“Rwanda is beating the U.S. In Gender Equality” That is a headline from a recent news story in the Washington Post. Well, could it be true? Let’s check the facts.
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The Global Gender Gap Report is a yearly study sponsored by The World Economic Forum. This is a prestigious group that meets in Davos Switzerland each year. It attracts more than 2500 of the world’s leading figures in business and politics—people like Bill Gates and German Chancellor Angela Merkel show up. So do celebrities: Bono, Mick Jagger, and Angelina Jolie. The purpose of the gathering is admirable: to brainstorm on ways to make the world a better place. One way the Forum hopes to improve the world is to highlight “role models” of gender equity around the world.
Since 2006, the Forum has produced yearly reports ranking the world’s nations on gender—equality in key areas such as Economic opportunity, political empowerment, health and education. The just-released 2015 findings are typical of earlier reports. Rwanda, the Philippines and Nicaragua somehow get higher equity rankings than the US, Australia, Canada and Denmark.
Journalists, with few exceptions, have been electrified by the Gender Gap Study. Many have praised it for showing just how backward we are in the United States.
The Factual Feminist has concerns about the soundness of the gender gap study. The researchers are well-intentioned, but their study shows a lack of common sense.
This is strictly a study of gaps between the sexes. If men and women in nation X are equally illiterate, disenfranchised, and just as likely to die at an early age—that all but guarantees a high ranking. No gender gap—no problem. But that isn’t always true. Gaps favoring women are just fine. If women turn out to be better educated, more likely to vote, less vulnerable to violence or early death—those gaps can actually help a county in the rankings. Look at Russia. According to the Davos study, Russian women enjoy 11 more healthy years of life than men. That is bad news for Russian men—but great for Russia’s standing in the studies “Healthy Life Expectancy”
A Davos report that honestly showed the burdens and benefits of women and men around the world would be far more useful than this quirky, one-sided study. This 2004 chart from the World Health Organization shows men throughout the world at vastly higher risk for injury and violence. Gender gaps are complicated—but the World Economic Forum disguises that. It’s giving an over-simplified and distorted picture of what’s really going on.
There are other troubling features: the study does not distinguish between free societies and dictatorships, and it greatly rewards countries that use gender quotas in allocating political positions. Countries that combine dictatorships and gender quotas (Cuba, Rwanda, Burundi) are almost guaranteed “role model” status in the category of political empowerment. Again, that is misleading. Rwanda’s 2003 constitution establishes gender quotas for the lower parliament. Women now occupy 64% of the seats. But that same constitution gives the current president close to absolute power—including the right to dissolve the parliament. The human rights watchdog group, Freedom House, gives Rwanda’s failing grades where political rights are concerned. In Mozambique and Burundi, almost everyone (male and female) is in the full-time labor force. That improves their Davos ranking, but is it a sign of progress and opportunity—or even true equality? These countries are not bastions of gender equality—what they are is desperately poor and nearly everyone is forced to work—men women and often children too. In wealthy countries like the U.S. and Germany lot of mothers choose to work part time, or even leave the workforce when they have children. But that creates gaps that get penalized by the Davos metrics.
The Gender Gap: What the World Economic Forum got wrong