WomenVolume 12 Issue # 12

The Lesser Mortals

Gender inequality is a bitter fact of life but, unfortunately, little is being done in most countries to change the situation for the better. According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) Global Gender Gap Report, 2016, the world is facing a serious challenge by not acting faster to tackle gender inequality, which deprives most economies of the opportunity to develop.
The report, published annually, measures progress made towards ensuring gender parity in four areas, including educational attainment, health and survival, economic opportunity and political empowerment. First published in 2006, the Global Gender Gap Report ranks 145 countries according to their gender equality in these four sectors. The Index classifies countries based on how well they cater to the needs of their female population based on economic, educational, health and political indicators.

According to the report, Iceland led the index for the eighth consecutive year, closing more than 87 percent of its overall gender gap, followed by Finland at second and Norway at the third place. Sweden is at No.4, while the next highest placed nation is Rwanda, which moved one place ahead of Ireland to 5th position. Following Ireland, the Philippines remained unchanged at 7th, narrowly ahead of Slovenia (8) and New Zealand (9). With Switzerland dropping out of the top 10, 10th position is taken up by Nicaragua.

Interestingly, the United States (45) loses 17 places since last year, primarily due to a more transparent measure for the estimated earned income. Other major economies in the top 20 include Germany (13), France (17) and the United Kingdom (20). Among the BRICS grouping, the highest-placed nation remains South Africa (15), which moves up two places since last year. The Russian Federation (75) is next, followed by Brazil (79). India (87) gains 21 spots and overtakes China (99) with improvements across Economic Participation and Opportunity and Educational Attainment. Countries from Western Europe – including the three largest economies, France, Germany and the UK – occupy 11 of the top 20 positions in the Index.

After Europe and North America, the region with the third narrowest gender gap is Latin America and the Caribbean. With 70% of its gap now closed, it boasts six countries to have fully filled both their education and gender gaps, more than any other region. With Nicaragua the only country in the top 20, however, the performance of the largest economies – Argentina (33), Mexico (66), Chile (70) and Brazil (79) – is mixed.
The region with the fourth-smallest gender gap is Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with four countries – Slovenia (8), Latvia (18), Estonia (22) and Lithuania (25) – in the top 25. Slovenia is one of the top 10 climbers in the world since 2006. East Asia and the Pacific follows next, having closed 68% of its gender gap. This is a region of stark contrast, with a large distance between the most gender-equal societies such as the Philippines and New Zealand and economic heavyweights China (99), Japan (111) and Korea (116). Four nations from Sub-Saharan Africa – Rwanda (5), Burundi (12), Namibia (14) and South Africa (15) make it into the top 20; more than any other region except Western Europe. The region has closed nearly 68% of its gender gap; however, data suggest that it will only take 60 years for economic parity to be achieved – far less than other more developed regions of the world.

South Asia, with 67% of its overall gap closed, is home to two of the top 10 climbers of the world since 2006: Nepal (110) and India (87). Nevertheless, progress in closing the economic gap has been negligible and it could take over 1,000 years to close the economic gender gap fully unless efforts are accelerated. The lowest placed region – having closed 60% of its overall gender gap – is the Middle East and North Africa. With only Israel (49) in the global top 50, the next highest in the region are Qatar (119), Algeria (120), the United Arab Emirates (124). Like South Asia, progress in addressing economic inequalities has been too slow and will not be closed for a further 356 years at today’s rate. Nevertheless, it is home to some of the most improved nations since 2006 on economic participation, including Saudi Arabia (141), Bahrain (131) and Yemen (144).

Pakistan’s position in the global gender gap index has not improved much from last year. Pakistan is ranked 143rd rank, above Yemen which is at the bottom. Pakistan’s poor ranking presents a bleak portrait of the state of modest progress made on female empowerment and gender equality. In Pakistan, discrimination against woman starts since her birth. While girls face restrictions at all stages of their lives, they are, mostly, not allowed to take independent decisions in their lives. Too much emphasis is put on the way women dress. Women are asked to cover up; many women are not allowed to leave their houses without permission. Women exist among countless restrictions whereas men are free to do as they please.

Over the years there has been no real change in treatment of females in Pakistan. Honour killing continues and will continue unless there is a change in the mindset. A majority of women cannot move beyond the status patriarchy assigns to them, thereby remaining excluded from developing necessary skills to be part of the work force. In Pakistan, 98 percent top managers in banks and other financial institutions and industrial units are males. This clearly shows that women are not treated equally as candidates for top management positions. Males are given priority over females in a country where females are more in number. Government should introduce laws that prohibit gender discrimination and offer remedies for such behavior in employment as well as in educational and financial institutions. Legislative measures need to be taken so that females feel free to take decisions about their life.

In the latest edition, the gender report finds that progress towards parity in the key economic pillar has slowed dramatically with the gap – which stands at 59% – now larger than at any point since 2008. Behind this decline are a number of factors. One is salary, with women around the world on average earning just over half of what men earn. Another persistent challenge is stagnant labour force participation, with the global average for women standing at 54%, compared to 81% for men. The number of women in senior positions also remains low, with only four countries in the world having equal numbers of male and female legislators, senior officials and managers. The education gender gap has closed 1% over the past year to over 95%, making it one of the two areas where most progress has been made to date. Health and Survival, the other pillar to have closed 96% of its gap, has deteriorated minimally. The pillar where the gender gap looms largest, Political Empowerment, is also the one that has seen the greatest amount of progress since the World Economic Forum began measuring the gender gap in 2006. This now stands at over 23%; 1% greater than 2015 and nearly 10% higher than in 2006.