A new report by The World Economic Forum has said that gender “equality is in retreat” for the first time since the group began measuring systemic gender inequality in 2006.
The report takes into account several metrics including life expectancy parity, labor participation, and political representation, though does not include societal or cultural attitudes towards gender.
Despite growing equality in education, health, workplaces and politics, gains are starting to regress.
WEF described 2017 as “a bad year in a good decade,” and noted that the current global gender gap would take nearly 100 years to close at the current rate, whereas last year’s prediction placed this time frame at 83 years.
However, the report notes: “Given the continued widening of the economic gender gap, it will now not be closed for another 217 years.”
The United States has made significant decline. When the study started in 2006, the U.S. ranked 23 out of 144 countries being examined, but in 2017 the U.S. has fallen to 49.
The U.S. has a significant gender pay gap and is one of few developed countries that does not have guaranteed paid maternity leave, which the WEF claims is a simple way for the U.S. to increase gender equality.
While a majority of the countries participating in the study are steadily increasing their gender equality, even the top ranked countries, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Rwanda, and Sweden have not achieved gender parity.
The gender gap has been largely closed for healthcare results and education attainment (96% and 95% respectively), but political and economic performance are still far behind, globally. Only 58% of the economic participation gap has been closed, and merely 23% of the political representation gap.
However, researchers are pushing employers and other institutions to cash in on diversity.
The WEF report suggests that reducing gender inequality could have massive benefits for countries that are lagging behind. For example, the U.S. could cash in on $1.75 trillion of economic dividends if gender inequality were brought to parity.
According to the report, reducing global gender inequality could “increase global GDP by $5.3 trillion by 2025,” by addressing economic participation alone.
A huge barrier to this success is occupational gender norms. In a collaboration with LinkedIn, the WEF found that men are “distinctively under-represented in Education and Health and Welfare, while women are strongly under-represented in Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction and Information, Communication and Technology.”
The WEF suggests that occupational gender biases create a shallower talent pool which reduces productivity.
“In 2017, we should not be seeing progress towards gender parity shift into reverse. Gender equality is both a moral and economic imperative,” said Saadia Zahidi, head of education, gender and work at WEF.
Top photo | A crowd fills Independence Avenue during the Women’s March on Washington, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)
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