The coronavirus pandemic has widened the gender gap by a generation and closing it will require concerted efforts by policymakers around the world, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Based on the current trajectory, women will have to wait another 135.6 years – up from 99.5 years in 2020 – to reach overall parity with men. The report also examined the gender gap in the areas of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and political survival and empowerment.
“Achieving parity in our lives is possible, but only if leaders urgently commit to meaningful actions and goals,” Saadia Zahidi, executive director of WEF, told Al Jazeera.
The Global Gender Gap Index report found that the political gender gap is expected to take 145.5 years to close. Only 26.1% of parliamentary seats in the 156 countries examined in the report are held by women, and only 22.6% of government ministers are women. More than half of the countries cited in the report – 81 – have never had a female head of state.
Economically, the index found that it will take 267.6 years to close the gender gap, and while progress has been made in some areas, the pandemic – which the report’s data does not yet fully reflect. – is likely to further reduce equality. . While the number of qualified professional women continues to increase, progress is further hampered by wage gaps and the lack of women in managerial and managerial positions.
The WEF index, now in its 15th year, uses a scale of 0 to 100. Scores reflect the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed.
The Middle East and North Africa region (39.1 percent) continues to have the largest gender gap, according to the WEF. South Asia (62.3%) is the second worst performing country, with progress reversed over the past year.
Northern European countries continued to perform well, with Iceland (89.2%), Finland (86.1%) and Norway (84.9%) winning top prizes to close the gap between the sexes.
The five most improved countries are Lithuania, Serbia, Timor-Leste, Togo and the United Arab Emirates, which have reduced their gender gaps by at least 4.4 percentage points or more, according to the WEF.
More good news: the gender disparities in education and health are narrowing.
Thirty-seven countries have achieved gender parity in education, but it will take another 14.2 years to completely close this gap, the WEF found. In health, over 95% of the gender gap has been closed.
The COVID-19 crisis has reversed years of progress in women’s economic and political participation and exacerbated pre-existing gender gaps.
Five percent of all working women lost their job or income compared to 3.9 percent of working men, according to figures from the International Labor Organization.
As lockouts and restrictions spread across the world, women found themselves in a balance between professional work and childcare and housework tasks – tasks that fell disproportionately on them.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has erected new barriers for women on the path to gender equality,” Zahidi told Al Jazeera.
And while women were more likely to lose their jobs because they were employed in sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, they continue to be excluded from “jobs of tomorrow,” the WEF found.
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the path to automation and digitalization. But women make up only 14 percent of the cloud computing workforce; 20 percent in engineering; and 32% in data and artificial intelligence, according to the WEF.
As countries adopt COVID-19 relief programs, governments and the private sector must include gender elements in their recovery plans and policies.
A public-private partnership is essential, argues the WEF. Investing in equitable access to care leave for men and women will be key to closing the gender gap. Women should also have equal access to mid-career refresher training, as companies ensure impartial recruitment and promotion policies.
“We know where the solutions lie,” Zahidi said. “Now is the time to mainstream gender from conception to recovery.”