The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) recognition of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to close the gender gap shows the progress made by the Kingdom in empowering women.
The Global Gender Gap Report 2014 named Saudi Arabia as one of the most improved countries in efforts to close the gender gap.
The report benchmarks national gender gaps of 142 countries on economic, political, education and health-based criteria.
This year is the ninth edition of the index, allowing for time-series analysis on the changing patterns of gender equality around the world and comparisons between and within countries.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shoura Council last year.
Two decrees reconstituted the Council, which advises the government on new legislation, for a new four-year term – and stated that women should always hold at least a fifth of its 150 seats.
King Abdullah first announced that he was planning to name women to the Shoura Council in 2011, when he also said that they would be allowed to vote and stand as candidates in the 2015 municipal elections.
More university graduates in Saudi Arabia are Saudi women than men and female literacy is estimated to be 91 percent.
There are now 454,000 employed females compared to 50,000 in 2009. As per the Saudization program, all women’s clothes and accessory shops will be exclusively run by female workers in three years.
Saadia Zahidi, head of the Gender Parity Program at the WEC and lead author of the report, said: “Much of the progress on gender equality over the last 10 years has come from more women entering politics and the workforce.
“While more women and more men have joined the workforce over the last decade, more women than men entered the labor force in 49 countries. And in the case of politics, globally, there are now 26 percent more female parliamentarians and 50 percent more female ministers than nine years ago.
“These are far-reaching changes – for economies and national cultures, however it is clear that much work still remains to be done and that the pace of change must in some areas be accelerated.”
The Global Gender Gap Report 2014 said that while Nordic nations continue to act as role models in terms of their ability to achieve gender parity, some of the biggest absolute and relative improvements of the past nine years have come from countries that are low in the rankings.
It said the most improved country relative to its starting point nine years ago for economic participation and opportunity was Saudi Arabia while the UAE was the most improved nation for political empowerment.
The UAE, at 115th, fell in the rankings but “shows major improvement relative to its past performance on economic and political participation” and remained the second highest-ranked country in the region.
Globally, the report said that in nine years of measuring the global gender gap, the world has seen only a small improvement in equality for women in the workplace. It said the gender gap for economic participation and opportunity now stands at 60 percent worldwide, having closed by 4 percent from 56 percent in 2006.
Based on this trajectory, with all else remaining equal, it will take 81 years for the world to close this gap completely. With no one country having closed its overall gender gap, Nordic nations remain the most gender-equal societies in the world.
Last year’s leading four nations – Iceland (1), Finland (2), Norway (3) and Sweden (4) – are joined by Denmark, which climbed from eighth place to fifth.
Elsewhere in the top 10 there is considerable movement, with Nicaragua climbing four places to sixth, Rwanda entering the index for the first time at seventh, Ireland falling to eighth, the Philippines declining four places to ninth and Belgium climbing one place to 10th.
The United States climbed three places to 20 in 2014, after narrowing its wage gap and improving the number of women in parliamentary and ministerial level positions.
Among the BRICS grouping, the highest-placed nation was South Africa (18), supported by strong scores on political participation. Brazil was next at 71, followed by Russia (75), China (87) and India (114).
This article was first published by the Saudi Gazette on Sunday, Nov. 12