The World Economic Forum just published their Global Gender Gap Report 2018. It is an extensive report which investigates gender differences in 149 countries in the areas of health, education, economy, and politics. Some of the key findings of the report are: “Globally, the average (population-weighted) distance completed to parity is at 68.0%, which is a marginal improvement over last year. In other words, to date there is still a 32.0% average gender gap that remains to be closed” (page vii) and “Projecting current trends into the future, the overall global gender gap will close in 108 years across the 106 countries covered since the first edition of the report” (page viii).
There is a lot that you can say about this report, and it certainly makes clear that there are many countries in the world where significant improvements in female empowerment must be made. It does sound rather disappointing, though, that according to the report there is no country in the world where the gender gap is closed. The best performing country on the list is Iceland, which has closed 85% of the gender gap, which leaves 15% still to close according to the report. So anybody who thinks that the genders are pretty much equal in countries such as Iceland or The Netherlands (27th on the list) should think again.
This is where most of the headlines will stop. However, you should really read the report a bit more in detail, to find out what is meant by the “gender gap” and how it is measured. To the report’s credit, it is explicit about these facts to those who are willing to read further. The report uses three underlying concepts, which are explained on pages 3 and 4: (1) gaps versus levels, (2) outcomes versus inputs, and (3) gender equality versus women’s empowerment. What do these concepts entail?
Gaps versus levels means that the report examines the differences between men and women per country. So a country in which men and women are both oppressed is considered to have a smaller gender gap than a country in which men and women are both completely free but men use their freedom a bit more actively to increase their prosperity than women do. This entails that a country being high on the list does not necessarily mean that you would want to live there as a woman. For instance, Namibia is number 10 on the list — with its life expectancy of 66 for women, versus 83 in The Netherlands, do you really think that Dutch women would want to exchange their comfy lives for the harsh reality of a third-world country?
Outcomes versus inputs means that the report ignores equality of opportunity but looks at equality of outcome instead. This means that a country which offers women all the freedoms and opportunities that men have (or even a few more, as is the case in most countries in Western Europe), but where women on average choose to be less economically active than men (again, which is the case in most countries in Western Europe) is considered to have a gender gap. While certainly there is a gap in absolute terms, the only way to close it would be to take away people’s freedoms (either by forcing them by law to do things that they do not want to do, or to culturally brainwash them to do things that they do not want to do). This is a price that few people would be willing to pay to achieve such an abstract concept as a “closed gender gap.”
Gender equality versus women’s empowerment is the most egregious concept. The report says: “[the report] ranks countries according to their proximity to gender equality rather than to women’s empowerment” (page 4). That sounds reasonable, until you read what it entails a few lines further: “it neither rewards nor penalizes cases in which women are outperforming men in particular indicators in some countries” (page 4). If you need a further translation: this concept means that if in an area men do better than women, it is considered unequal, while if women do better than men, it is considered equal. This is why Iceland, where female enrollment in universities and colleges is double the male enrollment, scores 1.000 in tertiary education. In my view, this should be considered a gender gap to the detriment of men which really needs some attention, as it clearly indicates that men have a big problem as far as their education is concerned. But the report does not care about that: women doing twice as well as men is considered “equality.” The report has a clear feminist agenda to sell, and it has no qualms about it.
Even if you look at the dry numbers (where you can see that there are many areas where men do a lot worse than women), there is little of value in the report, because not only does it ignore many relevant factors (such as conscription, crime & punishment, legal & social protection, etcetera), it also refuses to look at underlying reasons (concept #2). I think that if it had examined underlying reasons, it would have discovered that it is highly unlikely that the gender gap, in the way it is defined, will ever be closed, since to close it the world needs total domination of women over men in each and every category in each and every country in the world. Apart from some rabid feminists, I hardly think that what needs to be done to achieve that is something that most people find desirable.
Additional: Together with the report the World Economic Forum also published an article called “The 10 best countries to be a woman.” Number 5: Nicaragua. Number 6: Rwanda. Number 8: Philippines. Number 10: Namibia. While these countries may have a small gender gap according to the standards of the World Economic Forum, I dare to express doubts that they are among the “best countries to be a woman.” The fact that the World Economic Forum sees no problems in publishing an article under a headline like this one, clearly demonstrates how limited their thinking process is. Translating their vision on a gender gap to standards of living is ostensibly bone-headed.