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US ranks 31 in the global gender gap

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Pollitt, Katha
Publication Date: 
9 Mar 2010

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And the winner is... Iceland! According to the 2009 Global Gender
Gap report of the World Economic Forum, the land of glaciers and
puffins, population 319,000, is the most gender egalitarian country on
earth, with women having closed 80 percent of the gap with men. Finland
(2), Norway (3), Sweden (4) and Denmark (7) are in the top ten too, as
is New Zealand (5). You could try harder, Spain (17) and Germany (12)
-- in 2007 you were in the top ten. And O, Canada: 25. Very sad.

The WEF measures the gap between women and men in four areas --
economic activity, education, health and political representation --
regardless of the absolute level of resources. Thus South Africa (6)
and Lesotho (10) make the top ten, despite widespread poverty,
illiteracy and a raging AIDS epidemic.


Progress can be lightning swift: South Africa advanced sixteen
places, partly because a new government brought in more women. Iceland
increased women's representation in Parliament from 33 percent to 43
percent in just one year (fun fact -- last year Icelandic voters
elected Johanna Sigurdardottir, the world's first openly lesbian prime
minister, who returned the favor by appointing five women to her
interim cabinet, the most in the country's history). Compare that with
the United States, where it took all of the 2000s to drag Congress from
13 percent to 17 percent.


Protracted struggle is the theme of the UN's Beijing Plus 15
conference, taking place in New York as I write. For example, equal
access to education was a key goal of the 1990 Beijing Declaration and
Platform for Action, and, as the WEF report found, real progress has
been made -- in many countries, females now outnumber males in schools
and universities. But education is no magic bullet. As Mario Osava
writes, "females represent a majority at every level of education in
Brazil, and the average rate of schooling among Brazilian women is more
than one year higher than that of men. Yet women continue to earn 30
percent less than men for the same work, and they occupy a mere 56 of
the 594 seats in the Brazilian Congress."

What's the lesson for the United States? Wealth helps, but it's
not enough. It's not automatic that as a country becomes richer and
more developed men and women become more equal -- especially when
conservative religion has power, as in the United States and many
nations. To an unusual degree, Americans resist "government" solutions
to women's inequality as an affront to meritocracy and individual
initiative. But without paid parental leave and a reliable system of
quality childcare, women will never be able to get much further toward
workplace equality than they are now. Scandinavia's extensive and
flexible system of support for parents, including single mothers, is
one of the major reasons Scandinavia leads the world in gender
equality. Similarly, countries with lots of women in parliament --
Rwanda is first, with 56 percent -- tend to have quota systems, at
least at first. The United States seemed to recognize their efficiency
and fairness when it supported quotas in Iraq and Afghanistan. But here
at home? Hard to imagine.

- reprinted from NPR

Entered Date: 
10 Mar 2010
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