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Moving Backwards: Ten Years of Progress on Global Gender Parity Stalls in 2017



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.

The findings in this year’s report, published today, show that, overall, 68% of the global gender gap has been closed. This is a slight deterioration on 2016 and 2015, when the gap was 68.3% and 68.1%, respectively. Behind the decline is a widening of the gender gap across all four of the report’s pillars: Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, Economic Opportunity and Political Empowerment. These latter two areas are of particular concern because they already carry the largest gaps and, until this year, were registering the fastest progress.

At the current rate of progress, the global gender gap will take 100 years to close, compared to 83 last year. The workplace gender gap will now not be closed for 217 years, the report estimates. But with various studies linking gender parity to better economic performance, a number of countries are bucking the dismal global trend: over one-half of all 144 countries measured this year have seen their score improve in the past 12 months.

“We are moving from the era of capitalism into the era of talentism. Competitiveness on a national and on a business level will be decided more than ever before by the innovative capacity of a country or a company. Those will succeed best, who understand to integrate women as an important force into their talent pool,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum.

The Global Gender Gap Index 2017

At the top of the Global Gender Gap Index is Iceland. Having closed nearly 88% of its gap, it has been the world’s most gender-equal country for nine years. The gap between Iceland and the second-placed country, Norway, actually widens as both Norway and third-placed Finland saw their gaps widen this year. The top five is completed by Rwanda (4) and Sweden (5). The next two countries in the Index, Nicaragua (6) and Slovenia (7), also achieve symbolic milestones this year closing 80% of their gaps for the first time. Ireland (8), New Zealand (9) and Philippines (10) make up the top 10.

Among the G20 group of countries, France (11) is ranked highest on gender parity, followed by Germany (12), the United Kingdom (15), Canada (16), South Africa (19) and Argentina (34). The US drops four places to 49 while, at the lower end of the group, no fewer than six countries rank at or above 100. These are China (100), India (108), Japan (114), Republic of Korea (118), Turkey (131) and Saudi Arabia (138).

Looking at the individual pillars of the Index, the report finds that in 2017 that 27 countries have now closed the gender gap in Educational Attainment; three more countries than last year. A total of 34 countries – four less than last year – have closed their Health and Survival gender gaps. Only six countries have closed the gap in both of these pillars. In Economic Participation and Opportunity, no country has fully closed the gender gap but 13 countries (two more than last year) have closed more than 80% of their gap. Political Empowerment has the widest gender gap with only Iceland having closed more than 70% of the gap. Four countries have crossed the 50% threshold and 34 countries have closed less than 10% of the gap (five less than last year). Weighted by population, 95 countries rank below the Political Empowerment sub-index world average (0.227) this year.

“In 2017 we should not be seeing progress towards gender parity shift into reverse. Gender equality is both a moral and economic imperative. Some countries understand this and they are now seeing dividends from the proactive measures they have taken to address their gender gaps,” said Saadia Zahidi, Head of Education, Gender and Work, World Economic Forum.

Regional Analysis

Western Europe remains the highest-performing region in the Index with an average remaining gender gap of 25%. The region is home to four of the global top five countries in the Index – Iceland (1), Norway (2), Finland (3) and Sweden (5) – highlighting the continued progress of the Nordic countries in closing their overall gender gaps. At the bottom ranks of the region are Greece (78), Italy (82), Cyprus (92) and Malta (93). Out of the 20 countries in the region covered by the Index this year, nine have improved their overall score since last year, while 11 have seen it decrease.

North America has a remaining gender gap of 28%, the smallest after Western Europe. Both Canada (16) and the United States (49) have closed more than 70% of their overall gender gap.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia has closed on average 71% of its gender gap. Three countries from the region rank in the global top 20: Slovenia (7), Bulgaria (18) and Latvia (20). The bottom ranks are made up of Armenia (97), Azerbaijan (98) and Hungary (103). Out of the 26 countries from the region covered by the Index this year, 18 countries have increased their overall score compared to last year, while eight have decreased their overall scores.

The Latin America and Caribbean region has an average remaining gender gap of 30%. The region is home to two of the top 10 fastest-improving countries in the world since 2006: Nicaragua (6) and Bolivia (17). Brazil is one of five countries to have fully closed their educational attainment gender gap, despite ranking 90 overall. The lowest-performing countries in the region are Paraguay (96) and Guatemala (110). Of the 24 countries covered by the Index in the region this year, 18 have improved their overall score compared to last year, while six have regressed.

