Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Women far behind men in economic participation

NEW YORK: The world has make great progress in eliminating inequality between men and women in health and education, but not in economic participation and political empowerment, according to a survey of 135 nations released Tuesday.

The annual survey by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum shows that four Nordic countries, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden, lead the world again in promoting equality of the sexes, and the United States continues its ascent in the rankings, rising from 19th to 17th place.

But no country has closed the gap between men and women when it comes to health and survival, educational attainment, economic participation and opportunity and political empowerment.

``A world where women make up less than 20 percent of the global decision-makers is a world that is missing a huge opportunity for growth and ignoring an untapped reservoir of potential,'' Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum, said in a statement.

The annual survey, released at a press conference, showed that over the past six years about 85 percent of countries have narrowed the gender gap. But in other countries the gap widened and the situation for women worsened, including in Nigeria, Mali, Colombia, Tanzania and El Salvador.

Pakistan, Chad and Yemen were at the bottom of the list.

Saadia Zahidi, head of the forum's women leaders and gender parity program, said the world as a whole has closed about 96 percent of the gender gap in health and 93 percent in education, but only about 60 percent of the gap in economic participation and less than 20 percent in political empowerment.

``So women are starting to be as healthy and as educated as men, and yet, are not being channeled into the economy, into decision-making structures,'' she said. Zahidi said closing the gender gaps ``are directly correlated with increased economic competitiveness.'' With the world focused on job creation and economic growth, she said, ``gender equality is the key to unlocking potential and stimulating economies.''

The survey shows that a number of relatively poor countries have made major strides to close the gender gap and rank in the top 25, the Philippines, Lesotho, South Africa, Cuba, the Bahamas and Burundi. They outrank Russia at number 43, China at 51, Brazil at 82, Italy at 74, Qatar at 111, India at 113 and Saudi Arabia at 131.

Ricardo Hausmann, director of the Center for International Development at Harvard University who co-authored the survey, said ``Spain and Brazil, Greece and Israel have been narrowing the gaps very quickly, while Mexico, Malaysia, Panama and India have been narrowing the gaps very, very slowly or widening (it) as in the case of Mexico.''

Life expectancy and literacy remain ``alarmingly low'' across many parts of Africa and Asia, he said, and while women in Latin America have more education than men, marriage and motherhood prevent their full economic and political participation.

US Ambassador-at-Large Melanne Verveer, who is in charge of global women's issues, said progress is being made, but women still face ``significant hurdles'' in getting access to finance, markets and training and in leading companies where there is still ``an enormous glass ceiling.''

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