Alexander E.M. Hess, 24/7 Wall St. 8 a.m. EST November 29, 2014
Not one country in the world has successfully eliminated its gender gap, according to a recent report from the World Economic Forum (WEF). But while the scope of gender inequality has narrowed in some countries, in other countries women continue to severely trail men in economic participation, educational attainment, political empowerment, and even basic health outcomes.
The WEF’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Report measured disparities between men and women in 142 countries. In the worst-scoring nations, economic and educational opportunities, as well as political representation and health outcomes, were far worse for women than for men. Yemen, the worst country, has been the lowest ranked nation in the report since 2006, when the WEF began measuring gender inequality. Based on the WEF report, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 worst countries for women.
The countries with with the worst gender inequality consistently failed to give the female residents the same access to educational opportunities that they gave to the male residents. In many of these nations, disparities were clear as early on as primary school. For example, in Chad, just 55% of school-aged girls were enrolled in primary school, among the worst rates in the world and far worse still than the 71% for boys. Côte d’Ivoire, Pakistan, and Yemen also had large disparities in enrollment.
Beyond just enrollment, literacy, perhaps the most critical educational outcome, can differ widely by gender in many of these nations. In Mali, for instance, just 25% of women were considered literate, versus 43% of men. Similarly, Chad had female and male literacy rates of 28% and 47%. The low rates of female literacy in these nations are not just problematic for gender equality, but also for a country’s development, given the critical role the ability to read and write well plays in fostering a skilled workforce.
Women in countries with extreme gender inequality do not hold office to the same degree that men do. In each of the 10 worst countries for women, men accounted for at least 80% of ministerial positions. Similarly, women accounted for more than 20% of parliamentary positions in only one of these nations, Pakistan.
The opportunities for economic participation also differed widely between men and women in the world’s worst-ranked countries. In fact, in many of these nations, men are at least three times as likely to participate in the labor force as women. Syria is the most extreme example of this, with 76% of men in the labor force versus just 14% of all women.
Further, working women in these countries frequently earned far less than their male counterparts. In the case of Iran, women earned an average of less than $5,000 annually. Men with jobs, on the other hand, earned more than $26,000 per year. Similarly, in Lebanon, men earned more than $26,000 per year, versus $7,106 for women.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 nations that received the worst score in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2014 Global Gender Gap Report. The WEF graded each country based on its score in four key areas: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment. Each area consisted of multiple variables. Countries scored worse by each variable when the gap between men and women for that measure was the widest. All WEF figures represented the most recently available data. Figures on Human Development Index Scores are from the United Nations Human Development Programme, and are as of 2014.
> Female-to-male income ratio: 0.28 (tied 8th worst)
> Labor force participation (m/f): 79% / 27%
> Literacy rate (m/f): 76% / 58%
> Pct. women in parliament: 17%
Morocco was one of the worst rated countries for women, according to the WEF’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Index. Few nations had a greater disparity between men’s and women’s participation in the economy. Just 27% of Moroccan women were in the labor force, well below the 79% participation rate for men. Further, women with jobs earned an average of just $3,123 annually, versus nearly $11,000 for men — more than three times as much. Morocco also has a considerable gap in literacy rates. Just 58% of women were considered literate versus 76% of men.
> Female-to-male income ratio: 0.18 (tied- 3rd worst)
> Labor force participation (m/f): 69% / 16%
> Literacy rate (m/f): 98% / 97%
> Pct. women in parliament: 12%
Just 16% of Jordanian women participated in the labor force, one of the worst rates in the world. The difference in incomes between men and women was also among the world’s worst. While the average man in Jordan earned $19,300 annually, higher than in more than half of all countries reviewed by the WEF, the average woman earned only roughly 18% of that, or $3,442 on average. Additionally, despite the prominent international role played by Queen Rania of Jordan, women in general have limited representation in the country’s political offices. Just 12% of parliament seats and 11% of ministerial positions were held by women, both among the lower rates in the world.
> Female-to-male income ratio: 0.27 (7th worst)
> Labor force participation (m/f): 76% / 26%
> Literacy rate (m/f): 93% / 86%
> Pct. women in parliament: 3%
Few nations were rated worse than Lebanon for women’s political empowerment. Just 3% of seats in Lebanon’s parliament were held by women, one of the absolute lowest rates. Further, none of the country’s ministerial positions were occupied by women. One problem for many women in the country may be that religious laws cover issues of personal status, such as marriage and divorce. Despite passing a new anti-domestic violence law in April 2014, Human Rights Watch said the country still has significant room for improvement. In particular, the organization said that “Exempting matters governed by personal status laws from the domestic violence law undermines women’s security in the home.”
