The world’s gender gaps narrowed slightly this year, with Iceland showing the least inequality among men and women, a report by the World Economic Forum found.
The Global Gender Gap Report, published today, found “definite if not universal improvements” in economic equality and political participation between the sexes in the ranking of 136 countries. Of those countries measured this year and last, 86 improved, the Geneva-based WEF said in an e-mailed statement.
Finland ranked second this year followed by Norway and then Sweden, unchanged from last year. Iceland has held the top spot for five years in a row.
Thanks to generous maternity leave provisions and inexpensive daycare for children, Nordic countries have high labor participation rates for women. There are two female prime ministers and two female finance ministers in that region.
Norway’s historic quota system for women on supervisory boards is being copied elsewhere in Europe: Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Iceland either plan to, or have already implemented similar policies. The European Commission, the European Union’s regulatory arm, proposed a quota system in 2012 to bring more women onto corporate boards.
Globally, inequality remains greatest in the areas of economic equality and political participation, according to the index. First compiled in 2006, it considers economic, political, education and health-based criteria.
“In both developing and developed countries alike, relative to the numbers of women in tertiary education and in the workforce overall, women’s presence in economic leadership positions is limited,” the WEF said in the study.
Among Group of 20 economies, Germany, where Angela Merkel won a third term as chancellor, ranked highest. It dropped a place to 14th compared with 2012.
South Africa ranked 17th, with the U.K. coming in 18th and Canada at 20th. The U.S. was 23rd, while Russia ranked 61st, followed by Brazil at 62nd.
The International Monetary Fund will push countries to publish more data on female participation in the labor market in an effort to draw attention to policies that could boost growth from Italy to Egypt, Managing Director Christine Lagarde said last month.
Nicaragua, which has now featured in the top ten for two years, was Latin America’s leader in closing the gender gap in the study, largely due to “political empowerment.” Cuba followed at 15th, with Ecuador in 25th place.
The Philippines ranked highest among countries in Asia, “due to success in health, education and economic participation.” China’s place in the ranking was unchanged at 69th, while India climbed four places to 101st, above Japan at 105th.
In Africa, several countries -- Lesotho, South Africa, Burundi and Mozambique -- featured in the top 30 this year due to women’s participation in the workforce, according to the WEF.
“Through this economic activity, women have greater access to income and economic decision-making, but are often present in low-skilled and low-paid sectors of the economy,” it said.
The only region not to have improved its standing was the Middle East and North Africa, the report found. The United Arab Emirates ranked 109th, the highest-placed Arab country in the region, which achieved parity in education. Bahrain ranked 112th, with Qatar at 115th, “still failing to adequately capitalize on the investments in education through greater economic and political contributions from women,” it said.
At the bottom of the ranking were Chad (134th), Pakistan (135th) and Yemen (136th).