Gender gap in Asian countries — an overview based on the 2013 Global Gender Gap Report

Liliana Corrieri

“What can be measured, can be addressed, that’s the point of the Global Gender Gap Index”.

Clip_19With these words Ms. Saadia Zahidi, report founder and co-author of The Global Gender Gap Report, launched the 2013 Report on October 24.

“We are trying to understand how countries are empowering women economically, politically, how much access they have to health, what kind of education they are receiving. Regardless of how rich the country is, or how poor the country is, (we are trying to understand) how equitably they are distributing the wealth and the opportunities that they do have between women and men”.

First launched in 2006 by the World Economic Forum, the Index has for this year confirmed Pakistan as one of the worst performing countries in the world in terms of gender gap and inequality. In fact, Pakistan ranks 135th followed only by Yemen at the very bottom of the index, which this year covers 136 countries. Other Asian countries which were badly placed are Nepal (121), South Korea (111), India (101) and Indonesia (95).

The Report annually addresses gender inequality given by the uneven distribution of resources and the limited access to opportunities, such as education, the labour market and political engagement. Consequently, the main disparities in focus are related to the national gender gaps from the economic and political perspective.

Iceland leads the index for the fifth consecutive year, followed by the three Scandinavian countries, confirming therefore that, despite their low population density, Nordic countries extensively invest in people and equally value the talents of both men and women. Looking at the top 20 countries, which include Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada it is easy to see the strong correlation between gender equality, access to secondary and tertiary education, entry into the job market, inclusiveness and international competitiveness in the long term.

Within the Asian scenario, it is important to appreciate the very good performance of the Philippines, which ranks fifth soon after Sweden and much before other developed countries, such as France (45) and Italy (71). Furthermore, the Philippines ranks much better than two of Asia’s major economies, these being China (69) and Japan (105), where evidently the space given to women in terms of economic leadership and political decision making processes is still limited. Such numbers confirm that despite lower national wealth and an overall lower level of education and health care pro capita, the Philippines guarantees to its female population a much more equal access to resources (regardless of the comprehensive level of such resources) thereby making its national gender gaps smaller in comparison to many other richer and more developed countries.

The position of each country in the report is essentially given by the country’s performance in terms of equality, and it should not be seen as the measurement of the concrete amount of national resources available or the overall level of industrialization and development. The so called ‘four pillars’ taken into consideration by the Report for the investigation of the existing gender gaps are: Economic Participation and Opportunity (including remuneration and advancement) Educational Attainment, Health and Survival (including the gender-biased phenomenon of sex selection and son preference) and Political Empowerment, which estimates the level of political decision-making accomplished by women within public institutions, in ministerial and parliamentary positions.

With regards to Asia and the Pacific Region, the Report states: “Philippines moves up three places this year due to small improvements in the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindexes. Philippines ranks 10th on the Political Empowerment subindex and remains the highest-ranking country from Asia in the Index. Philippines is the only country in Asia and the Pacific that has fully closed the gender gap in both education and health … Nepal (121), Iran, Islamic Rep. (130) and Pakistan (135) occupy the last places in the regional rankings (…) Pakistan moves down in the rankings from 134th to 135th position due to a worsening in political empowerment and occupies the last spot in the Asia and Pacific region”.

Speaking to the BBC, Ms. Saadia Zahidi stated that since the first Global Gender Gap index in 2006, about 80\% of the countries investigated have managed to reduce their gender gaps. However, there are countries that have either made no progress, or that are even falling behind. The most challenging 20\% is represented by African countries, as well as the Middle East and South Asia.

Women are half of the global population, hence half of the world’s talents and potentials. They are a resource of human capital.  Denying women education, access to resources, as well as integration in the civil, economic and political life of their communities, automatically implies delaying the advancement of their country