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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 November 2006, 14:59 GMT
Nordics show way in sex equality
Man and woman in suit
Women have a long way to go to gain equality in economic terms
Nordic nations are the closest in the world to full sexual equality, a survey by the World Economic Forum reveals.

The report, which examines the gender gap in four areas from economics to political participation, ranks Sweden as the overall leader of 115 economies.

The US lags behind many EU states, which hold half of the top 20 positions, including new member states.

The UK and Irish Republic perform well, with the UK among those to have fully closed the gender gap in education.

At the other end of the European range comes France, which ranks 70th overall, just ahead of Malta and just behind Greece.

Number one nation Sweden - which is the only nation to have an equal number of men and women as ministers and parliamentarians - is followed by Norway, Finland and Iceland.

While EU countries as a group rank relatively highly, their performances vary considerably in the areas being assessed.

Germany, for example, is among the top five countries with the smallest gender gap. It does especially well in political empowerment - ranking number six - but fares less well in terms of economic participation.

Gender Gap scores by Region
EU nations generally perform well

Lowest nation

The four areas covered by the report include economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment and political empowerment, as well as health and survival.

The country ranked lowest is Yemen, which comes after Saudi Arabia. The US is rated 22nd, just after Colombia, while China ranks 63rd and Japan 79th.

The Philippines is exceptional in being the only Asian nation to come among the top 10.

By contrast, highly populated nations such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan come far lower, reflecting gaps between men and women across all categories.

However, except for Iran, these same countries perform well in political participation.

Economic gap

Overall, the survey shows that about 90% of the gender gap in education and health has been closed.

However, only about 50% of the gender gap has been closed in economic participation and opportunity, while as little as 15% of the gap in political empowerment has been closed.

The report's methodology has changed to assess the relative size of the gender gap, rather than the level of "women's empowerment and access".

The reason for this is to show how well resources are being used between male and female populations.

This means countries that have low levels of education overall are not penalised.

Instead, places where the distribution of education is uneven between men and women are highlighted.

'Competitive potential'

Our report shows a strong correlation between Gross Domestic Product per capita and the gender gap scores

The WEF says the report shows "a strong correlation between Gross Domestic Product per capita and the gender gap scores".

It says this does not imply causality, but that: "countries that do not fully capitalise effectively on one half of their human resources run the risk of undermining their competitive potential".

In support of the WEF's assertion, the five Nordic nations that lead in the gender gap ranking also consistently perform well in the forum's competitiveness rankings.

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