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World Economic Forum: Gender inequality widening after decade of progress

A decade of slow progress towards better parity between the sexes has screeched to a halt, the World Economic Forum (WEF) said Thursday, warning the global gender gap was now widening.

In recent years, women have made significant progress towards equality in a number of areas such as education and health, with the Nordic countries leading the fray.

But the global trend now seems to have made a U-turn, especially in workplaces, where full gender equality is not expected to materialise until 2234, WEF said in a report.

“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 since the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report was first published in 2006,” it said.

The Geneva-based organisation’s annual report tracks the disparities between the sexes in four areas: education, health, economic opportunity and political empowerment. 

A year ago WEF estimated that it would take 83 years to close the remaining gap.

But since then women’s steady advances in the areas of education, health and political representation have plateaued, and for the fourth year running, equality in the workplace has slipped further from view.

Thursday’s report said that at the current rate of progress, it would now take a full 100 years on average to achieve overall gender equality.

The estimated time needed to ensure full equality in the workplace meanwhile has jumped from 80 years in 2014 to 170 years last year to 217 years now, according to the report.

‘Shift into reverse’

“In 2017, we should not be seeing progress towards gender parity shift into reverse,” Saadia Zahidi, WEF head of education, gender and work, said in a statement.

Even more than in the workplace, political participation stubbornly lagged behind, with women still accounting for just 23 percent of the world’s decision makers, according to the report.

But political representation is also the area where women have made the most advances in recent years, the report said, estimating it will take 99 years to fully rectify the situation.

The picture is not all bleak: the march towards gender equality in education could reach the finish line within a mere 13 years, it said.

And the situation varies greatly in different countries and regions.

For instance, while Western European countries could close their gender gaps within 61 years, countries in the Middle East and North Africa will take 157 years, the report estimated.

Overall, the Nordic countries once again dominated the top of the table: men and women were most equal in Iceland, followed by Norway and Finland.

Rwanda came in fourth, with another Nordic country, Sweden, in fifth place.

They were joined by Nicaragua, Slovenia, Ireland, New Zealand and the Philippines in the top 10, with Syria, Pakistan and finally Yemen at the bottom of the rankings.

Among the world’s 20 leading economies, France fared the best, taking 11th place overall, up from 17th place last year and 70th place in 2006.

France’s rise is largely thanks to increasing numbers of women in politics, including complete parity among government ministers.

The United States meanwhile dropped four spots to 49th place due to women’s dwindling political representation, with a “significant decrease in gender parity in ministerial level positions,” the report said.

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Nina Larson
Nina Larson
Covering the United Nations agencies and other international organisations based in Geneva, as well as Swiss news for international readers. Producing news articles and features, translating and editing articles written by other correspondents in English and French, and shooting and editing video for AFPTV.

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