Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on December 12, 2008

December 11, 2008

by Ebrahim Al-Wadee and Yemen Times Staff


SANA’A, Dec. 6 — For the third consecutive year, Yemen ranks last in the Global Gender Gap Report 2008 published by the World Economic Forum with a slight improvement in its score compared to last year.

The Global Gender Gap Index scores can be interpreted as the percentage of the gap between women and men that has been closed. This year Yemen scored 0.466 compared to 0.45 in 2007. Each country is judged based on four categories: Economic participation and opportunity – outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment; Educational attainment – outcomes on access to basic and higher-level education; Political empowerment – outcomes on representation in decision-making structures; and Health and survival – outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio.

Yemen having a score less than 0.5 means that in these four categories together Yemeni women nearly have half the rights Yemeni men do.

However, the individual scores of each of the four categories vary. According to the report when it comes to health and survival, Yemeni women are almost as equal to men with a score of 0.98 while educational attainment comes second at 0.62, then comes economic participation at 0.25 and finally political empowerment which is 0.016.

Despite the slight progress from last year which was mainly in the health and survival category and education, the economic and political empowerment have dragged Yemen again to the bottom of the list of 130 countries world wide. The calculations include factors such as literacy rate, employment, healthy life expectancy, number of women in leading decision making positions.

Yemeni government’s report

The Yemeni government had preceded the WEF’s report by a local report which allegedly said that women participation has improved in the political, economic and social fields during the last few years.

Released by the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, the third local report, which included statistics of the year 2008, said that women achieved progress in terms of decision making inside four political parties, General people’s Congress, Islah, Socialist and Nasserite parties. It indicated that women assumed leading positions in these parties.

“Around 70 Yemeni women were able during 2006 to hold leading diplomatic positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” said the government’s report, adding, “The number of women who held leading positions in the unions of different professions mounted to 371 and those who are members of these unions committees are 2,453.

Women who held the judge degree mounted to 67 including three women holding management positions in the Ministry of Justice and another five were nominated in the High Judiciary Institute. The rest 59 women were appointed as judges in the public courts and prosecutions.

However, the local report maintained that women participation in decision making is still low as only 13 women work in the leading positions in the Republic Presidency representing only 14 percent compared with 191 men in the same institution. Women participation in the Cabinet represents only 7 percent as only 18 women work there, whereas the number of men mounted to 131, according to the government’s report.

Yet as co-author of the WEF report Ricardo Hausmann, Director of the Centre for International Development at Harvard University in USA explains that the index assesses countries on how well they are dividing their resources and opportunities among their male and female populations, regardless of the overall levels of these resources and opportunities. Thus, the Index does not penalize those countries that have low levels of education overall, for example, but rather those where the distribution of education is uneven between women and men.

A third report

A shadow report on women’s empowerment in light of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women prepared by civil society organizations in Yemen contradicts the government’s report, confirming that women participation is still low in the leading positions of the political parties.

Presented to the 41th session of CEDAW’s Committee last May, the report said that there are no signs that indicate the Yemeni government works toward enhancing women participation through adopting the quota system in elections and the system of closed constituencies.

It pointed out that women’s participation is only 0.33 percent in the parliament and 0.08 percent in the local councils.

While the report said that, in the field of health care, maternal mortality rate during delivery has decreased during 2008, it confirmed that the gap between men and women is still big in the different levels of education. It pointed out that curriculum, despite the recent change on it, still highlights the stereotyped roles of women.

Nabila Al-Mufti , a lawyer and women rights activist, maintains that improving women situation in Yemen is correlated with a solution to the problem of codification of laws and lack of awareness of women issues among members of the parliament in a fair way. She said that the situation is also related with the society adoption of such issues, noting that the society is still far from women issues.

Asked whether Islam is a barrier in front of women participation, Al-Mufti said that Islam doesn’t hinder women progress as it contains all principles of justice, pointing out that the problem consists in lack of awareness of the Islamic teachings.

Although recent political debates especially regarding the probable boycott of the opposition parties of the coming parliamentary elections in April 2009, the ruling party is strongly hinting at promoting women in the political sphere and recognizing a quota of at least ten percent of the party’s nominees in the parliament.

“The boycott of the opposition would be an excellent opportunity to for women’s political movement as they can transform the competition from political between different parties, to social by integrating minorities such as women in the political competition,” said Dr. Ahmed Al-Sofi Director of the Yemeni Institute for Developing Democracy and a prominent figure at the ruling party.

