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Global Gender Gap Index: Iceland tops, France drops, and US breaks into top 20

Iceland is No. 1 and Yemen is ranked last in the World Economic Forum's 2010 Global Gender Gap Index, which measures gender equality.

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While the US climbed, France fell precipitously – from No. 18 last year to No. 46 this year. The report attributes this mostly to poor performance in political empowerment because the proportion of women holding ministerial positions has declined both absolutely and relative to the number of ministers, which has increased in recent years. France also ranks very low on salary equity – No. 127 out of 134.

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Although North America does not have any countries in the top 10, it was the strongest overall region, followed in order by Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East and North Africa. Yemen is the lowest-performing country on the index (No. 134), with only 46 percent of its gender gap closed. Pakistan and Chad came in just above it, at 132 and 133.

Numbers in the Middle East are somewhat skewed by the fact that while women often enroll in universities at the same rate as men, they are mostly prevented from entering the workforce, Hausmann says.

Education, health gaps closing

Eighty-six percent of the countries on the index since it began in 2006 (there were 114 countries in the first edition and there are 134 this year) have improved their performance on closing the gender gap. An average of 96 percent of the health gap has been closed, as well as 93 percent of the education gap, 59 percent of the economic opportunity gap, and 18 percent of the political empowerment gap.

But no country has achieved gender equality yet, and that's unlikely to happen anytime soon, Hausmann says.

Instead, people should watch what happens in the next couple decades, as women become the more educated gender in much of the world – something that has already happened in many countries – and begin to enter the workforce and politics. A dramatic restructuring of marriage, motherhood, and family roles could be on the horizon, especially in Latin America where the process has already started, Hausmann says.

"There is a major transformation we are about to see.... The check is in the mail."

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