NEW YORK – Nordic countries again topped this year's scorecard measuring equality between women and men in 130 countries.
The gap between men and women was widest in Yemen, with Chad, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Benin, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Ethiopia and Bahrain near the bottom of the list.
The report released this week at a press conference by the Swiss-based World Economic Forum again found that no country closed the gap between men and women when it comes to economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival.
The three highest ranked countries — Norway, Finland and Sweden — closed a little over 80 percent of their gender gaps while the lowest ranked country, Yemen, closed only a little over 46 percent.
"Greater representation of women in senior leadership positions within governments and financial institutions is vital not only to find solutions to the current economic turmoil, but to stave off such crises in future," Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, said in a statement.
The United States moved up four places to 27 this year, closing just over 71 percent of the gender gap, because of progress on income equality and political empowerment, driven by the increased participation of women in political decision-making positions, the report said.
Switzerland advanced to 14th place based on large increases in the percentage of women in parliament and those in ministerial-level positions. France improved significantly, to 15th place, because of gains in both economic participation and political empowerment, it said.
China, the world's most populous country, moved up 17 places to 57, driven by narrowing gender gaps in educational attainment, economic participation and political participation, the report said.
Germany (11), Britain (13) and Spain (17) slipped in the rankings but remained in the top 20, the report said.
In the bottom half of the rankings, Tunisia (103), Jordan (104) and the United Arab Emirates (105) made overall gains by narrowing gaps in literacy, and in the case of Jordan and the UAE, in the percentage of women in political decision-making positions. But Syria (107), Ethiopia (122) and Saudi Arabia (128) dropped in the rankings.
The report is the result of collaboration between Ricardo Hausmann, Director of the Centre for International Development at Harvard University; Laura Tyson, Professor of Business Administration and Economics at the University of California, Berkeley; and Saadia Zahidi, who runs the forum's women leaders.
Tyson said the research shows "a strong correlation between competitiveness and the gender gap scores."
"Countries that do not fully capitalize effectively on one-half of their human resources run the risk of undermining their competitive potential," she said in a statement.
Zahidi said progress is possible in a relatively short space of time.
"We found that countries such as Chile, Spain, Turkey and Finland have closed between 5 and 10 percentage points of their respective gender gaps over just the past eight years," she said in a statement.
"When we interpret these percentage changes at the societal level, we see that hundreds of thousands of lives are impacted, and at the economic level, we see enormous potential competitiveness gains," Zahidi said.
Hausmann said "the index assesses countries on how well they are dividing their resources and opportunities among their male and female populations, regardless of the overall levels of these resources and opportunities."
"Thus, the index does not penalize those countries that have low levels of education overall, for example, but rather those where the distribution of education is uneven between women and men," he said.