By Andy Sambidge
Gulf countries fail to make it into the top 100 for closing the gap between the sexes in business, political life
Gulf nations are still lagging way behind most of the world when it comes to closing the gender gap in business and political life, according to a new report by the World Economic Forum.
Its Global Gender Gap Report 2013 showed that the UAE was the best performing country in the region but managed a lowly ranking of 109th out of 136 countries covered.
The WEF index said the Middle East and North Africa is the only region not to have improved its overall standing in 2013 compared to the previous year.
Saudi Arabia was ranked the lowest of the Gulf countries at 127th, although that was four places higher than in the 2012 index.
The WEF report comes just days after Saudi Arabia's rights record came under fire at the United Nations, with critics accusing the kingdom of jailing activists without due process and abusing the basic rights of Saudi women and foreign workers.
It also coincided with a call from Saudi women’s rights activists to women with international drivers’ licences to get behind the wheel on Saturday, as part of the campaign to end the prohibition on driving in the kingdom.
Bahrain (112th), Qatar (115th), Kuwait 116th, and Oman (122nd) were the other Gulf nations ranked by the WEF.
Its report said: "The highest placed country in the region is the United Arab Emirates (109th), which has achieved parity in education. Nevertheless most countries in the region, including Bahrain, Qatar and others are still failing to adequately capitalize on the investments in education through greater economic and political contributions from women."
Globally, the report said the world’s gender gaps narrowed slightly in 2013 on the back of definite if not universal improvements in economic equality and political participation between the sexes.
The eighth annual edition of the report ranked countries on their ability to close the gender gap in four key areas - economic participation and opportunity, political empowerment, health and survival, educational attainment, political participation and economic equality.
Of the 133 countries that were measured in both 2012 and 2013, 86 actually improved their gender gap during this time.
Overall, the report found Iceland the most advanced country in the world in terms of gender equality for the fifth year running.
It, along with Finland (2nd), Norway (3rd) and Sweden (4th), has now closed over 80% of its gender gap. These countries were joined in the top 10 by the Philippines, which enters the top five for the first time, Ireland (6th), New Zealand (7th), Denmark (8th), Switzerland (9th) and Nicaragua (10th).
Elsewhere, in 14th place Germany was the highest-placed individual G20 economy, although it fell one place from 2012. At the bottom of the ranking were Chad (134th), Pakistan (135th) and Yemen (136th).
At the global level, the report found that in 2013, 96 percent of the health and survival gender gap has now been closed.
In terms of education, the global gender gap stood at 93 percent, with 25 countries having closed their gaps completely. The gender gaps for economic equality and political participation were only 60 percent and 21 percent closed respectively, although progress is being made in these areas, WEF said.
“Countries will need to start thinking of human capital very differently – including how they integrate women into leadership roles. This shift in mindset and practice is not a goal for the future, it is an imperative today,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.
“Both within countries and between countries are two distinct tracks to economic gender equality, with education serving as the accelerator. For countries that provide this basic investment, women’s integration in the workforce is the next frontier of change. For those that haven’t invested in women’s education, addressing this obstacle is critical to women’s lives as well as the strength of economies,” added Saadia Zahidi, co-author of the report and head of the Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme.