14 October 2010

Gender gap narrows

The World Economic Forum has released its latest report on the global gender gap and the news is encouraging. In the five years the Forum has been conducting the survey, 86 per cent of the countries covered have narrowed the gap. The survey measures equality between men and women in four areas: employment, education, health and politics.

The 134 countries included in the report, representing over 90% of the world’s population, have closed almost 96 per cent of the health gap and almost 93 per cent of the education gap. However, only 59 per cent of the economic gap has been closed and only 18 per cent of political inequality.

Needless to say, the Nordic countries do best, with Iceland ranked number one, followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden. Canada ranks 20th in equality, up from 25th last year but still well down from the 14th we placed in 2006. That we are outranked by the Scandinavians is not surprising; however that we are behind Third World countries such as the Philippines and South Africa is both surprising and disappointing. We do very well in health and education, scoring near 1.0 where 1.0 is equality, but only .59 in economic participation and opportunity, and a lamentable .18 in political empowerment. With women making up only 22 per cent of the House of Commons and 27 per cent of the Federal Cabinet, we have a long way to go to properly include women in our governance.

Iceland's superior performance is due in large part to its government's powerful commitment to equality. For instance, this year it introduced laws requiring companies with more than 50 employees to ensure their management consists of at least 40 per cent women by 2014. We could do with some of that kind of affirmative action in this country. It is doubtful patience and merit alone will ever overcome the ingrained macho nature of our business and politics, and the resulting prejudice against women.

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