The authors of a new report forecasting that it could take 170 years to eradicate the disparity in pay and employment opportunities for men and women have called for urgent action to close the gender equality gap.
The report by the World Economic Forum – best known for its high-profile gathering each year in Davos, Switzerland – found that economic disparity between women and men around the world was rising even though the gap was closing on other measures, such as education.
When measured in terms of income and employment, the gender gap has widened in the past four years; at 59%, it is now at a similar level to that seen in the depths of the financial crisis in 2008.
Last year, the WEF predicted it would take 118 years for economic parity to be achieved. This year, the Geneva-based institution has calculated the gap would take until 2186 – 170 years – to close.
The report says: “More than a decade of data has revealed that progress is still too slow for realising the full potential of one half of humanity within our lifetimes.”
The authors, Richard Samans and Saadia Zahidi, said they hoped the report “will serve as a call to action for governments to accelerate gender equality through bolder policymaking, to business to prioritise gender equality as a critical talent and moral imperative, and to all of us to become deeply conscious of the choices we make every day that impact gender equality globally”.
The economic gap is caused by a number of factors, including women being paid almost half of what men receive, working on average 50 minutes a day longer and having a much slimmer chance of reaching senior roles.
Zahidi blamed slower economic growth for keeping women out of the workforce and added that, after making some progress, “we’re now hitting a bit of a wall” in terms of policy changes to help women in the workplace. Automation is affecting jobs in sales and administration – sectors with relatively high levels of female employment.
On an overall scale, including health, education and politics, the gender gap could be closed in 83 years across the 107 countries included in the report since it was originally published in 2006 – which is “just within the statistical lifetime of the baby girls born today”.
Within that overall measure, the education gap could be closed in 10 years, while the inequality in politics – which has the widest gap, despite having closed by 23% – should end in 82 years because of the fast pace of improvement since 2006, when it stood at 14%.
This year, 144 countries are included. Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden are in the top four, while Rwanda makes it in to the top five.
The UK has risen to 20th from 18th place in the overall rankings, well below its top 10 position in 2006.
The UK’s rankings were compiled before Theresa May became prime minister following the vote for Brexit and are affected by a change to the way income is measured, which lifted the cap on estimated income from $40,000 (£32,800) to $75,000. This pushed the UK down in the economic parity ranks by 10 places to 53. As a result, the US is also ranked as less gender equal, falling 17 places to 45.
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