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Gender Gap Report Finds MENA Region Lags in Leadership Roles for Women

The latest Global Gender Gap report from the World Economic Forum shows that Middle Eastern and North African leaders need to give women more decision-making roles to close the world’s second-worst gender gap by region.

The Middle East and North Africa region still has a long way to go to close the gender gap in leadership positions, data in the report suggest.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2022, which was issued on July 13, also said that the Covid-19 pandemic had had a negative impact on attempts to bridge gender gaps, and that the economic burden of the pandemic was likely to fall hardest on women.

The World Economic Forum brings the world’s decision makers together regularly to discuss pressing problems of the day and how to address them.

Its annual Gender Gap report looks at the current state of gender parity worldwide, ranking nations on an overall index and on four subindexes: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

“The cost-of-living crisis is impacting women disproportionately after the shock of labour-market losses during the pandemic and the continued inadequacy of care infrastructure.”

Saadia Zahidi Managing director at the World Economic Forum

The report found that in choice of higher-education degree programmes, women continue to be overrepresented in education and health and welfare fields, and underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM fields.

The percentage of women graduates in information and communication technologies was 1.7 percent, compared to 8.2 percent for male graduates. In engineering and manufacturing, the figures are 24.6 percent for men and 6.6 percent for women.

While gender segmentation continues in traditional education, data in this year’s report from the online-course provider Coursera showed that more women than ever were learning new skills online and that gender gaps were substantially lower in online courses.

In information and communications technologies, for example, the gender gap in online courses shrank between 2019 and 2021.

Dire Impact on Women

On economic indicators, however, the report found that the pandemic had exacerbated the gender gap, with the current cost-of-living crisis more likely to affect women.

In a press release, Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the World Economic Forum, said: “The cost-of-living crisis is impacting women disproportionately after the shock of labour-market losses during the pandemic and the continued inadequacy of care infrastructure.”

She added: “In face of a weak recovery, government and business must make two sets of efforts: targeted policies to support women’s return to the workforce, and women’s talent development in the industries of the future. Otherwise, we risk eroding the gains of the last decades permanently and losing out on the future economic returns of diversity.”

Middle East and North Africa

The report found that several countries in the Middle East and North Africa had made progress in closing gender gaps on some economic indicators. However, the region’s overall score remained about the same as in the previous edition of the report, which estimated that at the current rate of progress, it would take 115 years to achieve gender parity.

The Middle East and North Africa has closed 63.4 percent of its gender gap, the report found. The only region with a lower score was South Asia (62.4%). Even so, this represented an improvement for the MENA region, which had ranked last in previous lists.

The regions at the top of the scale were North America and Europe, with both having closed more than 76 percent of their gender gaps.

The United Arab Emirates was the highest-placed country in the Middle East and North Africa, having closed 71.6 percent of its gender gap. It was ranked 68th among the 146 countries covered this year, up from 72nd in 2021 and 120th in 2020.

While gender segmentation continues in traditional education, data from Coursera showed that gaps were substantially lower in online courses.

While no country has yet achieved full gender parity, the top 10 economies have closed at least 80 percent of the gender gap. Iceland (90.8%) is the only economy to have closed more than 90 percent of the gap. Other Scandinavian countries were among the world’s top five, with Finland (86%) coming in second, Norway (84.5%) third, and Sweden (82.2%) fifth.

In contrast, Afghanistan ranked last, having closed only 43.5 percent of its gender gap.

Three Arab countries were in the bottom ten: Qatar (61.7%), Oman (60.9%), and Algeria (60.2%).

Performance by Subindex

Looking at the region’s performance in the subindex categories, the report found that the Middle East and North Africa had closed 96.4 percent of its gender gap for health and survival.

Educational attainment was also a bright spot. The region has achieved 96.2 percent of gender parity on this subindex. Oman, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria were the only countries in the region still at less than 95 percent.

At different levels of educational attainment, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait and Qatar have closed the gender gap in primary education, while Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Tunisia have all achieved parity in secondary education.

Every country in the region has closed the gender gap in higher education.

The region also showed improvement in the economic participation and opportunity subindex, with progress in closing the gender gap rising to 46 percent this year, up from 44 percent the year before.

This progress was uneven, however. Only three countries—Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Tunisia—improved their scores on gender parity in labour-force participation, while most countries in the region saw their scores decline.

Six countries, led by Kuwait, Oman and United Arab Emirates, increased their share of women in technical roles; however, only Oman increased its share of women in senior roles.

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On the political empowerment subindex, the report found the region had closed only 15.2 percent of its gender gap. Only United Arab Emirates has achieved parity at the parliamentary level, the report found.

Lebanon had the highest share of women in ministerial positions, at 32 percent. Tunisia, the report noted, is the only government in the region to have a woman as head of government. Najla Bouden became its first female prime minister—and the first in the Arab world—last fall.

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