The East Asia and Pacific region has closed on average 68% of its gender gap. With New Zealand (9) and the Philippines (10), the region is home to two of the global top 10 performers. However the region’s larger economies perform less well: with China ranking 100 and Japan and the Republic of Korea ranking 114 and 118, respectively, it is clear that their remains much economic upside from making a more pronounced effort towards gender parity.

Sub-Saharan Africa displays a wider range of gender gap outcomes than any other region, with three countries; Rwanda (4), Namibia (13) and South Africa (19) in the global top 20, as well as many of the lowest-ranked countries in the Index, such as Mali (139) and Chad (141). Of the 30 countries from the region covered by the Index this year, 13 countries have increased their overall score compared to last year, while 17 have seen it decrease.

South Asia has an average remaining gender gap of 34%. Bangladesh (47) is the only country in the region to feature in the top 100, with India ranking 108 and Pakistan 143. Of the seven countries from the region included in the Index this year, three countries have increased their overall score compared to last year, while four have seen it decrease.

The Middle East and North Africa is the lowest-ranked region in the Index with an average remaining gender gap of 40%. In addition to Israel (44), the region’s best-performing countries are Tunisia (117), the United Arab Emirates (120) and Bahrain (126). The region is home to four of the world’s five lowest-ranking countries on Political Empowerment – Kuwait (129), Lebanon (137), Qatar (130) and Yemen (144). However out of the 17 countries covered by the Index in the region this year, 11 countries have improved their overall score compared to last year.

Time to Parity

At this rate of progress, it will take another century to close the overall global gender gap, compared to 83 years last year. The most challenging gender gaps remain in the economic and health spheres. At the current rate of change, it will take another 217 years to close the economic gender gap. This represents a reversal of progress and is the lowest-value measured by the Index since 2008. The Forum’s Closing the Gender Gap project aims to accelerate the pace of change on gender parity through global dialogue and a national public-private collaboration model currently active in three countries with further expansion planned for 2018.

Progress across the health gender gap remains undefined. Formally the smallest gap, progress has oscillated with a general downward trend. Today, the gap is larger than it stood in 2006, in part due to specific issues in select countries, in particular China and India. Although it exhibits the most progress, the political gender gap is the widest and could take another 99 years to close. On the other hand, with current trends, the education gender gap could be closed within the next 13 years.

All regions record a narrower gender gap than they did 11 years ago, despite stalled progress at the global level. At today’s rates of progress, the overall global gender gap can be closed in 61 years in Western Europe, 62 years in South Asia, 79 years in Latin America and the Caribbean, 102 years in Sub-Saharan Africa, 128 years in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 157 years in the Middle East and North Africa, 161 years in East Asia and the Pacific, and 168 years in North America.

The Economic Case for Parity

Various studies have suggested that improving gender parity may result in significant economic dividends, which vary depending on the situation of different economies and the specific challenges they are facing. Notable recent estimates suggest that economic gender parity could add an additional $250 billion to the GDP of the United Kingdom, $1,750 billion to that of the United States, $550 billion to Japan’s, $320 billion to France’s and $310 billion to the GDP of Germany.

Other recent estimates suggest that China could see a $2.5 trillion GDP increase from gender parity and that the world as a whole could increase global GDP by $5.3 trillion by 2025 if it closed the gender gap in economic participation by 25% over the same period. Given associated government revenue shares in GDP, the latter achievement would also unlock an additional $1.4 trillion in global tax revenue, most of it ($940 billion) in emerging economies, suggesting the potential self-financing effects of additional public investment into closing global gender gaps.

The economic case for parity also exists at the industry and enterprise-level and a key avenue for further progress entails addressing the current imbalances by sector. In research with LinkedIn, the report finds that men are under-represented in education, and health and welfare, while women are under-represented in engineering, manufacturing and construction, and information, communication and technology. Such segmentation by gender means that each sector loses out on the potential benefits of greater gender diversity: greater innovation, creativity and returns. However these gaps are not only a pipeline problem, i.e. regardless of the levels of women going into professions, across the board men hold more leadership positions. Consequently, it will not be enough to focus on correcting imbalances in education and training; change is also needed within companies.


