For the past four years, the World Economic Forum has studied the gender gap - that is, the amount of resources dedicated to boys and girls and women's opportunities to fully participate in society - in over 100 countries, then ranked them. (In 2009, the Index included data from 134 nations. At least 12 of 14 indicators used for the Index must be available in order for a country to be included.) The goal, according to the 2009 Global Gender Gap Report, is:
From a values and social justice perspective, empowering women and providing them with equal rights and opportunities for fulfilling their potential is long overdue. From a business, economic and competitiveness viewpoint, targeting gender parity is a necessary condition for progress.The aim is thus to achieve parity of participation and opportunity while facilitating diversity of thoughts, opinions and approaches.
This is good. A lot of ink has been spilled in the mainstream media and pixels have been dedicated online to the novel idea that blatant discrimination against women is probably a bad idea in terms of positive societal development. Emily Goligoski at The San Franista recently attended a talk with Nicholas Kristof about the book he co-authored with reporter Sheryl WuDunn (who is also his wife), Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The premise of the book is "that investing in women has exponential benefits on a country’s birth rate, workforce output, and poverty rate." Goligoski rated the discussion as "was one of the more insightful 90 minute presentations I’ve heard (read: it had me engaged in the far back of the Fairmont main ballroom around the dinner hour)."
The 2009 Global Gender Gap Report indicates that countries are waking up to this wacky idea, and notes that:
Out of the 115 countries covered in the report since 2006, more than two-thirds have posted gains in overall index scores, indicating that the world in general has made progress towards equality between men and women, although there are countries that continue to lose ground.
Here in the United States, we are so on the program that we've slipped three places to #31. (Hey, that's still the top quarter, right? - go us!) The report says this is due to "minor drops in the participation of women in the economy and improvements in the scores of previously lower-ranking countries." (Yeah, all those reports about how women are pushing men out of the labor force in a bad economy? Not exactly true. The pay gap is still killer, too.) Never a nation to shy away from the tough issues (bwa ha ha ha, yeah, I'm hilarious, aren't I?), Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress issued a report in October 2009 on the status of women in the US, A Woman's Nation.
Reminding me that American women have great senses of humor, The Well Read Hostess titled her post about the report, They Could Have Saved The Rockefeller Foundation The Cash And Just Asked Me. She summarizes the report's findings as thus:
Women are the primary or equal breadwinners in 2/3 of American families; women and men agree that all women, even women who work outside the home, are responsible for the bulk of those tasks that fall into the "household management" category; women are primarily responsible for childcare and, very interesting and topical, elder care; women still earn less pay for equal work; men feel like their identities and roles are shifting and are insecure about where they stand (boohoo, suck it up); and so on.
Yes, everything that the Global Gender Gap Index frowns upon, except that we seem to invest in girls, which is good. Hurray for us! And, incidentally, although for some reason no one likes to report it, men are increasingly responsible for elder care. (I seriously cannot be the only person who finds this revolutionary, can I?)
Anyway, before we Americans strain our shoulders from patting ourselves on the back, consider our standing amongst other countries that routinely offer resources like health care and education for girls. Our fine allies Germany (12) and the United Kingdom (15) also again slipped down the Global Gender Gap Index this year, but we lag far behind Iceland (1), Finland (2), Norway (3), and Sweden (4). All countries which are plunged into almost constant night for a portion of the year. I'd suggest that getting more or less even amounts of sunlight throughout the year might be bad for gender equality, but New Zealand stands at #5. Rounding out the top ten countries are South Africa, Denmark, Ireland, the Philippines, and Lesotho. Yes, I am so proud to be an American right now. (On the other hand, as Diane K. Danielson wrote in a long post about women's declining status in the US on Downtown Women's Club, "at least we're not Italy (#72).")
But hey, an American man won the New York City Marathon for the first time since 1982, so why worry? I'm sure the economy will recover nicely on its own and continue to grow without Americans taking a long, hard look at gender discrimination in the Land of Opportunity.
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