Saudi Arabia remains one of the world's worst performing countries related to improving parity between the sexes despite a recent decision to lift the ban on women drivers, according to a new report.
The Gulf kingdom, which will allow women to apply for driving licences for the first time in June 2018 as part of major economic and social reforms, languished at 138th out of 144 countries analysed in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report.
Last month, Saudi Arabia also announced it will allow women into sports stadiums for the first time from next year, in a landmark move opening up three previously male-only venues to families.
Propping up the list was Yemen but all Gulf countries fared poorly in the ranking, with the UAE best placed at 120th despite its efforts to empower women in business, politics and society.
Elsewhere in the Gulf, Bahrain was ranked 126th, Kuwait 129th and Qatar 130th. There was no score for Oman.
The report, which was topped by Iceland, said that the Middle East and North Africa is the lowest-ranked region in the world with an average remaining gender gap of 40 percent.
It added that the region is home to four of the world’s five lowest-ranking countries on Political Empowerment – Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar and Yemen.
However out of the 17 countries covered by the index in the region this year, 11 countries have improved their overall score compared to last year, it noted.
Globally, the report said that a decade of slow but steady progress on improving parity between the sexes came to a halt in 2017, with the global gender gap widening for the first time.
The findings in this year’s report show that, overall, 68 percent of the global gender gap has been closed. This is a slight deterioration on 2016 and 2015, when the gap was 68.3 percent and 68.1 percent, respectively.
Behind the decline is a widening of the gender gap across all four of the report’s pillars - Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, Economic Opportunity and Political Empowerment.
The report said these latter two areas are of particular concern because they already carry the largest gaps and, until this year, were registering the fastest progress.
At the current rate of progress, the global gender gap will take 100 years to close, compared to 83 last year. The workplace gender gap will now not be closed for 217 years, the report estimated.
At the top of the Global Gender Gap Index is Iceland. Having closed nearly 88 percent of its gap, it has been the world’s most gender-equal country for nine years.
The top five is completed by Norway, Finland, Rwanda and Sweden, followed by Nicaragua, Slovenia, Ireland, New Zealand and Philippines.
Among the G20 group of countries, France (11) is ranked highest on gender parity, followed by Germany (12), the United Kingdom (15), Canada (16), South Africa (19) and Argentina (34). The US dropped four places to 49.
“In 2017 we should not be seeing progress towards gender parity shift into reverse. Gender equality is both a moral and economic imperative. Some countries understand this and they are now seeing dividends from the proactive measures they have taken to address their gender gaps,” said Saadia Zahidi, head of Education, Gender and Work, World Economic Forum.
“We are moving from the era of capitalism into the era of talentism. Competitiveness on a national and on a business level will be decided more than ever before by the innovative capacity of a country or a company. Those will succeed best, who understand to integrate women as an important force into their talent pool,” added Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman, World Economic Forum.
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