Gulf struggles to address gender gap, says WEF

All GCC countries ranked outside top 100 in new list published by World Economic Forum
Gulf struggles to address gender gap, says WEF
By Andy Sambidge
Fri 26 Oct 2012 09:37 AM

Gulf countries are still struggling to address their economic gender gaps, according to a new report by the World Economic Forum.

Out of 135 economies covered, no Gulf state has managed to break into the top 100 for its treatment of women in the business world.

The seventh annual Global Gender Gap Report ranked the UAE as the best performing Arab country in 107th position, a fall of four places compared to last year.

Kuwait (109th) also dropped four places on last year while Bahrain (111th - down one place), Qatar (115th - down four), Oman 125th (up two) and Saudi Arabia (131st - no change) rounded out the Gulf representation in the list.

Saudi Arabia has recently announced measures to increase participation of women in business including the setting up of a women-only industrial city but the Gulf kingdom still ranks as one of the world's worst for its treatment of women.

Globally, the list ranked Nordic countries in top spots, with Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden having closed over 80 percent of their gender gaps.

At the bottom of the ranking, WEF said some countries still need to close gender gaps of almost 50 percent, while more than half of those countries surveyed have failed to close their economic gender gap by more than five percent in the past seven years.

It said the UAE continues to hold the top spot for Arab countries with higher than average economic participation of women and parity on education, including a reverse gender gap on tertiary education where almost three times as many women are enrolled as men.

Syria, on which data was collected before the outbreak of civil war, fell three places to 132, slipping below Saudi Arabia (131) which has improved by almost 10 percent relative to its score in 2006.

Yemen (135) remained the lowest-ranking Arab world country despite progress since 2006.

The Global Gender Gap Report ranks countries on their ability to close the gender gap in four key areas - access to healthcare, access to education, political participation and economic equality.

In the fields of health and education, while there remain critical gaps in some countries such as Pakistan, Ethiopia, Yemen and Benin, progress has been strong globally with 96 percent of health gaps and 93 percent of education gaps having now been closed across the 135 economies surveyed in the report.

By comparison, the global economic gender gap now stands at 60 percent, while only 20 percent of the political participation gap has been closed.

The data suggested a strong correlation between those countries that are most successful at closing the gender gap and those that are the most economically competitive.

“The key for the future of any country and any institution is the capability to attract the best talents,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

“In the future, talent will be more important than capital or anything else. To develop the gender dimension is not just a question of equality; it is the entry card to succeed and prosper in an ever more competitive world.”

Europe dominated the top 10 again in this year’s ranking, with Iceland holding on to the top spot with the best overall score on both educational attainment and political empowerment, followed by Finland, Norway, Sweden and Ireland respectively. Next are Denmark (7) and Switzerland (10). Italy, Greece (82) and Turkey (124) rank lowest.

In North America, the United States slipped five places to 22nd due to a smaller percentage of women in political decision-making positions.

Asia’s highest ranking country was the Philippines (8), primarily due to success in health, education and economic participation. China, which is the second lowest ranking country on the health and survival subindex (132) due to a skewed sex ratio at birth, scored highly in terms of female labour force participation (74 percent).

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