Arab world countries continue to lag the rest of the world when it comes to gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2011.
Published on Tuesday, the latest global list showed no Middle East country in the top 100 of 135 nations covered.
In the Gulf region, the UAE was the highest ranked in 103rd position, followed by Kuwait (105), Bahrain (110), Qatar (111), Oman (127) and Saudi Arabia (131). Yemen was rock bottom in 135th place.
Despite Saudi Arabia's lowly ranking, WEF said it was one of the highest climbers of the 114 countries that have been included in the report since 2006.
Last month, Saudi Arabia granted women the right to vote for the first time in its modern history as part of changes King Abdullah said will let them run in future municipal elections.
Saudi Arabia enforces gender restrictions interpreted from the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam.
Men and women are strictly segregated in public, including at schools, restaurants and lines at fast-food takeouts. That keeps women out of sales jobs in malls and stores, unless the outlet caters exclusively to a female clientele.
“A world where women make up less than 20 percent of the global decision-makers is a world that is missing a huge opportunity for growth and ignoring an untapped reservoir of potential,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum.
The report said that while 85 percent of countries are improving their gender equality ratios, for the rest of the world the situation is declining, most notably in several African and South American countries.
The sixth annual study showed a slight decline over the last year in gender equality rankings for New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom, while gains were made in Brazil, Ethiopia, Qatar, Tanzania and Turkey.
Nordic countries (Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) continued to hold top spots having closed over 80 percent of their gender gaps, while countries at the bottom of the rankings - including most of the Middle East - still needed to close as much as 50 percent.
“Smaller gender gaps are directly correlated with increased economic competitiveness,” said Saadia Zahidi, senior director, head of the World Economic Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme and report co-author.
“With the world’s attention on job creation and economic growth, gender equality is the key to unlocking potential and stimulating economies."
The report said international scores for health and education were encouraging with 96 percent of the health gaps and 93 percent of the education gaps already closed.
Around the world, economic and political participation continue to show the largest gaps.
“Female healthy life expectancy and literacy levels remain alarmingly low across many parts of Africa and Asia. In Latin America, women have more schooling than men but marriage and motherhood are still not compatible with a fuller economic and political participation of women. We’ve come a long way but there is still a long road ahead of us,” said report co-author Ricardo Hausmann, director of the Centre for International Development at Harvard University.
The Global Gender Gap Report’s index assessed 135 countries, representing more than 93 percent of the world’s population, on how well resources and opportunities are divided among male and female populations.
The report measured the size of the gender inequality gap in economic participation and opportunity; education; political empowerment; and health and survival.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.