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Iran, Pakistan Among Worst In Gender Equality Report

Woman hauls wheelbarrow in Zyryanovsk city eastern Kazakhstan
The Global Gender Gap Report for 2010 examines the status of women under four broad headings.

They are: economic opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival.

By this rubric, the Nordic countries have the fewest inequalities for their female citizens. Iceland tops the whole survey, followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden.

World Economic Forum director Klaus Schwab notes in an accompanying statement that gender equality is important not only on moral grounds, but also has tremendous value in terms of economic prosperity.

He says low gender gaps are directly linked to economic competitiveness, and the full use of women's talents in the workforce is necessary if a country is to grow and prosper.

By the same measures, two countries which are doing notably badly are Iran and Pakistan. Iran occupies 123rd place, only 11 spots from the bottom of the list.

The tables show that Iranian women earn on average only one-third the amount males earn. They are virtrualy absent from the ranks of legislators, senior officials, and managers.

The only heading in which women do well is education, where they are equal with males in secondary education and slightly ahead of males in terms of participation in higher education.

Pakistan shows a broadly similar picture. It occupies 132rd place on the list -- just two places from the end.

Less than a quarter of Pakistani women are active in the workforce, and they earn less than a fifth of the income of males on average. Female unemployment is running at double the rate of male unemployment.

Despite strong female figures in politics in the past, women are deeply underrepresented in the political process, and they even live shorter lives than their menfolk.

But despite all the bad news, Saadia Zahidi of the World Economic Forum points out that "over the past five years" there have been encouraging trends in global women's right.

"One encouraging sign is that of the 114 countries which have been covered from the very beginning, about 86 percent have made progress, while 14 percent are deteriorating," Zahidi stressed optimism.

"So, in general, the majority of countries are improving over time."

The report's coauthor Ricardo Haussman says further progress will be achieved when societies find ways to make marriage and motherhood compatible with the participation of women in the economy.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service and Breffni O'Rourke contributed to this report