Glass ceiling chipped

2011-11-02 07:30

New York - Women are almost on par with men around the world in health and education, but they still lag in economic and political participation and opportunities, according to a World Economic Forum (WEF) report released on Tuesday.

The Global Gender Gap Report found 96% of gaps in health and 93% of disparities in education had been closed, compared with less than two-thirds of economic gaps and only a fifth of gaps in political participation.

"While women are starting to be as healthy and as educated as men, they are clearly not being channelled into the economy and into decision-making structures in the same numbers," said Saadia Zahidi, a senior WEF director and one of the authors of the report.

Topping the ranking of 135 countries was Iceland, followed by Norway, Finland, Sweden and Ireland, while the bottom five were Saudi Arabia, Mali, Pakistan, Chad and Yemen.

"While many developed economies have succeeded in closing the gender gap in education, few have succeeded in maximising the returns from this investment. The Nordic countries are leaders in this area," the report found.

"On the whole these economies have made it possible for parents to combine work and family," it found, adding that the policies have even led to a rising birth rate.

Some of the successful policies of the Nordic countries identified by the report were mandatory paternity leave, generous parental leave benefits provided by a combination of social insurance funds and employers, tax incentives and post-maternity re-entry programmes.

The report measured gender gaps in salaries, workforce participation, highly-skilled employment, access to basic and higher level education, representation in decision-making structures, life expectancy and sex ratio.

The United States moved up two spots to No 17, as did Germany to No 11, while Britain dropped one spot to No 16. China was unchanged at No 61, Russia rose two spots to No 43, as did South Africa to No 14. France dropped two places to No 48 and Japan fell four places to No 98.

The report found that while the United States ranked 6th in terms of economic participation and opportunity, "the perceived wage inequality for similar work remains high, placing the United States 68th in the world on this variable".

In China almost three-quarters of women work but men's wages are growing faster, the report found.

Women make up almost half of those in Japan receiving tertiary education "but only about 9% of those occupying senior leadership positions, indicating an inefficient use of the female talent available in the country", the report said.