By Danielle Andrus

When it comes to equality for women — in economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment — these are the top countries.

Globally, the gender gap widened slightly in 2020 to 68%, with 100% representing a state of equality or “parity,” according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. Gender parity is a statistical measure or ratio used to compare the gap between women and men in many areas, including access to education, average income, leadership opportunities, and more,

WEF estimates that it will take over 135 years to close the global gender gap at current rates.

It based its analysis on four components of equality:

  1. Economic participation and opportunity
  2. Educational attainment
  3. Health and survival
  4. Political empowerment

This last component is the area where women are least advantaged, with parity of just 22%, down 2.4 percentage points since the 2020 report. Economic participation and opportunity has a significant gap at 58%, as women’s increasing participation in the workforce is offset by lack of representation in leadership positions.

WEF notes that the current report uses preliminary data, and thus doesn’t take into account the full impact of the pandemic.

“Gender-sensitive recovery strategies will be critical in making up ground lost during 2020 to prevent long-term scarring in the labour market,” Saadia Zahidi, managing director and head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society, wrote in a preface to the report. “Leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to build more resilient and gender-equal economies by investing in inclusive workplaces, creating more equitable care systems, advancing women’s rise to leadership positions, applying a gender lens to reskilling and redeployment, and embedding gender parity into the future of work.”

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While women still face challenges politically and economically around the world, in educational attainment, and in health and survival, they have achieved almost full parity. The report found 95% of the gender gap in educational attainment has been closed, and 96% of the gap has been closed in health and survival.

The 10 countries that are closest to parity show that in spite of gains women have made, there is still room for improvement, particularly in increasing opportunities for tech-based positions.

10. Switzerland: 79.8% to parity

Its first year in the top 10, Switzerland’s success was driven by a shrinking gap in political empowerment, which fell 8.7 percentage points to 49.4%. The economic participation and opportunity gap is at 74.3%. Educational attainment is at 99.2%, and health and survival parity is at 96.4%.

9. Ireland: 80% to parity

Parity in the Republic of Ireland has held steady, according to the report, and educational parity is at 99.8%, while health and survival is at 96.4%. Over half of the gap in political empowerment has been closed, while economic participation and opportunity is at 73.3%.

8. Lithuania: 80.4% to parity

The report found Lithuania improved its score by 5.9 percentage points, primarily through increased political empowerment, with a huge improvement of 22 percentage points to 42.9%. The country has achieved parity in health and survival, and closed the economic participation and opportunity gap to 80.8%.

7. Rwanda: 80.5% to parity

The economic gender gap in Rwanda is 72.6%, while the political gap is 56.3%. The country has achieved parity in health and survival, and is at 95.7% in educational attainment.

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6. Namibia: 80.9% to parity

Another first timer in the top 10, Namibia closed its overall gender gap by nearly 2.5 percentage points. Health and survival is at 98%, and the country has achieved full parity in educational attainment. The economic gap narrowed to 79.4%, and it has one of the smallest political empowerment gaps in the world, at 46.3%.

5. Sweden: 82.3% to parity

Sweden made marginal improvements over last year’s scores, increasing overall parity by 0.3 percentage points. Parity is at 81% for economic participation and opportunity, 99.6% for education, and 96.2% for health and survival. Although political parity is just at 52.2%, the country still ranks in the top 10 for this component of gender parity.

4. New Zealand: 84% to parity

New Zealand is a world leader for women’s political equality, with parity at 63%, according to the report. Health and survival is at 96.6%, economic participation and opportunity is at 76.3%, and the country has achieved full parity in educational attainment.

3. Norway: 84.9% to parity

Norway saw some gaps close, while others widened, including economic participation and opportunity, which fell 0.6 percentage points. The political empowerment gap is 64%. The educational attainment gap is 100%, indicating fall parity, and health and survival is 96.4%.

2. Finland: 86.1% to parity

The report notes that Finland has made “substantial progress“ to closing the political empowerment gap, which stands at 66.9%, while the economic participation and opportunity gap closed by almost 2 percentage points to 80.6%. Health and survival is at 97%, and, like many other countries in the top 10, education attainment is at full parity.

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1. Iceland: 89.2% to parity

Iceland made progress toward parity last year, closing the gap by 1.5 percentage points. The country rated well across all four components, including leading the world in political empowerment for women at 76%. Educational attainment is at 99.9%, and health and survival is at 96.4%. Economic participation and opportunity is at 84.6%.


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