Gender Equality – The Gap Report


Awareness is Essential 

I’ve been working all day, researching, pushing posts and twitters out, bugging people for their opinion  — following up on our last Guest Speaker’s question, “What is Equality?” We should know the answer to this, don’t you think? I mean, how are you going to know if there is progress if you don’t know what it is?

Well, many of the people I talked to suggested that they would know, because of the way they felt, and that bugs me. It bugs me — not because I don’t believe you could recognize “feeling equal” in a situation — because the implied value was that they would feel better.

Equality, and I don’t mean this in a rude or sardonic way at all, will not alter your day to day emotional level. If you believe that this will be the result, then I suggest very strongly in meditating and searching out answers to what makes you happy. Equality would mean, theoretically that you would have the same “stride through life” as I have. I’m a 50 year-old white male with some decent levels of education and not many challenges on the social level. Being an Alpha, my social challenges tend to be the expectation of leadership in just about any gathering — something goes wrong, and suddenly I have a lot of hopeful eyes looking at me, like I know anything about catering <sigh> — but I’m not happy all the time, and I doubt I’m happier than you are.

I’m just going to put that out there and move on, because I found some interesting information.

Would Feeling Equal be a Guide?

Would Feeling Equal be a Guide?

I decided that we should start at the top. So I went straight to the UN Women’s page and started looking around. After digging (and I do mean Digging) I found a document from the 1979 Convention on women’s rights (which I am going to assume is now thought of as gender rights).

The Convention was adopted on 18 December 1979 by the UN General Assembly and is often described as an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

The Convention defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including:

  • to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
  • to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and
  • to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.

This document can be found here… and it is large.

The Gender Gap Report

In order to push gender equality forward, we need to measure and track gender gaps over time.

That’s precisely the goal of the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s annual Global Gender Gap Index, which published its latest report last week. It analyzes the gaps in rights and opportunities between men and women in key areas, including health, education, economic participation and political empowerment, in 142 economies worldwide.

While no country has succeeded yet in closing the gender gap completely, Nordic countries — Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark — topped the index, bridging the gender gap in their respective countries by more than 80%.

However, while Iceland has topped the list for the sixth consecutive year, it’s important to note that amid many successes, disparities remain — something to keep in mind for all of the countries. The index measures gaps in access to resources and opportunities, not actual levels of the available resources and opportunities in those countries. In fact, the WEF found that, at the current trajectory, it would take 81 years to completely close the gender gap.

Also of note this year is that Rwanda entered the rankings for the first time, at No. 7. The country is often lauded for its high proportion of women in parliament. The United States rose from No. 23 in 2013 to No. 20 this year, while the UK dipped from No. 18 to No. 26.

Yemen, long criticized for gender-based violence and lack of laws surrounding child marriage, is again the lowest-ranked country for gender gaps at No. 142.

The following chart, created by statistics portal Statista, shows the 10 countries that scored highest on the 2014 Global Gender Gap Index:

Table 1 Gender Equality

Table 1 Gender Equality

The methodology of the Index has remained stable since its development in 2006, providing robust comparative and intra-country information.

Three underlying concepts

There are three basic concepts underlying the Global Gender Gap Index, forming the basis of the choice of indicators, how the data is treated and the scale used. First, it focuses on measuring gaps rather than levels. Second, it captures gaps in outcome variables rather than gaps in input variables. Third, it ranks countries according to gender equality rather than women’s empowerment. These three concepts are briefly outlined below. For a description of how these concepts are captured by the construction techniques used in the creation of the Index, please see the section below, Construction of the Index.

Gaps vs. levels

The Index is designed to measure gender-based gaps in access to resources and opportunities in countries rather than the actual levels of the available resources and opportunities in those countries. We do this in order to make the Global Gender Gap Index independent from the countries’ levels of development. In other words, the Index is constructed to rank countries on their gender gaps not on their development level. For example, rich countries, generally speaking, are able to offer more education and health opportunities to all members of society, although this is quite independent of the gender-related gaps that may exist within those higher levels of health or education. The Global Gender Gap Index, rewards countries for smaller gaps in access to these resources, regardless of the overall level of resources. Thus, in the case of education, the Index penalizes or rewards countries based on the size of the gap between male and female enrolment rates, but not for the overall levels of education in the country.

Outcomes vs. inputs

The second basic concept underlying the Global Gender Gap Index is that it evaluates countries based on outcomes rather than inputs or means. Our aim is to provide a snapshot of where men and women stand with regard to some fundamental outcome variables related to basic rights such as health, education, economic participation and political empowerment. Variables related to country-specific policies, rights, culture or customs—factors that we consider “input” or “means” variables—are not included in the Index, but they are displayed in the Country Profiles. For example, the Index includes a variable comparing the gap between men and women in high-skilled jobs such as legislators, senior officials and managers (an outcome variable) but does not include data on the length of maternity leave (a policy variable).

Gender equality vs. women’s empowerment

The third distinguishing feature of the Global Gender Gap Index is that it ranks countries according to their proximity to gender equality rather than to women’s empowerment. Our aim is to focus on whether the gap between women and men in the chosen variables has declined, rather than whether women are “winning” the “battle of the sexes”. Hence, the Index rewards countries that reach the point where outcomes for women equal those for men, but it neither rewards nor penalizes cases in which women are outperforming men on particular variables in some countries. Thus a country, which has higher enrolment for girls rather than boys in secondary school, will score equal to a country where boys’ and girls’ enrolment is the same.

