Gender Equity Index 2012: The gap has not reached an “acceptable” level in any country

Mongolia narrowed the gap putting legislation into force
■ Brazil reached a low score in political empowerment, although the president is a woman
■ Social Watch Italy: “The economic crisis could represent an opportunity to change”

The achievements made by women all over the world towards equity in education are still very far from making an impact on their having a fair share in the economy or in political power. This can be concluded from the updated figures of the Gender Equity Index (GEI) 2012, published by Social Watch on the eve of International Women’s Day, March 8. None of the 154 countries considered in the study has narrowed the gender gap to an “acceptable” level.

The GEI prepared annually by Social Watch measures the gap between women and men in education, economy and political empowerment. The index is an average of the inequalities in the three dimensions. In literacy, it examines the gender gap in enrolment at all levels; economic participation computes the gaps in income and employment; empowerment measures the gaps in highly qualified jobs, parliament and senior executive positions.

The GEI 2012 has computed a world value for education of 71 (or “low”, according to the index categories), while for economic participation computed 42 (“very low”) and for political empowerment a meagre 17 (“critical”).

Women’s participation in the labour force is significantly less compared to men. They have substantially lower salaries for the same type of work and a higher percentage of women are employed in vulnerable or irregular jobs. But more importantly, as the index shows, the underachievement in economic participation and empowerment for women is verified in each of the 154 countries studied in the 2012 issue of the index.

Social Watch measures the gap between women and men, not their wellbeing. Thus, a country in which young men and women have equal access to the university receives a value of 100 on this particular indicator. In the same fashion, a country in which boys and girls are equally barred from completing primary education would also be awarded a value of 100. This does not mean that the quality of education in both cases is the same. It just establishes that, in both cases girls are not less educated than boys.

Through this procedure, the GEI 2012 makes also clear that the lack of equity cannot be justified by a lack of resources: the GEI mapping and that of each of its components show that, regardless of income levels, each country can reduce gender disparity through adequate policies.

Countries such as Mongolia (81), Rwanda (77), The Philippines (76) and Nicaragua (74) have reached relatively high levels of gender equity, even when many women and men live in poverty. On the other hand, countries with an elevated income, such as Japan (57 GEI points), Turkey and Saudi Arabia (37 GEI points) present huge gaps between men and women. The GEI 2012 stresses that these figures show that equality in the structure of opportunities in a society is a goal that must and can be pursued regardless of economic power.

The five levels according to which the index measures the gender gap are: “critical”, “very low”, “low”, “medium” and “acceptable”. No country in the world has reached GEI 90 points or more, meaning that no country has yet reached the acceptable level.

When considering the gender gap in terms of regions, the index finds that Europe and North America, both with an average GEI of 73 points (“low”), are heading the chart. The index stresses, however, that not all of the European countries are doing well in closing their gender gap. Albania (55) and Turkey (45), for example, score below the global average, which is 57 (“very low”). 

The East Asia and Pacific (69), Latin America and the Caribbean (68) and Central Asia (63) are also in the “low” level. Sub-Saharan Africa (52) and the Middle East and North Africa (43) are both in the “very low” category, and both below the global average, while South Asia is at the very bottom of the chart with 39 points (“critical”).

Out of the 154 countries computed, those achieving a better score are Norway (89), Finland (88) Iceland, Sweden (both with 87), Denmark (84), New Zealand (82), and Mongolia and Spain (both with 81), all of them with a “medium” GEI.

The five counties in the worst global situation are the Republic of Congo (29), Niger (26), Tchad (25), Yemen (24) and Afghanistan (15), all of them with “critical” GEI.


Mixed results

In Mongolia, the only developing country that reached the “medium” GEI level, a 20 percent quota for female candidates of every political party to the parliament is in force, as well as relevant gender provisions on government, labour, civil service and human rights. The government has also set up a task force to draft a new Gender Equality Action Plan for the next 5 years

Undral Gombodorj, director of the Democracy Education Center (DEMO), explained that “a long overdue Law on Gender Equality was passed in February 2011, explicitly prohibiting any act of exclusion, restriction and discrimination against women in every sphere”.

