the top 10, nor do the Middle East or Africa.

Top countries

1. Iceland

2. Finland

3. Norway

4. Sweden

5. Philippines

6. Ireland

7. New Zealand

8. Denmark

9. Switzerland

10. Nicaragua

Most equal Least equal No data

Health

The gender gap is most narrow in this category, where there is 96% equality, according to the WEF, and many countries tie at the top of the rankings. The two main measures used are a comparison of healthy life expectancy and the sex ratio between boys and girls at birth.

Typically, women have a life expectancy several years longer than men, but in Pakistan the situation is reversed, with men living on average one year longer than women. China and India are marked down by the WEF for having a high ratio of boy babies compared with girls.

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Education

When it comes to addressing the gender gap “education is an accelerator”, says Saadia Zahidi. In education, the WEF estimates there is 93% equality.

She adds: “For countries in Europe and North America, it has been decades since they reached parity in primary and secondary education, and in tertiary education the gender gap has been reversed.” As with the rankings on health, education also sees many countries in joint first place.

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Economics

In the world of work, differing pictures emerge. In some nations few women are in senior jobs, despite high levels of female participation in the workforce. Brazil and China are both examples of this.

In countries including Yemen and Mauritania, there is very little participation in the workforce by women in general. Overall the WEF estimates there is 60% equality in economics.

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Politics

The gender gap is widest in the world of politics, according to the WEF. Saadia Zahidi says: “For the world as a whole… women occupy only around 20% of leadership roles in political positions compared to men.”

“The highest-ranking Nordic countries have closed more than half of this gap. The bottom countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia have closed none of that gap.”

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How do the continents compare?

North America

Canada and the US come in at 20th and 23rd in the overall rankings. Both countries score well on education, where they are joint top alongside several other nations.

The US comes below Canada on politics, 60th to Canada’s 42nd place, but the US is ahead of its neighbour on economics, at sixth, and health, at 33rd, where Canada comes ninth and 49th respectively.

Latin America and the Caribbean

The three strongest-performing countries here are Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador, who all make the top 25 nations overall. Brazil’s position is unchanged from last year at 62nd.

“The health and education gap was closed here years ago. So it’s a continent ready to take off in terms of labour and political participation,” says Saadia Zahidi.

Europe and Central Asia

Northern European countries generally fare well compared with other countries. The WEF attributes this, in part, to policies that help people balance the twin demands of work and family life.

In southern Europe, the gender gap in education was reversed a number of years ago. However, there are lower levels of female participation in the workforce.

Middle East and North Africa

This is the region where some of the greatest gender inequalities exist. But the picture is far from uniform. For instance, the Gulf states have tended to invest heavily in female education, with a reverse gender gap taking place in the United Arab Emirates. Many more women than men are now finishing university here.

This contrasts with countries like Yemen, where levels of female education are very low.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Some of the countries with the widest gender gaps can be found here; Chad and Ivory Coast all come close to the bottom of the overall rankings.

But southern Africa has some nations where a high level of labour force participation and political empowerment have helped bring them into the top 30 countries. Lesotho reaches 16th, South Africa is one place behind and Mozambique comes in at 26th.

Asia

The Philippines stands out as the most equal country in Asia. This is down to closing the gap in health and education. The country also has a high level of economic participation, says the WEF.

China comes 69th overall, ahead of India at 101st. India’s low rank is due to poor scores from the WEF on education, health and economics.

How are the rankings made?

In order to compare relative gender gaps, the WEF creates an index from more than a dozen different sets of data. A score of one (or 100%) represents equality; zero (or 0%) represents inequality. Countries are then ranked on their results.

Written and produced by John Walton, Sophia Domfeh, Martyn Rees and Claire Shannon.

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