The four subindexes

The Global Gender Gap Index examines the gap between men and women in four fundamental categories (subindexes): Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment. Table 1 displays all four of these subindexes and the 14 different variables that compose them, along with the sources of data used for each.

Economic Participation and Opportunity

This subindex contains three concepts: the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap. The participation gap is captured using the difference between women and men in labour force participation rates. The remuneration gap is captured through a hard data indicator (ratio of estimated female-to-male earned income) and a qualitative variable gathered through the World Economic Forum’s Executive Opinion Survey (wage equality for similar work). Finally, the gap between the advancement of women and men is captured through two hard data statistics (the ratio of women to men among legislators, senior officials and managers, and the ratio of women to men among technical and professional workers).

Educational Attainment

In this subindex, the gap between women’s and men’s current access to education is captured through ratios of women to men in primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level education. A longer-term view of the country’s ability to educate women and men in equal numbers is captured through the ratio of the female literacy rate to the male literacy rate.

Health and Survival

This subindex provides an overview of the differences between women’s and men’s health through the use of two variables. The first variable is the sex ratio at birth, which aims specifically to capture the phenomenon of “missing women” prevalent in many countries with a strong son preference. Second, we use the gap between women’s and men’s healthy life expectancy. This measure provides an estimate of the number of years that women and men can expect to live in good health by taking into account the years lost to violence, disease, malnutrition or other relevant factors.

Political Empowerment

This subindex measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision-making through the ratio of women to men in minister-level positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions. In addition, we include the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years. A clear drawback in this category is the absence of any variables capturing differences between the participation of women and men at local levels of government. Should such data become available at a globally comparative level in future years, they will be considered for inclusion in the Index.

The overall Global Gender Gap Index is constructed using a four-step process, outlined below. Some of the indicators listed in Table 1 require specific construction or modification in order to be used in the Index. For further information on the indicator-specific calculations, please refer to the How to Read the Country Profiles section in Part 2 of this Report.

Convert to ratios

Initially, all data are converted to female/male ratios. For example, a country with 20% of women in ministerial positions is assigned a ratio of 20 women /80 men, thus a value of 0.25. This is to ensure that the Index is capturing gaps between women and men’s attainment levels, rather than the levels themselves.

Truncate data at equality benchmark

As a second step, these ratios are truncated at the “equality benchmark”. For all variables, except the two health variables, this equality benchmark is considered to be 1, meaning equal numbers of women and men. In the case of the sex ratio at birth variable, the equality benchmark is set to be 0.944,1 and the healthy life expectancy benchmark is set to be 1.06.2 Truncating the data at the equality benchmarks for each variable assigns the same score to a country that has reached parity between women and men and one where women have surpassed men.


The type of scale chosen determines whether the Index is rewarding women’s empowerment or gender equality.3 To capture gender equality, two possible scales were considered. One was a negative-positive scale capturing the size and direction of the gender gap. This scale penalizes either men’s advantage over women or women’s advantage over men, and gives the highest points to absolute equality. The second choice was a one-sided scale that measures how close women are to reaching parity with men but does not reward or penalize countries for having a gender gap in the other direction. We find the one-sided scale more appropriate for our purposes, as it does not reward countries for having exceeded the parity benchmark.

Calculate subindex scores

The third step in the process involves calculating the weighted average of the variables within each subindex to create the subindex scores. Averaging the different variables would implicitly give more weight to the measure that exhibits the largest variability or standard deviation. We therefore first normalize the variables by equalizing their standard deviations. For example, within the Educational Attainment subindex, standard deviations for each of the four variables are calculated. Then we determine what a 1% point change would translate to in terms of standard deviations by dividing 0.01 by the standard deviation for each variable. These four values are then used as weights to calculate the weighted average of the four variables.

Tabe 2. Gender Equality

Tabe 2. Gender Equality

This way of weighting variables allows us to make sure that each variable has the same relative impact on the subindex. For example, a variable with a small variability or standard deviation, such as primary enrolment rate, gets a larger weight within the Educational Attainment subindex than a variable with a larger variability, such as tertiary enrolment rate. Therefore, a country with a large gender gap in primary education (a variable where most countries have achieved near-parity between women and men) will be more heavily penalized. Similarly, in the case of the sex ratio variable (within the Health and Survival subindex), where most countries have a very high sex ratio and the spread of the data is small, the larger weight will penalize more heavily those countries that deviate from this value. Table 2 displays the values of the weights used in the Global Gender Gap Index 2006.

Calculate final scores

In the case of all subindexes, the highest possible score is 1 (equality) and the lowest possible score is 0 (inequality), thus binding the scores between inequality and equality benchmarks. An un-weighted average of each subindex score is used to calculate the overall Global Gender Gap Index score. As in the case of the subindexes, this final value ranges between 1 (equality) and 0 (inequality), thus allowing for comparisons relative to ideal standards of equality in addition to relative country rankings. The equality and inequality benchmarks remain fixed across time, allowing the reader to track individual country progress in relation to an ideal standard of equality. Furthermore, the option of roughly interpreting the final Index scores as a percentage value that reveals how a country has reduced its gender gap should help make the Index more intuitively appealing to readers.

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