By Andy Sambidge
Kuwait is best performing Gulf state at 105th out of 134 countries in rankings.
GCC countries have fared poorly in a new World Economic Forum (WEF) global index highlighting the gap between men and women in economic, political and social terms.
While Iceland claimed the top spot in the Global Gender Gap Index 2009, Kuwait was the best ranked Gulf nation but come only manage 105th place out of a total of 134 countries measured.
For the second year running, Yemen propped up the table which assessed countries on how well they are dividing their resources and opportunities among their male and female populations.
But Saudi Arabia (130), Qatar (125), Oman (123), Bahrain (116) and the UAE (112) all ranked in the bottom 25 places as traditional male-dominated populations continued to dominate the region.
The World Economic Forum report showed that both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain had marginally tightened the gap between men and women since the 2008 ranking while the gap in the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait had widened.
While Middle East countries dominated the lower reaches of the WEF list, Nordic nations took most of the top spots, with Finland (2), Norway (3) and Sweden (4).
South Africa and Lesotho made great strides in closing their gender gaps to enter the top 10, at sixth and 10th position respectively, the report said.
Paraguay (66) climbed a record 36 spots, leading a charge by several Latin American countries including Ecuador (23), Nicaragua (49), Costa Rica (27), Peru (44), El Salvador (55), Chile (64) and the Dominican Republic (67).
The US (31) fell by three places, owing to minor drops in the participation of women in the economy while the UK (15) again slipped.
At the bottom part of the rankings, India (114), Bahrain (116), Ethiopia (122), Morocco (124), Egypt (126) and Saudi Arabia (130) all made improvements relative to their rankings last year.
This was driven mainly by small improvements in the economic participation of women.
Iran (128), Turkey (129), Pakistan (132) and Yemen (134), already at the bottom of the rankings, displayed an absolute decline relative to their performance in 2008.
The Global Gender Gap Report measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four critical areas - Economic participation and opportunity, including salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment; Educational attainment; political empowerment; and health and survival, including life expectancy and sex ratio.
“Out of the 115 countries covered in the report since 2006, more than two-thirds have posted gains in overall index scores, indicating that the world in general has made progress towards equality between men and women, although there are countries that continue to lose ground,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman, World Economic Forum.
“Countries that do not fully capitalise on one-half of their human resources run the risk of undermining their competitive potential. We hope to highlight the economic incentive behind empowering women, in addition to promoting equality as a basic human right,” added co-author Saadia Zahidi, head of the Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme.