According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2018, published yesterday by the World Economic Forum, the world has collectively closed 68% of the overall gender gap, as measured across four key pillars: economic opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment, and health and survival. Stagnation in the proportion of women in the workplace and women’s declining representation in politics, coupled with greater inequality in accessing health and education, offset improvements in wage equality and the number of women in professional positions, leaving the global gender gap only slightly reduced in 2018 compared to 2017. The reduction is, nonetheless, welcome. 2017 was the first year since the report began to be published in 2006 that the gap between men and women widened. At the current rate of change, the data suggest it will take 108 years to close the overall, global gender gap.
Of the four pillars measured, only one—economic opportunity—narrowed this year. This is largely due to a smaller income gap between men and women, which stands at nearly 51% in 2018, and the number of women in leadership roles, which stands at 34% globally. At the same time, data suggest that proportionately fewer women than men are participating in the workforce. There are a number of potential reasons for this. One is that automation is having a disproportionate impact on roles traditionally performed by women. At the same time, women are under-represented in growing areas of employment that require STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills and knowledge. Another potential reason is that the infrastructure needed to help women enter or re-enter the workforce—such as childcare and eldercare—is under-developed and unpaid work remains primarily the responsibility of women.
The other three pillars—education, health, and politics—saw a widening of the gender gap in 2018. In terms of political empowerment, the year-on-year deterioration can be partly attributed to women’s small presence in head-of-state roles around the world. The data also suggest that a regional divergence is taking place on this issue, with twenty-two Western economies witnessing an improvement in political empowerment for women, while the gap widens in the rest of the world.
With an average remaining gap of 29.3%, the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia ranks fourth globally, slightly behind Latin America and the Caribbean and about 5% below Western Europe’s regional average. Overall, the performance of countries across the region is somewhat less divergent than in other parts of the globe. The gap between the top-ranked regional countries, Slovenia (11th), Latvia (17th), and Bulgaria (18th)—which score in the top 20 of the overall Index and have closed 78%, 76% and 76% of their overall gender gap, respectively—and the lowest-ranked countries, Romania, Georgia, Hungary, and Tajikistan—which have closed 71%, 68%, 67% and 64% of their overall gender gap, respectively—is within a range of no more than 10%, with the exception of Tajikistan. With an average remaining gap of 29.3%, it will take Eastern Europe and Central Asia 153 years to achieve total gender parity.