The Global Gender Gap Index ranks 144 countries on the gap between women and men on health, education, economic and political indicators. It aims to understand whether countries are distributing their resources and opportunities equitably between women and men, irrespective of their overall income levels. The report measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four areas:

  1. Economic participation and opportunity – salaries, participation and leadership
  2. Education – access to basic and higher levels of education
  3. Political empowerment – representation in decision-making structures
  4. Health and survival – life expectancy and sex ratio

Index scores can be interpreted as the percentage of the gap that has been closed between women and men, and allow countries to compare their current performance relative to their past performance. In addition, the rankings allow for comparisons between countries. A total of 13 out of the 14 variables used to create the Index are from publicly available hard data indicators from international organizations, such as the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Health Organization, and one comes from a perception survey conducted by the World Economic Forum. Last year’s edition introduced an updated threshold for estimating gender parity in earned income. This year’s edition removes this income level cap completely and also updates its primary reference source for the sex ratio at birth indicator.

System Initiative on Education, Gender and Work

The World Economic Forum’s System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Education, Gender and Work aims to enable people to fulfil their full potential by developing and deploying their talent, thereby contributing to more prosperous economies and societies.

Across its three modules the System Initiative offers: knowledge tools such as the Global Gender Gap Report, the Global Human Capital Report, the Future of Jobs Report; dialogue series such as Creating the Care Economy and Reskilling the Adult Workforce and; public-private collaboration such as Closing the Skills Gap, Preparing for the Future of Work and Closing the Gender Gap. The System Initiative is led by a globally renowned Stewards group composed of the most relevant individuals and organizations from around the world, including chief executive officers, ministers, academics and heads of international organizations.

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New Social Compact

Political Parties, Church and Grand Mufti in Bulgaria: No Rights for Women



Photo: BNR

On 12 March, the European Parliament called upon EU countries including Bulgaria to ratify the Istanbul Convention. However, only one Bulgarian MEP was present at the debates. And he was against the treaty.

Just on the eve of International Women’s Day on the March 8, the Bulgarian government, attacked by political parties, the Holy Synod and Grand Mufti, said it would abandon its plans to send the Istanbul Convention to parliament for ratification. This situation clearly shows that Bulgarian society is not ready yet for the European future that envisages rights equality.

The Council of Europe Convention, known as the Istanbul Convention, was signed in 2011 in Istanbul to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. So far, it has been supported by 45 member states of the Council of Europe amid having been ratified in 28 countries with only 17 of them being EU members.

Unfortunately, the Convention still faces fierce opposition in many European Union countries. Thus, when in late February Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov said the motion to ratify the document had been rejected, Slovakia announced it would also withdraw its request for the ratification of the Convention under the pressure of similar conservative politicians.

Having signed the Convention in April 2016, the Bulgarian government announced it was going to ratify the treaty only at the end of 2017. A statement came from Deputy Minister of Justice Desislava Ahladova during the round table discussion Prevention of Violence through Education organized by the Bulgarian Fund for Women.

The announcement of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s ruling coalition GERB sparked off a wave of criticism. First, the United Patriots, a group of three parties known for their radical views lashed out at the government’s decision. “A woman cannot refuse her husband sex. That is why she gets married,” said Volen Siderov, chairman of the parliamentary bloc. In another statement, the United Patriots claimed that the Convention would legitimize the “third gender” and open the door to “transvestites from Iran.”

Soon, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church joined the criticizing group, though it backed the Convention in January 2015. Urging the National Assembly not to ratify the document, the Synod published a declaration blaming the government for introducing “a new understanding of man – man as an absolute master, the man without God who follows his desires and passions to such an extent that he can even determine his gender.” According to the Church, the term gender is the one that raises much concern. “The consequences of denying biblical truths are tragic and we are witnessing them in many societies where “gender” ideology has long been a state policy,” the Synod stressed. The Orthodox Church even called for prayers against the ratification.