And although the Women’s National Committee which is the government machinery for empowering women praised the President’s pledge to allocate 15 percent of the parliamentary seats for women, Hooria Mashhour, deputy director of the committee admitted that the way is still too long in front of Yemeni women to reach their targets. She said that three issues imposed themselves on Yemeni women during 2008 on the national level. The first one was the amendment of laws related to women in the Yemeni legislation. She said that out of 20 articles that represent discrimination against women, only five were amended, the second issue is women political participation, and the third being safe motherhood.

The Global picture

Norway leads the world in closing the gender gap between men and women, according to the overall ranking in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2008. Three other Nordic countries – Finland (2), Sweden (3) and Iceland (4) – also top the Report’s Gender Gap Index. Previously higher ranking countries such as Germany (11), United Kingdom (13) and Spain (17) slipped down the Index but stayed in the top 20, while Netherlands (9), Latvia (10), Sri Lanka (12) and France (15) made significant gains.

The United States (27) made progress this year and closed gender gaps in estimated earned income and perceived income gaps for similar work. The United States also made strides in political empowerment, driven by increased participation of women in political decision-making positions. Switzerland’s (14) advancement up the rankings was based on large increases in the percentage of women in parliament and those in ministerial-level positions. France (15) improved significantly for the third consecutive year, thanks to gains in both economic participation and political empowerment. China (57) gains 17 places relative to last year driven by narrowing gender gaps in educational attainment, economic participation and political participation. Brazil (73) improves on education and economic participation but falls to 110th place in political empowerment. In the bottom half of the rankings, countries such as Tunisia (103), Jordan (104) and United Arab Emirates (105) made overall gains, driven by narrower gaps in literacy, and in the case of Jordan and the UAE, in the percentage of women in political decision-making positions. Syria (107), Ethiopia (122) and Saudi Arabia (128) not only fell farther in the relative ranking, but also showed a drop in scores relative to their own performance last year.

According to the report, the three highest ranking countries have closed a little over 80% of their gender gaps, while the lowest ranking country has closed only a little over 45% of its gender gap. Out of the 128 countries covered in both 2007 and 2008, more than two-thirds have posted gains in overall index scores, indicating that the world in general has made progress towards equality between men and women. Additionally, taking averages across the subindexes for these 128 countries reveals that, globally, progress has been made on narrowing the gaps in educational attainment, political empowerment and economic participation, while the gap in health has widened.

“Greater representation of women in senior leadership positions within governments and financial institutions is vital not only to find solutions to the current economic turmoil, but to stave off such crises in future. At the World Economic Forum, we put strong emphasis on addressing this challenge with a multi-stakeholder approach through our global and regional Gender Parity Groups,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. These communities of highly influential leaders from business, politics, academia, media and civil society – 50% women and 50% men – seek to share best practices and identify the most effective strategies to optimize the use of talent.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2008 is based on the innovative new methodology introduced in 2006 and includes detailed profiles that provide insight into the economic, legal and social aspects of the gender gap in each country. The Report measures the size of the gender gap in four critical areas of inequality between men and women.

The Report also provides some evidence on the link between the gender gap and the economic performance of countries. “Our work shows a strong correlation between competitiveness and the gender gap scores. While this does not imply causality, the possible theoretical underpinnings of this link are clear: countries that do not fully capitalize effectively on one-half of their human resources run the risk of undermining their competitive potential. We hope to highlight the economic incentive behind empowering women, in addition to promoting equality as a basic human right,” said Laura Tyson, co-author of the report and Professor of Business Administration and Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, USA.

“The Report reveals that progress is not only possible, but possible in a relatively short space of time: calculating the Index as far back as data would allow, we found that countries such as Chile, Spain, Turkey and Finland have closed between 5 and 10 percentage points of their respective gender gaps over just the past eight years. When we interpret these percentage changes at the societal level, we see that hundreds of thousands of lives are impacted, and at the economic level, we see enormous potential competitiveness gains,” said Saadia Zahidi, Head of Constituents at the World Economic Forum and co-author of the WEF Global Gender Gap report.

The World Economic Forum continues to expand geographic coverage in the Report. Featuring a total of 130 countries, this year’s Report provides an insight into the gaps between women and men in over 92% of the world’s population. Coverage has been expanded this year to include Barbados and Brunei Daressalam. The Report covers all current and candidate European Union countries, 23 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 23 from sub-Saharan Africa, over 20 from Asia and 15 from the Middle East and North Africa. Thirteen out of the 14 variables used to create the Index are from publicly available “hard data” indicators from international organizations, such as the International Labor Organization, the United Nations Development Program and the World Health Organization.



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