Home [ SOCIETY ] Japan's economy is number 2, but its girls are number 75

Japan's economy is number 2, but its girls are number 75

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This is the conclusion of the World Economic Forum’s 2009 Global Gender Report.  Sounds terrible, doesn’t it, a Global Gender Rank of 75th out 134 countries covered.  But last year it was even worse, 98th out of 130 countries.  Its ranking jumped largely due to increases in the proportion of women in professional and technical positions as well as legislators, senior officials and managers.



Before we go any further, what exactly is this gender gap index?  For each of the countries covered, it ranks the position of women versus men based on four criteria:

.  economic participation and opportunity – labour force participation; wage equality for similar work; estimated earned income; women in legislator, senior official or manager positions;

.  educational attainment – literacy rate, enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education;

.  health and survival – sex ratio at birth, healthy life expectancy;

.  political empowerment – women in parliament or ministerial positions, years with female head of state.


In point of fact, in no country are women equal to men in terms of these criteria.  But most everywhere, things are getting better.  Out of the 115 countries covered in the report since 2006, 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. 


Iceland gets the top score of 0.8276 (up from 0.7999 last year and 0.7836 and 0.7813 in the previous years.  The other top twenty countries and their scores are: Finland (0.8252, 0.8195, 0.8044, 0.7958); Norway (0.8227, 0.8239, 0.8059, 0.7994); Sweden (0.8139, 0.8139, 0.8146, 0.8133); New Zealand (0.7880, 0.7859, 0.7649, 0.7509); South Africa (0.7709, 0.7232, 0.7194, 0.7125); Denmark (0.7628, 0.7538, 0.7519, 0.7462); Ireland (0.7597, 0.7518, 0.7457, 0.7335); Philippines (0.7579, 0.7568, 0.7629, 0.7516); Lesotho (0.7495, 0.7320, 0.7078, 0.6807); Netherlands (0.7490, 0.7399, 0.7383, 0.7250); Germany (0.7449, 0.7394, 0.7618, 0.7524); Switzerland (0.7426, 0.7360, 0.6924, 0.6997); Latvia (0.7416, 0.7397, 0.7333, 0.7091); United Kingdom (0.7402, 0.7366, 0.7441, 0.7365); Sri Lanka (0.7402, 0.7371, 0.7230, 0.7199); Spain (0.7345, 0.7281, 0.7444, 0.7319); France (0.7331, 0.7341, 0.6824, 0.6520); Trinidad and Tobago (0.7298, 0.7245, 0.6859, 0.6797); and Australia (0.7282, 0.7241, 0.7204, 0.7163).


The US is somewhat down the list at 31st place.


Many of these results are not surprising.  The Nordic are always do well when it comes to be nice – gender equality, respect for the environment, generous development assistance and low corruption.  Some of these countries were major crisis countries – Iceland, Ireland, Latvia and the United Kingdom.  To what extent were the girls responsible for these crises? 


Having two developing Asian countries in the list seems encouraging, although both Sri Lanka and the Philippines have had longstanding virtual civil wars in parts of their territories.  And South Africa is renowned for being one of the most violent places on earth.  By contrast, Japan is perhaps the most peaceful and safe country on earth.


How does Japan stack up against its other Asian neighbours?  Quite a few other Asian countries have a lead on Japan – Mongolia (22nd), Thailand (59th), China (60th) and Vietnam (71st).  Against that, another bunch of Asian countries are behind Japan -- Singapore (85th), Indonesia (93rd), Bangladesh (94th), Brunei Darussalam (95th), Malaysia (101st), Cambodia (104th), Nepal (110th), India (114th), Korea (115th), and Pakistan (132nd). 


Let’s look a bit closer at the Japan result to see where the problems lie.  Its worst score is on political empowerment (110th), with very low scores for the number of women in parliament or in ministerial positions.  When it comes to educational attainment (84th), Japanese women rate tops for literacy, and enrolment in primary and secondary education – but they rank very poorly for enrolment in tertiary education.  In the area of economic participation and opportunity (54th), Japanese women rate poorly for income equality with men and labour force participation.  And although Japan comes in tops for life expectancy for women, it does very poorly for the ratio of females to males at birth.  Could Japan have missing women because of a cultural preference for sons?


What does the World Economic Forum staff have to say about their report?


.  “Girls and women make up one half of the world’s population and without their engagement, empowerment and contribution, we cannot hope to achieve a rapid economic recovery nor effectively tackle global challenges such as climate change, food security and conflict,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum. 

.  “The Global Gender Gap Report demonstrates that closing the gender gap in all aspects of life provides a foundation for a prosperous and competitive society. Leaders should act in accordance with this finding as they rebuild their battered economies and set them on course for sustainable long-run growth,” said co-author Laura Tyson, Professor of Business Administration and Economics, University of California, Berkeley, USA. 

.  “Countries that do not fully capitalize 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 co-author Saadia Zahidi, Head of the Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme.


“Seeking truth from facts” is an ancient Chinese concept, and was the credo of the late Deng Xiaoping.  And here is the weakness in the analysis of this report by the World Economic Forum staff. 


Few would argue with the moral case for gender equality.  The reports of drought-hit Indian farmers selling their wives to pay debts are appalling.  But it is difficult to maintain that gender equality on its own has all the benefits that are argued, even if richer countries have in general lower gender gaps.  . 


This report does not demonstrate as claimed that “engaging women equally with men in all aspects of life is imperative for economically competitive and prosperous societies.  What it does demonstrate yet again is how the gender debate is so over loaded with political correctness.  




The Global Gender Report 2009, World Economic Forum