Mind the (Gender) Gap

Lina AbiRafeh
6 min readJul 19, 2022

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It’s no secret — no country in the world has achieved equality. No, not a single one.

To prove this point, the World Economic Forum created its Global Gender Gap to explain that yes, a big fat gap exists between women and men in the areas of health, education, politics and employment — basically the core building blocks of our lives. If men and women aren’t equal in those foundational areas, they aren’t equal at all.

So, every year since 2006, the Global Gender Gap Report comes out, reminding us that (1) we are doing pretty badly so (2) we had better move faster or (3) we will have a gap forever.

Why track and quantify this grim stuff? To prove that it exists. To show that gender-based discrimination is alive and thriving. And to give us ways to understand how far all societies are from reaching their full potential.

Sure, we’ve had overall gains between 2006 and 2022. Marginal gains. Not-enough-for-me gains. WTF-is-taking-us-so-long gains. And now we have the latest gender gap report to tell us that we need 132 years to close the gender gap. Anyone planning to be around to see it happen?!

Sure, we’re doing better than we were in 2006 (one would hope!) — but even our measly progress hasn’t exactly been linear. In fact, it’s been all over the place, impacted by whatever socio-political stuff is at play at the moment. Meaning wars, recessions, and messy business like global pandemics all contribute to widening the gender gap and impeding progress for women.

So, when the world moves in the wrong direction, so does inequality.

The gap has increased at several intervals — for instance in 2017, the first time the gap had increased in a decade. In 2018, it was estimated to take 108 years to close the gender gap. At the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos that year, they called 2018 “the year for women to thrive.” So much for that claim. The gender gap increased again in 2021 due to COVID. And we’re still feeling the shocks of this. Are we thriving yet?!

Let’s break it down…

Looking at this by category, the economic gap has always been wide. In 2017, 217 years were needed to close the economic gap — the widest since 2008. It has since gotten a bit smaller, but we still need 151 years to close the economic gender gap.

The gender gap in the workforce is its own crisis. Structural barriers, economic shocks, societal expectations, employer policies, and the availability of care play a role in women’s participation in the workforce. Unemployment rates remain consistently higher for women, women spend more time than men doing unpaid work, and gender pay gaps are still a huge issue — everywhere.

Between 2006 and 2015, an extra quarter of a billion women entered the labor force. But (there’s always a but!) it took from 2006 to 2015 for women’s annual earnings to equal what men earned in 2006. Meanwhile, men’s annual earnings in 2015 were still nearly double women’s. So we’re creeping closer, but men are getting farther ahead — earning more, and in more senior positions.

In 2006 women only had 15% of men’s political empowerment. This gap got a bit better, and experienced its biggest advancement between 2006 and 2016. However, it has fluctuated ever since. Globally, women in ministerial positions increased from nearly 10% in 2006 to 16% in 2022, and women in parliament rose from 15% to 23%. Even though the report is trying to highlight gains, if we’re honest, taking 16 years to move 6–8% is actually too-damn-slow. While this year is not the biggest gap ever, political parity remains the furthest out of reach of the four categories. Today we need 155 years to close the political gender gap.

Small bits of good news. Education and health are the closest to parity. But the education gap increased between 2021 and 2022. Thank you again, COVID. It will now take only 22 years to close the education gap. Only.

While this is the category where most countries have achieved parity, this number masks huge disparities. Globally, more women than men are illiterate; more girls than boys are out of school; girls are less safe going to schools; and more girls drop out. More women than ever are skilling, upskilling, and reskilling through online courses. However, women are overrepresented in education and health and welfare degrees but continue to be underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Even though many countries have achieved educational parity, this has not translated into labor force participation parity.

In terms of health, the number of years to parity is undefined, but data shows that women are disproportionately affected by mental and emotional disorders, adding to the burden and impacting all other areas of our lives. What’s more, our recent losses in terms of sexual and reproductive health and rights have yet to be counted — bringing us farther away from parity. And adding to our stress.

Gaps around the world…

As a region, North America is in the lead — with approximately 77% of its gender gap closed. This translates to 59 years to parity — down from 62 years. At the same time, this does not account for this year’s catastrophic backsliding in terms of women’s rights — namely our rights to our own bodies and lives. Frankly, we should not expect to perform as well next year, as we continue to regress.

Europe follows closely, having closed over 76% of its gap. This means that women in Europe have 60 years to wait. In third place is Latin America and Caribbean — with a 67-year long gender gap. And then — a big jump!

Sub-Saharan Africa needs 98 years. The Middle East and North Africa needs 115 years.

Central Asia needs 152 years. And women in South Asia fare worse. They will have to wait 197 years before they see equality.

At the country level, this year’s report covers 146 countries, 102 of which have been represented since 2006, making it a pretty consistent analysis. But still — no country has achieved gender parity.

The top ten economies did close the gap quite a bit, but as they say, the rich get richer, meaning the gap between the so-called best and worst countries is widening.

Germany records its highest score ever while Rwanda has been in the top 10 every year since it was first included in the Index in 2014.

Even back in 2006, Nordic countries performed best in terms of closing the gap. But even those guys haven’t closed their present-day gender gap. Still, Scandinavian countries perform well — four of the top five spots are Nordic.

Iceland leads the charge and has closed their gap by over 90%. This is the 12th year in a row Iceland has ranked most gender equal. More sharing of unpaid labor has been key to Iceland’s progress. Greater childcare and paternity leave provisions can help reduce the gender gap as the brunt of unpaid labor disproportionately falls to women.

Check out the top ten. And, pay attention to the bottom ten — and why they are consistently at the bottom.

The 2022 Global Gender Gap Report was just released last week. And now you know that no, it did not bring particularly good news. I will say again: we need 132 years to close the global gender gap. One hundred and thirty two years.

Last year it was 136 years. We’ve gained a whole four years! Is that reason to celebrate? Absolutely not.

In 2020, the gap needed 100 years to close. In 2021, this jumped up by 36 years — a whole generation. So, our micro-movements downward really don’t mean much, when you look at it across time. They mean very, very little.

The report confirms what we have always known to be true: there is a direct correlation between gender equality and the level of development in a country. And I have said over, over, over that the clearest indication of a country’s potential for peace, prosperity, progress is not in the type of government it has nor in the state of its economy — it is based on how a country treats its women.

And women should not have to wait 132 years.

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Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights activist, author, speaker, aid worker with 3 decades of global experience - and lots to say! More on my website: www.LinaAbiRafeh.com