20/12/2018 06:19 AST

The gender gap across the Middle East and North Africa maintained its positive direction in 2018, although the region still trails every other region in the world in terms of its efforts to achieve gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018, published Wednesday. Kuwait, which lands 3rd overall in the region, secured first place in the economic participation and opportunity pilar, as well as the educational attainment pillar.

Regionally, Despite continued progress it will take the Middle East and North Africa economies 153 years to close the gender gap at the current rate of change. The highest placed economy in our index is Tunisia, which ranks 119. The United Arab Emirates (121st, 64.2%) sees improvements in gender parity in the legislators, senior officials and managers and healthy life expectancy indicators, but a widening and counterbalancing gap in wage equality. Saudi Arabia (141st, 59%) shows modest progress, but marks improvement on wage equality and women’s labour force participation, as well as a smaller gender gap in secondary and tertiary education

Stagnation in the proportion of women in the workplace and women’s declining representation in politics, coupled with greater inequality in access to health and education, offset improvements in wage equality and the number of women in professional positions, leaving the global gender gap only slightly reduced in 2018.

This is according to the Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018, published today. According to the report, the world has closed 68% of its gender gap, as measured across four key pillars: economic opportunity; political empowerment; educational attainment; and health and survival.

While only a marginal improvement on 2017, the move is nonetheless welcome as 2017 was the first year since the report was first published in 2006 that the gap between men and women widened. At the current rate of change, the data suggest that it will take 108 years to close the overall gender gap and 202 years to bring about parity in the workplace.

Within the global headline figures, it is possible to perceive a number of trends that are defining the gender gap in 2018. Of the four pillars measured, only one – economic opportunity – narrowed its gender gap. This is largely due to a narrower income gap between men and women, which stands at nearly 51% in 2018, and the number of women in leadership roles, which stands at 34% globally. However, in the same economic pillar, data suggest that fewer women are participating in the workforce.

This a worrisome development for which there are a number of potential reasons. One is that automation is having a disproportionate impact on roles traditionally performed by women. At the same time, women are under-represented in growing areas of employment that require STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills and knowledge. Another potential reason is that the infrastructure needed to help women enter or re-enter the workforce – such as childcare and eldercare – is under-developed and unpaid work remains primarily the responsibility of women. The corollary is that the substantial investments made by many economies to close the education gap are failing to generate optimal returns in the form of growth. The other three pillars – education, health and politics – saw their gender gaps widen in 2018.

In terms of political empowerment, the year-on-year deterioration can be partly attributed to the lower tenure of women in head-of-state roles around the world. However, data also suggest that a regional divergence is taking place, with 22 Western economies witnessing an improvement in political empowerment for women as opposed to a widening in the rest of the world. When it comes to women in parliament, these Western economies – which collectively have closed 41% of the gap – saw progress reverse in 2018. “The economies that will succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be those that are best able to harness all their available talent. Proactive measures that support gender parity and social inclusion and address historical imbalances are therefore essential for the health of the global economy as well as for the good of society as a whole,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.


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