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Global Women: Good News, Bad News

March 10, 2010

Katha Pollitt in The Nation:

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. The way the WEP measures the gap is a bit strange. Among the items not measured are reproductive rights (abortion is banned in Ireland (8), and the Philippines (9), where birth control is also hard to find, so how equal is that?); sexual violence (South Africa has the world’s highest rate of reported rape); and legal inequality, to say nothing of cultural practices like forced marriage, child marriage and female genital mutilation, and the disproportionate effect of poverty on women. Thus, in Lesotho, with one of the world’s highest rates of HIV, it’s the desperately poor grandmothers who are raising throngs of orphaned grandchildren. Still, let’s pause to cheer the fact that there has been measurable improvement for the female population in much of the world. [More]

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