Women may have to wait more than 250 years for economic parity

This is despite an improvement in political, education and health opportunities for women, says WEF report.

Kashmiri women walk past Indian policemen standing guard in a street in Srinagar October 31, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Ismail
On average, only 55 percent of adult women globally participated in the labour market, compared with 78 percent of men last year, the WEF said [File: Danish Ismail/Reuters]

For the first time in three years, opportunities for women around the world in terms of education, health and politics have closed in on those for men, even though they continue to lag behind. That is according to a new report released on Monday by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

But in terms of economic participation, women have fallen further behind, and would now need 257 years to catch up with men, the report shows.

Last year, that gap stood at 202 years.

WEF defines economic participation in terms of wages and other forms of income, the number of women in senior positions and their participation in the labour market.

The report measured gender parity for 153 countries across four different criteria: politics, economics, education and health.

WEF’s Global Gender Gap 2019 report also suggests that women are not well positioned to leverage the most dynamic and in-demand occupations of the future, such as cloud computing, engineering and artificial intelligence. 

The data suggests that while women’s skills are not always aligned with those required to succeed in professions of the future, there are some occupations where women are underutlised even if they have the needed skills, signalling barriers beyond educational attainment. 

“If some of these cultural barriers are not addressed, these jobs of the future could exacerbate the gender gap in the labour market,” WEF economist Roberto Crotti told Al Jazeera. 

Progress has also been slow in the political arena, where women globally hold only 21 percent of ministerial positions and 25 percent of parliamentary seats.

WEF said there is a correlation between the number of women in senior corporate roles and how empowered they are in a country’s politics.

Globally, women now have many of the same opportunities for decent education and healthcare as men. The gender parity scores for these two criteria came in at 96.1 percent and 95.7 percent, respectively.

But women lag far behind men in terms of economic participation (58.8 percent) and political empowerment (24.7 percent), despite an improvement in the latter.

Some countries have performed better than others in terms of narrowing the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Index.

“The top five most-improved countries in the overall index this year (Ethiopia, Spain, Mali, Albania and Mexico) have all closed their gaps by 3.4 percentage points or more, and they all share a substantial increase in women’s presence in political institutions,” the report said.

Iceland continued to top the overall world ranking for overall gender parity for the 11th year in a row. Western European nations dominated the top 10 list of countries with the highest overall gender parity.

Labour market gaps

“In contrast to the slow but positive progress in terms of leadership positions, women’s participation in the labour market is stalling,” WEF said.

On average, only 55 percent of adult women are in the labour market, compared with 78 percent of men. There is still a wage gap of more than 40 percent and non-wage income gap – including things like their ability to access loans – of more than 50 percent between women and men, the report added.

“In many countries, women are significantly disadvantaged in accessing credit, land or financial products, which prevents opportunities for them to start a company or make a living by managing financial assets,” WEF said.

But not all countries did badly in improving parity for economic participation. Cape Verde, Mali, Nigeria and Sierra Leone recorded improvements of more than five percentage points for narrowing the economic participation gap.

“To get to parity in the next decade instead of the next two centuries, we will need to mobilise resources, focus leadership attention and commit to targets across the public and private sectors,” said Saadia Zahidi, Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society and Member of the Managing Board at the WEF.

“Business as usual will not close the gender gap – we must take action to achieve the virtuous cycle that parity creates in economies and societies,” she said in a statement on Monday.

Source: Al Jazeera