By Andy Sambidge
But World Economic Forum report shows Gulf countries still have long way to go in promoting women in business and politics
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been named as two of the most improved countries in efforts to close the gender gap although both still remain near the bottom of a global list, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The Global Gender Gap Report 2014 said that while Nordic nations continue to act as role models in terms of their ability to achieve gender parity, some of the biggest absolute and relative improvements of the past nine years have come from countries that are low in the rankings.
It said the most improved country relative to its starting point nine years ago for economic participation and opportunity is Saudi Arabia while the UAE was the most improved nation for political empowerment.
However, the report painted a gloomy picture overall for the Gulf region, with Kuwait ranked highest at 113rd out of a total of 142 countries examined.
The report said Kuwait had risen in the rankings after making significant gains in overall income, including for women.
The UAE, at 115th, fell in the rankings but "shows major improvement relative to its past performance on economic and political participation" and remained the second highest-ranked country in the region.
Qatar (116) Bahrain (124) Oman (128) and Saudi Arabia (130) completed the rankings of Gulf countries while the region is also home to the lowest-ranked country in the index, Yemen, which, at 142nd, which has remained at the bottom of the index since 2006.
Globally, the report said that in nine years of measuring the global gender gap, the world has seen only a small improvement in equality for women in the workplace.
It said the gender gap for economic participation and opportunity now stands at 60 percent worldwide, having closed by 4 percent from 56 percent in 2006.
Based on this trajectory, with all else remaining equal, it will take 81 years for the world to close this gap completely.
With no one country having closed its overall gender gap, Nordic nations remain the most gender-equal societies in the world.
Last year’s leading four nations – Iceland (1), Finland (2), Norway (3) and Sweden (4) – are joined by Denmark, which climbed from eighth place to fifth.
Elsewhere in the top 10 there is considerable movement, with Nicaragua climbing four places to sixth, Rwanda entering the index for the first time at seventh, Ireland falling to eighth, the Philippines declining four places to ninth and Belgium climbing one place to tenth.
The United States climbed three places to 20 in 2014, after narrowing its wage gap and improving the number of women in parliamentary and ministerial level positions.
Among the BRICS grouping, the highest-placed nation was South Africa (18), supported by strong scores on political participation. Brazil was next at 71, followed by Russia (75), China (87) and India (114).
Saadia Zahidi, head of the Gender Parity Programme at the World Economic Forum and lead author of the report, said: “Much of the progress on gender equality over the last 10 years has come from more women entering politics and the workforce.
"While more women and more men have joined the workforce over the last decade, more women than men entered the labour force in 49 countries. And in the case of politics, globally, there are now 26 percent more female parliamentarians and 50 percent more female ministers than nine years ago.
"These are far-reaching changes – for economies and national cultures, however it is clear that much work still remains to be done, and that the pace of change must in some areas be accelerated."