NEW YORK (Feb 28) – The economic dimension is the next challenge towards global gender equity. More than half the women in the world live in countries that have made no progress towards gender equity in recent years. That is one of the findings of the Gender Equity Index (GEI) 2008 that Social Watch launched here as a contribution to the 52nd Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women that will end next March 8, the International Women’s Day.

The GEI, developed and calculated by Social Watch, ranks 157 countries ina scale where 100 would imply complete equality between women and men ineducation, participation in the economy and in decision-making bodies(empowerment). Yet the highest-ranking country in the world (Sweden) has anindex of 89 and the world average if of 61. Finland (85) and Norway (84) followSweden in the table, and after that come Germany and Rwanda, both with 80. Whilethe first four countries are among the richest of the world, Rwanda is one ofthe poorest. German Women are obviously better educated and live longer thanthose in Rwanda. What the index shows is that the gap separating their conditionfrom those of men is similar.

“The GEI for 2008 clearly shows that income alone is no guarantee for genderequity”, emphasizes Social Watch coordinator Roberto Bissio. Countries with very high per capitaincomes, such as Luxembourg or Switzerland, have the same equity level asMozambique, a country with a much lower income level.

For the first time this year, the GEI is able to show recent evolution(last five years) in 133 countries. While there is no enough evidence yet toshow the evolution of very populous countries like China and India, theindicators do show that progress towards gender equity is difficult andvulnerable to regressions. Education is the dimension that is closer to completeequity, with a global average of 90. But in education more countries are regressing than those makingprogresses. Empowerment is the dimension where most countries are showing progress, but it is also the one where theglobal average is the lowest, reaching only 35 points out of 100. In terms ofthe economy, there are as many countries where women make progress as countriesregressing.

The economic dimension of the gender equity index measures gaps in women'sparticipation in the labour market and in the salaries earned by them ascompared to men. Among the 15 top places in economic participation, the Nordiccountries – Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland - share the honourwith ten of the poorest countries in the world: Mozambique, Burundi, Rwanda,Cambodia, Ghana, Viet Nam, Uganda, Madagascar, Kenya and Guinea.

At the root of most of the national regressions in the total GEI the indexpoints out to setbacks in the participation of women in the economy. This is thecase of Eastern Europe, the region presenting the biggest reversions in thisarea. Latvia, Belarus, Slovakia or Macedonia, all of them countries that used toenjoy high levels of female participation in the economy are now to be found inthe group of those regressing.

According to Genoveva Tisheva, managing director of the Bulgarian GenderResearch Foundation and a member of the Coordinating Committee of Social Watch,“in Eastern Europe women are more often unemployed after the completion of ahigher educational degree”. Tisheva argues that “legal and regulatorymeasures should ensure access to the labour market of young women and othergroups of women with less bargaining power and from vulnerable groups”.Tisheva warns that the global trends of trade liberalization “have made ofwomen one of the most flexible participants in the labour market, subjected toderegulation, informalisation, lowering of the social and labour standards”.

Affirmative measures such as gender quotas for political participation inelected bodies and pro-equity regulations in the labour market are behind mostof the success stories of countries making progress in the Gender Equity Index.

Find more information about the GenderEquity Index and the complete statistical tables.