Gender equality, the concept that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their genetic or chosen gender, is an issue of both human dignity and respect. Many experts believe that gender equality across categories including education, employment, health, politics, and economic participation is not only a cultural responsibility, but a necessary and crucial part of the healthiest, most optimized economies. Sustainable development goals and other economic targets are often unachievable if half of a country’s population is hampered by restricted opportunities. In order to improve gender equality, many governments are implementing policies that provide talent development, diversify the leadership pool, and provide support to families and caregivers of every gender.
Global Gender Gap Index 2021
The World Economic Forum compiles and releases the Global Gender Gap Index every year. This report measures the extent of gender-based gaps among four key dimensions: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment, then gives each country a ranking between 0.000 (or 0%, the lowest possible gender equality) and 1.000 (100%, the highest possible gender equality). The analyses of each country are intended to serve as a basis for designing effective measures for reducing gender gaps. The 2021 edition of the Global Gender Gap Index studied and ranked 156 countries and territories around the world.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Gender Equality (2021 World Economic Forum)
- Iceland — 89.2%
- Finland — 86.1%
- Norway — 84.9%
- New Zealand — 84.0%
- Sweden — 82.3%
- Namibia — 80.9%
- Rwanda — 80.5%
- Lithuania — 80.4%
- Ireland — 80.0%
- Switzerland — 79.8%
The top ten countries for gender equality include four Nordic countries: Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden; as well as their European neighbors Ireland, Switzerland, and Lithuania (the lone Eastern European country); the Asian Pacific country New Zealand; and two Sub-Saharan African countries, Rwanda and Namibia. Iceland retained its number one spot for the 12th year in a row, rising more than a full percentage point to 89.2%.
The 2021 report found that global gender parity actually decreased from 68.6% in 2019 to 68.0% in 2020, due in large part to the global ripple effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based upon current progress, the WEF predicts it would take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide. The largest current gender gap appears in the Political Empowerment category, which widened by 2.4%, a concern supported by statistics such as the fact that 81 countries have never had a female head of state.
The second-largest gap appears in the Economic Participation and Opportunity category. The proportion of women among skilled professionals increased, and wage equality inched forward slightly—both positive developments—however, significant wage disparity persists, and the percentage of females in leadership roles remains imbalanced. Females also seem to have been more likely to lose jobs as a result of the pandemic and slower to regain those jobs once pandemic-related restrictions were lifted.
Educational Attainment gaps are relatively small on average (95% closed globally), with 37 countries achieving true gender parity, and the gap in Health and Survival is also 96% closed. While these percentages are encouraging, the report notes that both also seem stalled, with the last few percentage points seemingly just out of reach. Gender parity also varies significantly from one global region to another.
Global Regions with the Highest and Lowest Gender Parity:
|3||Latin America & Caribbean||71.2%|
|4||Eastern Europe & Central Asia||71.1%|
|5||East Asia and Pacific||68.9%|
|8||Middle East & North Africa||60.9%|
10 Countries with the Least Gender Equality (and Largest Gender Gaps):
- Afghanistan — 44.4%
- Yemen — 49.2%
- Iraq — 53.5%
- Pakistan — 55.6%
- Syria — 56.8%
- DR Congo — 57.6%
- Iran — 58.2%
- Mali — 59.1%
- Chad — 59.3%
- Saudi Arabia — 60.3%
Of the ten countries at the bottom of the list, only Afghanistan and Mali are new. The remaining eight are returners from the previous index. Departing the bottom ten are Oman, whose GEI rose from 60.2% to 60.8%, and Lebanon, whose GEI rose from 59.9% to 63.8%, a very large increase for a single year. Political and economic opportunities are still extremely limited for women in many countries, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.