The age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) brings about unprecedented opportunities as well as new challenges. The equal contribution of women and men in the process of deep economic and societal transformation is critical. More than ever, societies cannot afford to lose out on the skills, ideas and perspectives of half of humanity to realize the promise of a more prosperous and human-centric future that well-governed innovation and technology can bring.
According to the World Economic Forum, globally, although many countries have achieved important milestones towards gender parity across education, health, economic and political systems, there remains much to be done. On the one hand, countries where the next generation of women are becoming leaders in their domains are poised for further success. On the other hand, there is possible emergence of new gender gaps in advanced technologies, such as the risks associated with emerging gender gaps in Artificial Intelligence-related skills. In an era when human skills are increasingly important and complementary to technology, the world cannot afford to deprive itself of women’s talent in sectors in which talent is already scarce.
Since 2006 the Global Gender Gap Index report seeks to measure the relative gaps between women and men across four key areas: health, education, economy and politics. It does not seek to set priorities for countries but, rather, to provide a comprehensive set of data and a clear method for tracking gaps on critical indicators so that countries may set priorities within their own economic, political and cultural contexts. The Index also points to potential role models by revealing those countries tha within their region or income group are leaders in distributing resources more equitably between women and men, regardless of the overall level of available resources.
The Global Gender Gap Index was first introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress over time. The current report benchmarks 149 countries on their progress towards gender parity on a scale from 0 (disparity) to 1 (parity) across four thematic dimensions the sub indexes Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment—and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across and within regions and income groups.
The rankings are designed to create global awareness of the challenges posed by gender gaps, and the opportunities created by reducing them. The methodology and quantitative analysis behind the rankings are intended to serve as a basis for designing effective measures for reducing gender gaps. The methodology of the Index has remained stable since its original conception in 2006, providing a basis for robust cross-country and time-series analysis.
The 2018 report’s key findings include: Globally, the average (population-weighted) distance completed to parity is at 68.0%, which is a marginal improvement over last year. In other words, to date there is still a 32.0% average gender gap that remains to be closed. The directionally positive average trend registered this year is supported by improvements in 89 of the 144 countries covered both this year and last year. Across the four sub indexes, on average, the largest gender disparity is on Political Empowerment, which today maintains a gap of 77.1%. The Economic Participation and Opportunity gap is the second-largest at 41.9%, while the Educational Attainment and Health and Survival gaps are significantly lower at 4.4% and 4.6%, respectively. Among them, on average, only the Economic Participation and Opportunity gap has slightly reduced since last year.
When it comes to political and economic leadership, the world still has a long way to go. Across the 149 countries assessed, there are just 17 that currently have women as heads of state, while, on average, just 18% of ministers and 24% of parliamentarians globally are women. Similarly, women hold just 34% of managerial positions across the countries where data is available, and less than 7% in the four worst-performing countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan). However, there are bright spots, where significant progress has been achieved. Full parity on this indicator is already a reality in five countries (Bahamas, Colombia, Jamaica, Lao PDR and Philippines); and in another 19 countries there are at least 40% of women in managerial positions.
In terms of broader economic power, gaps in control of financial assets and in time spent on unpaid tasks continue to preserve economic disparities between men and women. Women have as much access to financial services as men in just 60% of the countries and to land ownership in just 42% of the countries assessed. Also, among the 29 countries for which data are available, women spend, on average, twice as much time on housework and other unpaid activities than men.
Although average progress on gender parity in education is relatively more advanced than in other aspects, there are still 44 countries where over 20% of women are illiterate. Similarly, near-parity in higher education enrolment rates often mask low participation of both men and women. On average, 65% of girls and 66% of boys have enrolled in secondary education globally, and just 39% of women and 34% of men are in college or university today. This fact calls for more ambitious goals to better develop human capital—for both women and men.
With the rapid changes underway in today’s labour markets, our analysis this year also took a look at gender gaps in Artificial Intelligence (AI), a critical in-demand skillset of the future. Based on collaboration with LinkedIn, we find that only 22% of AI professionals globally are female, compared to 78% who are male. This accounts for a gender gap of 72%, which has remained constant over the last years and does not at present indicate a positive future trend. The implications of this finding are wide-ranging and require urgent action.
First, AI skills gender gaps may exacerbate gender gaps in economic participation and opportunity in the future as AI encompasses an increasingly in-demand skill set. Second, the AI skills gender gap implies that the use of this general-purpose technology across many fields is being developed without diverse talent, limiting its innovative and inclusive capacity. Third, low integration of women into AI talent pools—even in industries and geographies where the base of IT talent has a relatively high composition of women—indicates a significant missed opportunity in a professional domain where there is already insufficient supply of adequately qualified labour.
• Projecting current trends into the future, the overall global gender gap will close in 108 years across the 106 countries covered since the first edition of the report. The most challenging gender gaps to close are the economic and political empowerment dimensions, which will take 202 and 107 years to close respectively. Although the economic opportunity gap has slightly reduced this year, the progress has been slow, especially in terms of participation of women in labour force, where the gender gap slightly reversed. In terms of political empowerment, the progress achieved over the past decade has started to reverse.
Remarkably, gender parity in Western countries has slightly reduced, while the progress is ongoing, on average, elsewhere. The education–specific gender gap is on track to be reduced to parity within the next 14 years, slightly faster than last year’s estimation. The health gender gap—although slightly larger than it stood in 2006—is nearly closed globally, and fully closed in a third of the countries assessed. The most gender-equal country to date is Iceland. It has closed over 85% of its overall gender gap. Iceland is followed by Norway (83.5%), Sweden and Finland (82.2%). Although dominated by Nordic countries, the top ten also features a Latin American country (Nicaragua, 5th), two Sub-Saharan African Countries (Rwanda, 6th, and Namibia, 10th) and a country from East Asia (Philippines (8th). The top ten is completed by New Zealand (7th) and Ireland (9th).
All eight geographical regions assessed in the report have achieved at least 60% gender parity, and two have progressed above 70%. Western Europe is, on average, the region with the highest level of gender parity (75.8%). North America (72.5%) is second and Latin America (70.8%) is third. They are followed by Eastern Europe and Central Asia (70.7%), East Asia and the Pacific (68.3%), Sub-Saharan Africa (66.3%), South Asia (65.8%) and the Middle East and North Africa (60.2%). This year the 149 countries covered by the report include five new entrants: Congo, DRC; Iraq, Oman, Sierra Leone and Togo. Sierra Leone is in 114th position while the other new entrants rank lower.