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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Global gender gap widens for the first time in a decade — but UAE women see improvement

A new report shows the UAE is ranked highest in the Gulf for gender equality

Women's equality has come under particular scrutiny following the hashtag #MeToo going viral. It was established in social networks aimed to encourage women to denounce their case of alleged sexual abuse.  EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON
Women's equality has come under particular scrutiny following the hashtag #MeToo going viral. It was established in social networks aimed to encourage women to denounce their case of alleged sexual abuse. EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

The global gender equality gap across health, education, politics and the workplace is widening for the first time since 2006, at a time of deep tension around the world over the treatment of women.

According to the World Economic Forum's (Wef) Global Gender Gap Report, released yesterday, while the Middle East and North Africa remains the worst region for gender equality, it is bucking the global trend and showing progress, "closing more than 60 per cent of its overall gender gap for the second year running". Eleven countries in the region have improved their overall score, the Wef said.

The UAE is one of the countries measured this year have seen their score improve in the past 12 months. Ranking higher than the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, the UAE is likely to improve further next year as recent steps forward in gender equality in the country occurred after the research for this year’s report was complete.

Changes to the UAE Cabinet, which now boasts more women in ministerial positions than Donald Trump has in the White House and Theresa May has in Number 10, will increase the UAE’s score.

At the current rate of progress, the global gender gap will take 100 years to close, compared to 83 last year, and it is the first time that this has widened since the WEF began recording it over a decade ago. The workplace gender gap will now not be closed for 217 years, the report estimates.

It has found that a total of 68 per cent of the world’s gender gap is now closed. This has dropped by 0.3 percentage points from 2016 and in 2015, the report recorded that 68.1 per cent of the world had gender parity.

The report examines gender equality across educational attainment, health and survival, economic opportunity and political empowerment across 144 countries, including the compiling of an index that ranks women’s status against men in those nations.

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This reversal has been driven by declining gender equality in the workplace and political representation. These areas carry the largest gaps and, until this year, were registering the fastest progress.

Additionally, at the current rate of change it will take another 217 years to close the economic gender gap.

Although number one in the Gulf and within the top three of the Middle East and African region, the UAE is ranked 120th overall.

Last year, the UAE’s score, which is used to calculate country ranks, was 0.639 out of the highest possible score of 1. It increased to 0.649 this year, which brought the UAE’s rank up to 120 from 124.

Although the UAE’s ranking dropped down the table from 103 in 2010 to 120 today, it’s score has hovered around 0.63 and 0.64. Other countries have increased their scores and therefore overtaken the UAE in the world rankings.

This year’s report shows that the UAE has good gender equality in education, ranking at 62 with a near perfect level of parity score of 0.994 and a rank of 67 for political empowerment.

Natasha Ridge, the UAE-based author of Education and the Reverse Gender Divide in the Gulf States: Embracing the Global, Ignoring the Local, said that there is more to the subject of gender equality beyond what is covered in the Wef's findings.

“It says people have reached gender parity when in fact… there’s huge inequalities for males but they don’t report on that,” said Ms Ridge, who is also executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research.

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“Because they take overall data, the data they use is not just for Emiratis. If we are talking about Emiratis, Emirati women are doing very well. They are very empowered, they are very well educated and they certainly have access now to the most senior jobs,” said Ms Ridge, adding “if it were just looking at Emiratis, the report would look quite different”.

The report does not take into consideration voluntary unemployment. Ms Ridge highlighted that a significant portion of Emirati women chose not to work and focus on family instead, saying, “it does not reward an emphasis on family values which is strong in the Middle East”.

She also highlighted the unusual gender ratio in the UAE, with around 2.18 men for every woman as of data from 2016.

“Because of expatriate workers it’s predominantly a male society. There’s not many of us women here percentage wise”.

At the top of the Global Gender Gap Index is Iceland. Having closed nearly 88 per cent of its gap, it has been the world’s most gender-equal country for nine years. Yemen is the bottom of the table, with a score of 0.52. The US has dropped four places down to 49 this year, while France, at 11, is ranked highest of all the G20 countries.

“We are moving from the era of capitalism into the era of talentism. Competitiveness on a national and on a business level will be decided more than ever before by the innovative capacity of a country or a company. Those will succeed best, who understand to integrate women as an important force into their talent pool,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum.

Various studies have suggested that improving gender parity may result in significant economic dividends, which vary depending on the situation of different economies and the specific challenges they are facing. Notable recent estimates suggest that economic gender parity could add an additional US$250 billion to the GDP of the United Kingdom, $1.75 trillion to that of the United States, $550bn to Japan’s, $320bn to France’s and $310bn to the GDP of Germany.

In response to the news that the gender gap is beginning to widen rather than narrow, Saadia Zahidi, the Head of Education, Gender and Work, World Economic Forum, said: “In 2017 we should not be seeing progress towards gender parity shift into reverse. Gender equality is both a moral and economic imperative. Some countries understand this and they are now seeing dividends from the proactive measures they have taken to address their gender gaps.”

Reflecting on the global widening gap, Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the historic UK gender equality and women’s rights charity The Fawcett Society, told The National: "This research confirms that progress on closing the gender pay gap has stalled and it has been that way for some time. The fact that the global gender equality gap is getting wider not narrower should sound alarm bells for all of us”.

Women’s rights are a hot topic in the UK currently, with the country’s defence secretary, Michael Fallon, resigning following scrutiny of MPs across Westminster who have acted inappropriately towards female colleagues. A number of high profile political figures have been in the firing line following the circulation of a spreadsheet compiled by women who work in Parliament. The document warns which men should be avoided because of their history of sexual harassment. An allegation of rape has been made against one senior party official.

The spreadsheet was shared as part of the #MeToo movement. Originating on social media, the hashtag was used by women who wanted to share that they too had been sexually harassed or attacked in solidarity with the women who were stepping forward to reveal the incidents of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment allegedly perpetrated by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.