The legislation obliges central and local governments, political parties, private employers and media organizations to install regulations and mechanisms to ensure gender equality and to fight sexual harassment, and introduce penalties to those who break them.

Spain, with the same GEI score than Mongolia when the Index was computed, has moved backwards since then, warned Pablo Martínez Oses, of the civil society coalition Plataforma 2015 y Más. The new government, headed by Mariano Rajoy, left aside José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s policy of keeping a gender equality ratio in the cabinet. Out of 14 ministers, only four are women.

“The cuts in public spending are having a negative impact on gender policies. The announced amendment to the Abortion Law is threatening women’s independence,” added Osés. Women in Spain earn 22% less than men for the same work, according to official statistics.

In Italy, “something is beginning to move forward,” said Jason Nardi, coordinator of Social Watch Italia. “The gender equality question is not closed in the world. There are some improvements in Brazil and in some Central Asian countries,” he added.

“Discrimination continues in the world labor market. Women are victims of the economic crisis, as they usually have weaker employment relationships. The current crisis could represent an opportunity to change, and, as citizens, we must move on to claim those changes,” Nardi remarked.

Gender equality does not depend on the economic power of a country, according to João José Fernandes, executive director of Portuguese NGO Oikos-Cooperação e Desenvolvimento. “Portugal is richer than Rwanda and poorer than France, but those three countries have the same GEI score” of 77 points, he explained.

“In the last decades, our country made a remarkable progress on women’s education. Now, the challenge is to reach a similar progress on the economic and political dimensions,” he concluded.

Political underrepresentation

In a campaign prior to last year elections in Turkey, on June 12, the Association for Education and Supporting Women Candidates (KA.DER) asked for a 50 percent female representation in the Parliament, but the percentage of women legislators reached a mere 14.2 percent. “We are tired of reporting the same statistics each year. We are concerned. Aren't you ashamed?” asked Çiğdem Aydın, of KA.DER, to the political parties. Out of 26 ministers in Turkey's cabinet there is only one woman, Family and Social Policy Minister Fatma Şahin.

“What do we have in Turkey? Violence against women, exploitation of female labor and bodies, female poverty, female unemployment, child brides and girls who are not sent to school,” Aydın regretted.

Cambodia’s “very low” GEI score could largely be explained by social pressures that push women out of the education system, according to Thida Khus, executive director of the Cambodian NGO SILAKA.

“Many women fall through the cracks. Culturally, women have a lot of pressure to support the family, and are forced to abandon school. The education system is not addressing the needs of these girls,” she said, calling for the government to rethink macro-economic and education policy to keep girls in school.

In spite of having a woman, Dilma Roussef, as chief of government, Brazil got its lowest GEI score in the dimension of political empowerment (43 points). There are too few women acting in politics, and the obstacles they have to overcome to enter in that activity are “the worst expression of patriarchy” after gender violence,” said Silvia Camurça, of the Articulação de Mulheres Brasileiras (AMB).

“Brazilian women have in average two more years of education than men, but we still earn less money for the same work. Female salaries reach a mere 70 percent of those earned by men,” she added.

The GEI shows that Zambia needs urgently to tackle the problem of gender inequality, warned the executive director of Women for Change, Emily Joy Sikazwe. “Human development will continue to elude Zambia for a long time if women continue to be left behind. With the deadline of the Millenium Development Goal 3 (promote gender equality and empower women) fast approaching, Zambia risks to be embarrassed before the eyes of the world with this appalling performance,” said Sikazwe.

Social Watch members are spread across all regions. The network fights for the eradication of poverty and its causes, the elimination of all forms of discrimination and racism and to ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and the realization of human rights.

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