7. Cote d’Ivoire
> Female-to-male income ratio: 0.49 (38th worst)
> Labor force participation (m/f): 82% / 53%
> Literacy rate (m/f): 52% / 30%
> Pct. women in parliament: 9%
The gap in educational attainment between men and women is especially problematic in Cote d’Ivoire. Although the 52% literacy rate among men in the country was quite low, women’s literacy rate was even lower, at only 30%. Enrollment of women at every level of school is also very low. Just 56% of primary school-aged girls were enrolled in school, among the lowest rates in the world. By secondary school, the enrollment rate dropped to 14%. Limited access to schooling, for both genders, also contributed to Cote d’Ivoire’s low score on the Human Development Index, where it ranked in the lowest decile of all countries. According to UNICEF, “The low education rate is essentially due to the insufficient educational offer[ings]: not enough teachers and school buildings.” The organization added, “Children who go to school do not always benefit from quality teaching” in Cote d’Ivoire.
> Female-to-male income ratio: 0.17 (the worst)
> Labor force participation (m/f): 76% / 17%
> Literacy rate (m/f): 89% / 79%
> Pct. women in parliament: 3%
Iran has some of the world’s greatest disparities in labor force participation and incomes. Just 17% of women were in the labor force, versus 76% of men. And women earned an average of just $4,656 annually, versus $26,644 for men. According to a Reuters story published in May, an edict, issued by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to increase the country’s population has concerned many reformers already worried about women’s limited role in the workforce. Further, few nations rank worse for women’s participation in politics. In fact, Iran disqualified all female candidates in the last presidential election. According to Human Rights Watch, women need a male guardian’s approval to marry, and travel internationally.
> Female-to-male income ratio: 0.41 (23rd worst)
> Labor force participation (m/f): 82% / 52%
> Literacy rate (m/f): 43% / 25%
> Pct. women in parliament: 10%
Mali has some of the worst disparities between men and women in both educational attainment and health. Among the reasons for this are the low literacy rate for women of just 25% and the low primary school enrollment rate of 64%, both among the worst worldwide. Also, women had a healthy life expectancy of just 48 years — among the lowest in the world. Mali was one of just three nations where the healthy life expectancy of women was lower than that of men. In 2012, religious extremists briefly seized a large portion of northern Mali before being pushed back by a French-led intervention. In the time these groups occupied the country they were accused of numerous human rights atrocities against women.
> Female-to-male income ratio: N/A
> Labor force participation (m/f): 76% / 14%
> Literacy rate (m/f): 91% / 79%
> Pct. women in parliament: 12%
Syria had some of the worst gender gaps for economic participation. Just 14% of women in the country were in the labor force, versus 76% of men. Further, the country also ranked poorly for women’s political empowerment. Just 12% of parliamentary positions and 9% of all ministerial positions were held by women. Syria ranked as one of the worst countries for women despite a far higher healthy life expectancy for women. While women were expected to live 65 years in good health, men were expected to live only 55 years in good health. One reason behind this disparity is likely the ongoing conflict in Syria, which remains extremely violent and unresolved. Recently, the United States began launching airstrikes in Syria as part of its plans to combat the terrorist group ISIL.
> Female-to-male income ratio: 0.62 (52nd best)
> Labor force participation (m/f): 79% / 65%
> Literacy rate (m/f): 47% / 28%
> Pct. women in parliament: 15%
Chad is one of the lowest-rated countries on the United Nation’s Human Development Index. It has suffered from chronic regional instability, including spillover from conflicts in Darfur and in Central African Republic. Unlike most nations on this list, disparities in work opportunities and incomes are not especially large in Chad. However, this could be due in large part to the population’s heavy reliance on subsistence agriculture. Chad ranked as the worst country in the world for gender-driven disparities in educational attainment. Just 28% of women in the country could read and only 55% of school-age girls were enrolled in primary school, both among the worst rates in the world.
> Female-to-male income ratio: 0.18 (tied-3rd worst)
> Labor force participation (m/f): 86% / 25%
> Literacy rate (m/f): 67% / 42%
> Pct. women in parliament: 21%
Pakistan is among the nations with the widest disparities between women and men in economic participation and opportunity. For example, just one-quarter of Pakistani women were in the labor force, versus 86% of men. Similarly, the disparity in educational attainment is also quite large. Just 67% of school-aged girls in Pakistan attended primary school, a figure that falls to just 31% for secondary school. By contrast, enrollment rates for boys were 77% and 41%, respectively. Even worse was the gap in literacy rate between females and males — just 42% of women could read versus 67% of men.
> Female-to-male income ratio: 0.28 (tied-8th worst)
> Labor force participation (m/f): 74% / 26%
> Literacy rate (m/f): 83% / 50%
> Pct. women in parliament: 0%
Yemen is the world’s worst country for women in 2014, according to the WEF. In addition to being one of the worst countries in women’s economic participation and opportunity, Yemen received some of the world’s worst scores in relative educational attainment and political participation for females. Just half of women in the country could read, versus 83% of men. Further, women accounted for just 9% of ministerial positions and for none of the positions in parliament. Child marriage is a huge problem in Yemen. According to Human Rights Watch, as of 2006, 52% of Yemeni girls were married before they reached 18, and 14% were married before they reached 15 years of age.