Monday, 9 November 2009

Gender gap report

The World Economic Forum Gender Gap report for 2009 is out. Interesting 'headlines' from the rankings:

  • The UK has slipped a few more places. This is other countries improving rather than the UK getting any worse, but the UK isn't getting better either.
  • Iceland, Sweden, Finland and Norway are still the top four, and then there's a significant gap to the fifth-placed country.
  • They don't assess Rwanda, which is a pity, since as the only country with a majority-female parliament, they should end up near the top in political empowerment. They have been extending their survey to more countries each year, so maybe next year.
  • Their "educational attainment" category is fairly narrow in scores: lots of countries have parity, and dropping from 100% to 99% parity goes from (joint) 1st to 75th out of 134. All this seems to be doing is pulling up the overall average for a lot of countries. The "health and survival" category, similarly - almost all countries are in a narrow 96-98% range
  • The lowest scoring category, by a long way, is "political empowerment". The best score is 59% parity (Iceland). The worst is 0% parity (Saudi Arabia).

It's interesting that the forms that gender inequality takes nowadays don't appear to have much effect on education or health, though I wonder how much of this is to do with women having a naturally longer life expectancy, for example. Girls also do better than boys at almost all levels of education in the UK, which raises a lot of questions regarding the education figures that I don't have the information to answer.

The report measures outcomes, not routes, too, which may be why the figures don't seem as bad as they might be expected to: women are used to the second shift and needing to work harder than an equivalent man to get the same recognition, so this may be hiding a lot of discrimination: not because it doesn't have an effect, but because women are determined to overcome it.

It's an interesting starting point for thinking about things, and in many respects it's a useful cause for optimism - if countries as diverse as Denmark, Ecuador, Mozambique, and the Phillipines can all do better at gender equity in political empowerment than the UK, there's clearly no reason that the UK couldn't do better. On the other hand, concentrating solely on outcomes risks missing things - many countries have equal outcomes in education, but that doesn't mean that there isn't sexism in the education system that if removed would improve absolute educational achievement.