For the first time in 11 years, gender equality worsened in 2017. This is according to the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Global Gender Gap Index, which ranks 144 countries for women’s gender equality based on four measures: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival.
The difference in scores that produced this result compared to 2016 may only be 0.3 percent, yet when you consider that this equates to an additional
11 million women that were further disempowered or not empowered at all – almost the entire population of a country like Greece – there is still a long way to go to close the gender gap… a century in fact, according to the index’s accompanying report.
It’s a bleak picture perhaps, yet there are gems among the report. Iceland, for instance, leads the world as its most gender-equal nation for the ninth consecutive year. Norway and Finland come in second and third. Rwanda is ranked fourth, something that is especially striking when considering that the nation lost one million citizens in a 100-day genocidal civil war in 1994, proving just how significant and impactful women can be in rebuilding a nation.
It was also a crisis – albeit different in nature – that created Iceland’s ‘women’s takeover’ during the 2008 financial crash. Women replaced their male counterparts as leaders of banks and financial institutions, and, when the entire Icelandic Government resigned, a female Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, was appointed. Coincidently, Prime Minister Sigurðardóttir was also the world’s first openly lesbian leader.
Although no high-profile politician has made the bold claim that women are better at leadership than their male counterparts, Barack Obama is quoted as saying last December that more women need to be put in positions of power “because men seem to be having some problems nowadays.” A Gallup poll of Americans, also released last year, echoed the former President’s sentiment, as it revealed that Americans no longer prefer a male boss to a woman boss.
EU Slow to Change
The Gender Equality Index 2017, issued by the European Institute for Gender Equality, focuses on the attainment of gender parity in Europe. The region has only slightly improved its gender disparities in the past 10 years. Sweden ranks the highest, Greece the lowest, and Italy – in 14th position – is the most improved. The area that showed the highest improvement was decision-making, indicating that more equality exists in the political sphere.
Reports such as these are widely cited, but, in the opinion of US academic Jeni Klugman, such indexes are missing one important measure: that of how safe a woman is in her society. Along with her colleagues at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and in collaboration with the Peace Research Institute Oslo, in 2017 Ms Klugman launched the first Women, Peace, and Security Index.
Ranking 153 countries – more than 98 percent of the world’s population – the index evaluates progress on inclusion, justice, and security for women. Inclusion covers the ability of women to make their own economic, social, and political decisions; justice is measured by formal and informal laws and discrimination; and security covers personal safety in the family, in communities, and in society at large.
Klugman says the results are diverse: “No country performs well across all of the dimensions. So there’s room for improvement everywhere.” By region, the best performers were Iceland for ‘Developed Countries,’ Slovenia in ‘Central & Eastern Europe & Central Asia,’ Singapore in ‘East Asia & the Pacific,’ Jamaica in ‘Latin America & the Caribbean,’ the UAE in the ‘Middle East & North Africa,’ Nepal in ‘South Asia’, Namibia in ‘Sub-Saharan Africa,’ and Zimbabwe among ‘Fragile States.’
Wage Gap Widens
Economically, and returning to the WEF Report, closing the pay gap between women and men is going to take 217 years at the current development rate.
A report from the January 2018 WEF conference in Davos suggests the technology sector will see the greatest disparities, not just in terms of remuneration but also status. The warning, issued by Saadia Zahidi, the WEF’s Head of Education, Gender, and Work, needs no interpretation: “We’re looking at a worsening of inequality, particularly in IT but across all sectors. We are losing valuable opportunities to reduce gender inequality.”
Zahidi highlighted two possible causes for the decline in gender parity: fewer women are working in high-growth areas such as biotech and infrastructure, and, even in those high-growth areas where women tend to have a stronger presence, leadership roles remain the domain of men.
To overcome workplace stagnation and the worsening of disparity, Zahidi advised corporations to undertake far-reaching organisational change. “It needs a holistic approach from companies when thinking about gender equality – not just board-level positions. Diversity leads to creativity, which is even more necessary in a world undergoing an industrial revolution.”
The UK: 100 Years of Suffrage
2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of women winning the right to vote in Britain. Female British Prime Minister, Theresa May, heralded this as a “huge and irreversible step towards creating a truly universal democracy, and the beginning of a representative public debate.”
Just as it was for the suffragettes who campaigned a century ago, there still remains much for today’s women to campaign for and create awareness of.