Norway Best for Women, Yemen Worst Survey Reveals Global Gender Gap

Norway is the country with the narrowest gender gap in the world, while Yemen has the widest. A new global survey of equality between the sexes reveals that despite near equal access to education and health care, women are still way behind when it comes to political and economic decision-making.

The glass ceiling is alive and well, despite women across the world having increased access to health care and education. A new report published on Wednesday by the World Economic Forum (WEF) shows that the gender gap persists in both the industrial and developing world. The 2008 Global Gender Gap Report  predictably ranks the Nordic countries as having the greatest equality between the sexes, with Norway now replacing Sweden at the top of the list. Saudi Arabia, Chad and Yemen were the lowest ranked in the survey of 130 countries.

The report found that on average women and men have reached near parity in access to education, health and survival. However, economically and politically the gap is still large. "The world's women are nearly as educated and as healthy as men, but are nowhere to be found in terms of decision-making," Saadia Zahidi, one of the authors of the report, told Reuters. "Given that women have almost closed the gap with men on health and education, it is a waste of their talents if they are not catching up in economics and politics."

The report, which was drawn up by researchers at Harvard University, the University of California and the WEF, uses data from the United Nations and other sources to measure the gender gap in four areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment and health and survival.

Outside the Nordic region, which usually scores well in measures of gender equality, New Zealand, the Philippines, Ireland, the Netherlands and Latvia were in the Top Ten. Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain all fell back slightly but stayed in the top 20, while France made the biggest leap, from 51st in 2007 to 15th in 2008.

Behind France's Turnaround

France's much improved performance is driven by increases in economic participation and political empowerment. While wage equality has improved, there is also now a higher percentage of French women among legislators and managers, and France now is ranked fourth-place in the world in the amount of women in government ministerial positions.

The United States was ranked 27th up from 31st last year due to the higher number of women appointed to positions of power.

The survey looks at the how well countries are dividing the resources and opportunities they have at their disposal between men and women, which explains why relatively poor countries like Lesotho or Sri Lanka were ranked in the top 20. "The index does not penalize those countries that have low levels of education overall, for example, but rather those where the distribution of education is uneven between women and men," co-author Richard Hausmann of Harvard University, told Reuters ahead of the report's publication.

The Global Gender Gap - Top 20

Country 2008 Score 2007
Norway 1 82.39 % 2
Finland 2 81.95 % 3
Sweden 3 81.39 % 1
Iceland 4 79.99 % 4
New Zealand 5 78.59 % 5
Philippines 6 75.68 % 6
Denmark 7 75.38 % 8
Ireland 8 75.18 % 9
Netherlands 9 73.99 % 12
Latvia 10 73.97 % 13
Germany 11 73.94 % 7
Sri Lanka 12 73.71 % 15
United Kingdom 13 73.66 % 11
Switzerland 14 73.60 % 40
France 15 73.41 % 51
Lesotho 16 73.20 % 26
Spain 17 72.81 % 10
Mozambique 18 72.66 % 43
Trinidad and Tobago 19 72.45 % 46
Moldova 20 72.44 % 21
Source: World Economic Forum

The report's authors says there is some evidence that there is a link between the gender gap and the economic performance of countries. According to Laura Tyson of the University of California, "Countries that do not fully capitalize effectively on one-half of their human resources run the risk of undermining their competitive potential."

And in times of global financial crisis, those resources may be needed more than ever. "Greater representation of women in senior leadership positions within governments and financial institutions is vital not only to find solutions to the current economic turmoil but to stave off such crises in the future," concludes Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF.

In Iceland, that call seems to have already been heeded. Last month two women, Elin Sigfusdottir and Birna Einarsdottir, were brought in to rebuild the country's troubled financial system, taking over the two recently nationalized banks New Landsbanki and New Glitnir. A government official told the Financial Times in October that it was a sign that the women were now taking over. "It's typical, the men make the mess and the women come in to clean it up."

smd -- with wire reports

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