Just a day after the Orthodox Church came up with comments, the Bulgarian Grand Mufti followed the suite. In a quite lengthy statement, the supreme body of Muslims in the country provided a number of theistic and secular arguments against the ratification. First of all, some legal uncertainties are a reason for the Grand Mufti’s disapproval. Although the government officials have stated several times that no changes would be made in the Constitution if the Istanbul Convention is adopted, the Mufti worries that important documents such as The Family Act, the Anti-Discrimination Act, the Young People’s Act, the Internal Policies Act would have to undergo substantial change in order to fulfill the Convention’s requirements. Both Christianity and Islam stand for traditional values, so it’s not really surprising that their positions in this matter coincide.

On the 25th of January Bulgarian Socialist Party introduced an initiative to submit a referendum proposal in the National Assembly. “[The convention] has generated enormous tension in the Bulgarian society and diverging opinions. That’s division,” BSP leader Kornelia Ninova said, as quoted by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television. “We think that the one who has to have their say on this issue is the Bulgarian people. This is why tomorrow we will be tabling the necessary signatures of Bulgarian Socialist Party MPs to ask for a decision to hold a referendum on the Istanbul Convention.”

However, her initiative failed as on the same day the government changed its mind and withdrew the proposal for ratification.
Obviously, the reaction of confessions and politicians depends on the current mood in Bulgarian society. Recent surveys show that the majority of Bulgarians are against the proposed Convention. Thus, according to the Barometer Bulgaria pollster, 63% of respondents said they disapprove of ratifying such a document. However, it is not shocking as four in five people in Bulgaria think that the most important role of a woman is to take care of her home and family, per a November 2017 Eurobarometer survey.

The story of the Istanbul Convention in Bulgaria is a vivid example of how conservative politicians and clergymen can influence the political agenda in a country and impede new motions in the human rights sector.

Endowment for Public Awareness

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New Social Compact

United Nations Drowning Prevention Group launched on World Water Day 2018



Photo: Zackary Canepari for RNLI International

Ambassadors from across the world have highlighted the need for global drowning to be tackled if the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals are to be met by 2030.

In an open letter on World Water Day (22 March), members of a newly formed UN group on drowning prevention, launched today, have called on the international community to recognise safe access to water as a global development priority alongside access to safe water.

With drowning claiming 360,000 lives a year across the globe, the UN Group of Friends on Drowning Prevention – with founding members including the governments of Bangladesh, Vietnam, Fiji, Thailand, Tanzania and Ireland – has called for drowning to be recognised and resourced in line with its impact on communities worldwide.

This comes as the UN launches the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development, focussed on addressing water-related challenges including access to safe water and sanitation.

Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) Head of International Advocacy Helen Morton said:

“Drowning is a silent epidemic. Responsible for more deaths each year than international development priorities including malnutrition and maternal mortality, it goes unrecognised and under-resourced. Drowning hits the most vulnerable first and worst; children and young people represent the majority of lives lost and almost all occur in low and middle income countries. Wasted lives and preventable deaths on an epidemic scale.

“Rightly, resource in recent decades has focused on delivering the human right to water, but it’s now critical that we focus on water access in the fullest sense; recognising safe access to water as well as access to safe water as a pressing development problem, and as a means to enable development.

“The RNLI has been working with governments across the world committed to helping to end this silent epidemic, and we’re encouraged that a new dedicated UN group has launched today on World Water Day to prove that prevention is possible.”

The full open letter is available below.

A letter from the UN Group of Friends on Drowning Prevention

Today, on World Water Day, we celebrate that water enables the lives and livelihoods of billions of people across our planet. The launch of a new United Nations Decade of Action on Water is an opportune moment to reaffirm our commitments to this urgent and important issue.

But in our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and make the UN Decade on Water successful, we must address the issue of water access in the fullest sense – that includes recognition of the realities in which those who are left behind live.

While our focus has been on access to safe water, it is critical to draw the attention of the global community to the need for safe access to water.

Each year, drowning is responsible for more deaths than malnutrition or maternal mortality. It affects the most vulnerable first and worst; almost all of the 360,000 drowning deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Among these, children and young people represent the majority of lives lost. Every other minute, a child loses their life to the water. Drowning is the number one cause of child mortality in many countries across South East Asia and the Western Pacific.

