Global progress on gender pay gap slows, but one country soars

Efforts to achieve economic and political gender parity have stalled in many countries, but one low-income country is rising above the pack.

Jessica Hill/AP
Fans stand behind a large sign for equal pay for the women's soccer team during an international friendly soccer match between the United States and Colombia at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn.

Global efforts to close the economic gender gap have suffered a “dramatic slowdown,” says a new report. The pay gap today is the widest it has been since 2008, the study finds, with the goal of achieving equal pay for women worldwide now expected to lag another 170 years.

This occurs despite an equal or higher number of women attending university globally, according to the annual Global Gender Gap Report released on Wednesday by the World Economic Forum (WEF.) Women work longer hours but on average are still paid just over half of what men earn, and labor force participation for women lags men by almost 30 percent.

"These forecasts are not foregone conclusions. Instead, they reflect the current state of progress and serve as a call to action," Saadia Zahidi, a member of the WEF executive committee, said in a statement, as reported by Reuters.

Some progress has been made in closing the gender gap in educational attainment and political empowerment, especially among nations such as Rwanda, which has emerged as a leader in achieving equal pay and political empowerment, topping many high-income countries.

The findings – both indicating progress and lack thereof – come at a time when women globally are actively fighting for equality. For example, thousands of women in Saudi Arabia petitioned to end the male guardianship system in September; the United States – which may soon have its first female president – has been pushing to bolster laws that bar gender discrimination; women in Iceland, despite topping the charts in gender equity, walked out of work early on Tuesday to protest the 14 to 18 percent gender wage gap still present.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a gender pay gap or any other pay gap,” Gylfi Arnbjörnsson, president of the Icelandic Confederation of Labor, told The New York Times. The Icelandic pay gap is expected to take 52 years to disappear. “It’s just unacceptable to say we’ll correct this in 50 years. That’s a lifetime.

For the eighth year in a row, Iceland tops the global ranks for gender equality, followed by Finland and Norway. Rwanda ranks fifth out of 144 countries, the first time it broke into the top five, and Nicaragua re-entered the top 10 for the first time since 2014, becoming the best performer in Latin America and the Caribbean region for the fifth year consecutively. The US ranks 45th in the list overall.

The gender gap in political participation is currently the widest, although it is also exhibiting the most progress, increasing by 10 percent from 2006 when it was first measured. But only two countries currently have equal numbers of women in parliament and only four countries have equal numbers in ministerial roles. The US fares especially poorly in this category, ranking at 73.

The jewel of progress may be Rwanda, a low-income country, which has the highest percentage of female parliamentarians in the world at 64 percent. This comes as the country recovers from the genocide in 1994 that left many women as the head of the household.

As The Christian Science Monitor previously reported in 2010, Rwandan women are charged with taking care of public assets, violence against women is taken seriously, and women are credited with passing laws that punishes violence while establishing women’s right to own land and inherit property.

"If women earn money, and their husbands don't take it, it goes toward the family, toward education, toward health. With most men – not always, but most – it goes toward banana beer," Shirley Randell, director of the Center for Gender, Culture and Society at the Kigali Institute of Education told the Monitor.

Other areas that desperately need work are achieving parity in health and survival, a trend that has seen a downward spiral with the largest gap since 2006. In South Asia, Western Europe, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa the rate of change is expected to speed the closing of the gender gap to less than 100 years, while it may take up to 146 years for East Asia and the Pacific to reach the same point. North America is the worst: WEF expects it will take 158 years for the region to close the gap.

"Ensuring the healthy development and appropriate use of half of the world's total talent pool has a vast bearing on the growth, competitiveness and future readiness of economies and businesses worldwide," the authors wrote.

This report contains material from Reuters.

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