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Global Gender Gap report finds modest improvements

The ninth annual Global Gender Gap report shows the overall gap between men and women – based on economic, education and health factors in 142 countries included in the study – now stands at 60 per cent.

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The gap between men and women has started to narrow as more women enter politics and join the work force on a global basis, but inequality still remains significant in both areas, according to an annual report from the World Economic Forum.

The ninth annual Global Gender Gap report shows the overall gap between men and women – based on economic, education and health factors in 142 countries included in the study – now stands at 60 per cent, a modest improvement from 56 per cent when the report was first completed in 2006.

"Based on this trajectory, with all else remaining equal, it will take 81 years for the world to close this gap completely," the WEF concluded.

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Over all, Canada ranked 19th in the study this year, an improvement from 20th position last year and 21st position the year earlier. Canada ranked 14th in the subgroup of "high income" countries.

The biggest gaps on a global basis remain in areas that have also shown the most improvement over the past decade.

The WEF said more women than men have joined the work force over the past decade in 29 countries, and there are now 26 per cent more female parliamentarians on a global basis than nine years ago.

However, the proportions for women compared to men in the area of economic outcomes – which includes labour-force participation and wage equality – remains at 60 per cent globally, and the category of political empowerment – which includes the ratio of women to men in parliaments and at the ministerial level – remains lowest at just 21 per cent.

"These are far-reaching changes for economies and national cultures," said lead author Saadia Zahidi, head of the WEF's gender parity program. "However, it is clear that much work still remains to be done and the pace of changes must in some areas be accelerated."

The report said the gap between men and women is narrowest in the category of health and survival, where 96 per cent of the gap between men and women has been closed and 35 countries show no difference between outcomes for men and women. In the category of educational attainment, 94 per cent of the gap between men and women has been closed and 25 countries have closed the gap entirely.

For the second year in a row, Canada tied with 24 other countries for first place in the educational-attainment category, leading the globe in terms of having no gap between men and women in literacy rates or enrolment in primary education and having a higher proportion of women than men in postsecondary education.

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However, Canada showed a surprising drop in the overall health-care category, ranking just 100th out of 142 countries, a decline from 49th place last year.

The health score is based on two factors: healthy life expectancy for women compared to men, where Canada ranked 111th in the world, and the ratio of boys born compared to girls, which is intended to capture the selective use of abortion when parents want sons rather than daughters. Canada ranked 94th in the world on the birth ratio data.

The study measures countries' gaps between men and women and not the absolute health care levels so that it can measure gender equality rather than development level, the WEF said. Experts say healthy life expectancy can narrow the larger gap in basic life expectancy between men and women because it takes into account chronic -- but often non-fatal disorders -- that are more common to women as they age, including arthritis, chronic pain and depression.

Iceland ranks first in the world in the main ranking, followed by Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Nicaragua and Rwanda rank sixth and seventh, due in part to their large proportions of women in political office in both countries.

Yemen ranks last of the 142 countries studied, behind Pakistan, Chad, Syria and Mali.

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Real Estate Reporter

Janet McFarland is the real estate reporter for The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, with a focus on residential real estate trends. She joined Report on Business in 1995, and has specialized in reporting on corporate governance, executive compensation, pension policy, business law, securities regulation and enforcement of white-collar crime. More

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