In committing to the SDGs every country in the world has committed to deliver a set of Goals for their citizens by 2030. Ensuring safe access to water will be critical to reducing child mortality and to achieving sustainable development as a whole. Drowning prevention is a forgotten but fundamental enabler to ensure that every child survives and thrives; while insuring investment in nutrition, education and immunisation and providing a set of required survival skills that will protect our future generations.

Drowning is not fate, nor inevitable.

Every life lost to the water is preventable. Simple and scale-able solutions, such as survival swim lessons, community crèches and flood response skills, can be delivered at a large scale and low-cost, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. This is ever-more important with growing exposure to water due to climate change and increased risks of natural disasters, yet to date drowning has been absent from political debate, and has not received the level of public attention it deserves.

So, today, we officially launch the Group of Friends on Drowning Prevention, to mobilise governments from across the geographic and political spectrum to act on this common cause; to ensure that the issue of drowning prevention is recognised and receives resources commensurate with its impact on communities worldwide.

As the President of the General Assembly launches the Decade of Action on Water for Sustainable Development, we call upon him, and fellow leaders, to recognise the importance of safe access to water alongside access to safe water. If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and ensure that no one is left behind, inaction is not an option.

Signed by:

Masud Bin Momen, Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United Nations Luke Daunivalu, Ambassador of Fiji to the United Nations Virachai Plasai, Ambassador of Thailand to the United Nations Nguyen Thi Phuong Nga, Ambassador of Viet Nam to the United Nations

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New Social Compact

Seven Out of 10 Top School Systems Are in East Asia Pacific

MD Staff



The East Asia and Pacific region has seven of the top ten performing education systems in the world, with schools in China and Vietnam showing significant progress, according to a new World Bank report released today. This is a major accomplishment that offers important lessons to countries around the world. In the rest of the region, however, up to 60 percent of students are in under-performing schools that fail to equip them with the skills necessary for success.

Growing Smarter: Learning and Equitable Development in East Asia and the Pacific argues that improving education is necessary to sustain economic growth and highlights the ways that countries in the region have been able to improve learning outcomes. Drawing on lessons from successful education systems in the region, it lays out a series of practical recommendations for key policies that promote learning so that students acquire foundational skills in reading and math, as well as more complex skills that are needed to meet future labor market demands.

Providing a high-quality education to all children, regardless of where they are born, isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also the foundation of a strong economy and the best way to stop and reverse rising inequalities,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific.

A quarter of the world’s school-age children – some 331 million – live in East Asia and the Pacific. Up to 40 percent of them attend school in education systems whose students are ahead of the average students in OECD countries. These schools are not only in wealthy countries such as Singapore, Korea and Japan, but also in middle-income countries such as China and Vietnam. And, as the report highlights, student performance isn’t necessarily tied to a country’s income level. By age 10, for example, the average Vietnamese student outperforms all but the top students in India, Peru and Ethiopia.

But many countries in the region are not getting the results they want. In Indonesia, for example, test scores showed students were more than three years behind their top-performing peers in the region. In countries such as Cambodia and Timor-Leste, one-third or more of second graders were unable to read a single word on reading tests.

Another key finding of the report is that across the region, household incomes do not necessarily determine children’s educational success. In Vietnam and China (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces), for example, students from poorer households do as well, if not better, in both math and science, as compared to average students in the OECD.

Effective policies for the selection, motivation, and support of teachers as well as sound practices in the classroom are what determine how much students learn. For policymakers looking to improve their school systems, allocating existing budgets efficiently, coupled with strong political commitment, can make a real difference in the lives of children across the region,” said Jaime Saavedra, the World Bank’s Senior Director for Education.

The report lays out concrete steps for improving learning for lagging systems in the region and beyond, starting with ensuring that institutions are aligned so that objectives and responsibilities across the education system are consistent with each other. The report also urges a focus on four key areas: effective and equity-minded public spending; preparation of students for learning; selection and support of teachers; and systematic use of assessments to inform instruction.

The report found that top-performing systems spend efficiently on school infrastructure and teachers, have recruitment processes to ensure the best candidates are attracted into teaching, and provide a salary structure that rewards teachers with proven classroom performance. It also found that schools throughout the region increased preschool access, including for the poor, and have adopted student learning assessment into their educational policies.

The report complements and builds on the World Bank’s World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise, which was released in September 2017 and found that without learning, education will fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared opportunity and prosperity for all.

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