Yemen ranks 136th out of 136 countries for gender parity

Recently I wrote about Costa Rica and its position in the 2013 Global Gender Gap Index, published by the World Economic Forum (WEF). While Costa Rican officials have acknowledged the truth behind their low score in female economic participation and have addressed the ways in which they plan to resolve this situation, Yemeni leaders have failed to recognize and address their position year after year.

Since the Index was established in 2006, Yemen has consistently placed last among all ranked nations. This year, Yemen placed 136th out of 136 nations in gender equality in terms of economic participation/opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. As the Index has expanded, beginning with 115 countries and growing to 136 countries within seven years, Yemen has been pushed further down the list and has unfailingly come in last place.

According to Samar Qaed and the Yemen Times, 86 countries have reduced their gender gaps for political participation since last year’s Index was released. This is one of the weakest areas of women’s rights in Yemen. As many of you may know, Yemen experienced an uprising in 2011 as an extension to the Arab Spring, though Yemen’s revolution was less publicized in the Western world due to its peaceful nature. The revolution began as a protest against unemployment, the poor economy, and political corruption, and as months progressed, thousands of Yemeni women risked protesting in the streets in hopes of political reform and gaining equal rights in every aspect. Apparently, as reflected in Yemen’s ranking again this year, these efforts had little-to-no effect on laws or the political system in general.

HOWEVER, upon closer reflection, Yemen does not actually place last in any of the four categories used in the Index ranking system! It ranks 131st in terms of the gender gap for economic participation and opportunity, 134th for the educational attainment gap, 81st for health and survival, and 131st for political empowerment. How, then, has the WEF determined that Yemen belongs in last place?

Short statistics lesson: (If you have no interest and wish to take the WEF’s Index at face value, skip to the following paragraph.) Apparently, a statistically complex system is implemented during which sub-indices within each of the four categories are weighted based on variation and standard deviation, and then the four scores from the sub-indices are averaged. This makes sense. While Yemen’s gender parity statistics for health and educational attainment were 97.27% and 69.8%, respectively, its parity percentages for economic participation and political empowerment were 35.77% and 2.27%, respectively. An average of these four measures of parity probability gives us Yemen’s overall parity score of 51.28%, which is the lowest overall score out of all 136 nations represented.

Writer and journalist Naderah Abdulqadus explains that the gender gap expanded after the Yemeni unification in 1990. She says that, in South Yemen, there were laws guaranteeing women’s social rights, which protected girls from child marriages, teenage pregnancy, and (indirectly) low educational attainment. These laws were annulled upon unification with North Yemen. Additionally, Amal Al-Makhdi, National Dialogue Conference (NDC) representative for the Houthi political wing, asserts that women in rural areas are still unpaid for the work they do, giving them no incentive to stay in school.

If I have learned anything within recent months here at UPenn, it is that educational attainment is the foundation for all growth. Education leads to greater career opportunity, which leads to higher economic participation. Education gives citizens incentive to vote because they are able to understand the issues and the platforms, and they are interested in bettering their nation. Additionally, education has been proven on numerous occasions to lead to better health and survival outcomes due to knowledge about nutrition, disease, pregnancy, and childbirth. It seems that provision of education infrastructure, as Al-Makhadi suggests, could lead to increased gender parity. Now the question is: Is that what the Yemeni government wants?

Qaed, S. (2013, November 12). Palpable disparity: ‘Opportunities afforded to women are not many’. Yemen Times. Retrieved from http://www.yementimes.com/en/1728/report/3120/Palpable-disparity-%E2%80%98Opportunities-afforded-to-women-are-not-many%E2%80%99.htm.

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Education doesn’t cause economic empowerment

Each year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) publishes a Global Gender Gap Index, which ranks 136 participating countries based on gender-based disparities. Such disparities, including those within the educational, political, economic, and health sectors, are compared across nations, income groups, and regions over time, thereby creating a system with which to rank nations on their progress and overall magnitude of gender disparity.

In case you are wondering, the United States has dropped in its ranking over the past three years from having the 17th smallest gender gap to the 22nd smallest and, this year, the 23rd smallest gender gap out of 136 countries.

Since this year’s report was released on October 25, Costa Rica has commented on its position. Interestingly, Costa Rica’s gap has rested at approximately 72% for the past four years, but its position in the report has jumped from 28th to 25th to 29th to, this year, 31st. This inconsistency is due to countries such as Nicaragua, Austria, and Bolivia, which have made significant strides in closing their gender gaps.

Over the past 13 years since WEF began publishing its report, “Costa Rica has closed its gender gap by 15 percent,” according to Lindsay Fendt and the Tico Times. She claims that, while Costa Rican women have significantly improved in terms of educational attainment, political empowerment, and health, women have not expanded into the workforce and their participation in economic affairs has not progressed.

This is an important example of an instance in which the Human Capital Theory does not apply in practice. In fact, Costa Rica has 100% gender parity in educational attainment, placing it as one of the 25 countries ranked 1st in this category. Proving its weakness, Costa Rica only has 60% parity in economic participation and opportunity, causing it to place 98th out of 136 countries in terms of participation in economic affairs, the male-female income ratio, and the male-female ratio of legislators, managers, and professional workers.

This is crazy! To see that Costa Rican women and men have equal educational attainment at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education paints an entirely different picture about women’s economic status than the country has actually achieved.

According to the Minister of Women’s Affairs in Costa Rica, businesses prefer to hire men to fill positions offering the highest salaries. While this plays a large role in the oppression of women’s economic status, there are also traditional cultural expectations within the country that place the “caretaker” role primarily on women.

The minister, María Chamorro, proves her expertise in educational and cultural arenas by suggesting that the only way for this statistic to change is via a cultural and familial change in perspective about the role of caretaking. Only when the culture recognizes that caretaking is a familial responsibility, and not only a female responsibility, can women be granted the physical and mental freedom to apply for jobs and participate in a competitive market. I think it is fascinating that she mentioned this. It is a very modern perspective, and it is encouraging to see that she understands the implications of such a tradition. As a country, however, Costa Rica seems to be at an impasse. Until more people recognize the potential gains and step out of their traditional gender and familial roles, progress in the category of economic participation will never be achieved.

Fendt, L. (2013, November 4). Costa Rican women among the best educated, but least economically empowered, new index says. The Tico Times. Retrieved from http://www.ticotimes.net/More-news/News-Briefs/Costa-Rican-women-among-the-best-educated-but-least-economically-empowered-new-index-says_Monday-November-04-2013.