Women have come a long way in the world but still have a long way to go to achieve true equality according to a new study. The World Economic Forum (WEF), in collaboration with Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley, released the 2010 Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) this week.
The WEF assesses gender equality for 134 countries based on four criteria: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. Economic participation evaluates three values including employment opportunities, levels of pay and opportunities for advancement within a country’s job market. Educational attainment measures levels of education for women compared with those for men and the differences between male and female literacy rates. Health and survival is considers average life expectancies and sex ratios of infants (the later criteria being significant due to a large proportion of female infanticide in some countries). The last criterion, political empowerment, is determined by assessing the ratio of women in public office at a federal level.
Each of the above categories is given a numerical value based on the ratio of female to male values. Where gender equality is optimum, the value for each criterion is 1, meaning women have attained the same level of success as men in that area. All in all, the GGGR provides a good framework for comparison, as it is based exclusively on numerical data that is readily available thus reducing subjectivity. On the other hand, the mathematical analysis cannot take into consideration any intangible factors such as quality of life, which would likely skew the results towards greater inequality if quantified. Nevertheless, the results are telling if not underestimated.
The GGGR is full of both good news and bad news. In the Western world, women have made great strides in areas such as educational attainment and health and survival where gender inequality is practically nonexistent. Most women in Western countries enjoy equal levels of education and health to their male counterparts. But significant lags still exist within the realms of political empowerment and economic participation. Women still get paid significantly less and have less opportunity for advancement when performing the same work as men. A cross-section of elected officials quickly reveals an obvious gender bias towards men. In the year 2010, the United States of America has still never had a female President or Vice President. The Unites States Congress is 83% male.
The United States ranks 19th on the list overall with a composite score of 0.7411, lagging behind the Philippines(9th), Lesotho (8th), Sri Lanka (16th) and Latvia (18th) to name a few - a not so impressive standing for the wealthiest democracy on Earth. The global leader in gender equality is Iceland (0.8496), with Scandinavian countries dominating the chart (Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland are all in the top 10). While the Scandinavian countries seem to be getting it right, a sad fact remains that there is not a single country on Earth with a gender equality score of 1. Worse still is the plethora of countries at the bottom of the list with scores below 0.6. Many countries, like Afghanistan are not even on the list.
My husband, a reasonably open minded individual, got defensive today when I started a discussion about the results of the Global Gender Gap Report. “The results must be bogus if there are no 1’s on the list,” he retorted. My husband is not a misogynist. On the contrary, he is a great proponent of equal rights, but he is also a product of our culture. In our culture, women can be equal if they play by the rules established by the global patriarchy. Many would view the leveled playing field as equality, but true gender equality will never be realized until the day when women can compete on their own terms, and those terms are considered relevant and equal to those established by men.
The Global Gender Gap Report can be viewed in its entirety on the world wide web at http://www.weforum.org/