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Fri 28 Oct 2016 12:13 AM

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Gulf countries still lagging behind on gender gap reforms

World Economic Forum report says no Gulf nation ranks in world's top 100 as region fails to address inequality

Gulf countries still lagging behind on gender gap reforms

The Middle East continues to have the world's worst record when it comes to gender inequality despite efforts in countries like the UAE to address the balance, according to a new report.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016 showed that progress towards parity in the key economic pillar has slowed dramatically with the gap and is now larger than at any point since 2008.

It said the Middle East and North Africa is the lowest ranked region in the world – having closed 60 percent of its overall gender gap.

Out of a total of 144 countries covered in the study, the highest ranked Gulf nation was Qatar, placed a lowly 119th, with the UAE ranked 124th despite its recent setting up of a Gender Balance Council and plans to improve maternity leave law to provide women with a supportive work environment.

The report said that 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 added that the region is home to some of the most improved nations since 2006 on economic participation, including Saudi Arabia (141), Bahrain (131) and Yemen (144).

Globally, the report said the world is facing an acute misuse of talent by not acting faster to tackle gender inequality, which could put economic growth at risk and deprive economies of the opportunity to develop.

The report is an annual benchmarking exercise that measures progress towards parity between men and women in four areas - Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, Economic Opportunity and Political Empowerment.

It said women around the world on average are earning just over half of what men earn despite, on average, working longer hours taking paid and unpaid work into account.

In 2015, projections based on the Global Gender Gap Report data suggested that the economic gap could be closed within 118 years, or 2133. However the progress has reversed since then, having peaked in 2013.

The study also said the education gender gap has closed 1 percent over the past year to over 95 percent, 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 percent 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, the report added.

"The slow rate of progress towards gender parity, especially in the economic realm, poses a particular risk given the fact that many jobs that employ a majority of women are likely to be hit proportionately hardest by the coming age of technological disruption known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution," it noted.

The top four nations were named as Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden, followed by Ireland, the Philippines, Slovenia, New Zealand (9) and Nicaragua.

Elsewhere, the United States (45) lost 17 places since last year, while other major economies in the top 20 included Germany (13), France (17) and the United Kingdom (20).

In July, Deloitte said the Gulf region continued to lag behind on the representation of women on corporate boards despite recent efforts to narrow the gender gap in business.

Its Women in the Boardroom: A Global Perspective report said that while the number of women in top jobs is increasing, the number of women leading boards still remains low globally.