The World Economic Forum has released its annual Global Gender Gap Report and everyone from Matthew Kirdahy at Forbes to Kate Pickert at Time to Laura MacInnis at Reuters are all over the unsurprising news that the Scandanavian countries do better than the U.S. at gender equity — and the surprising news is that the Philippines, Lesotho (pictured), Mozambique and Moldova do too. Uh, what?The trouble is that the Global Gender Gap Report only takes into account the relative outcomes for men and women across 4 indices: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; political empowerment; and health and survival. It also very heavily weights for a female head of state (regardless of her political affiliation) as well as female participation in government. It ignores what it calls "variables related to country-specific policies, culture or customs," i.e., opportunities for women — which would be things like the availability to child care, the stated role of women in society, or their access to birth control or abortion. In fact, even the ratio of female to male participation in the work force that the study does take into account is the 5th lowest weighted score in the 14 indices the study takes into account. (By the way, if you were curious about contraceptive use, 68 percent of American women use some sort of "modern" contraceptive (i.e., not the rhythm method); in the Philippines, 33 percent do; in Lesotho, 35 percent do; in Mozambique only 12 percent do; and in Moldova, 44 percent of women use modern contraception to prevent pregnancy.) So, while it's great — and important — to note the educational gaps between women and men across countries (we have almost none, by the way) and women's participation in the political process as elected officials, is that really indicative of the real gender gap? Do women (or men) want to be able to stay home with children and is the availability of that opportunity — as supplied or supported by the state — as good or a better indicator than having a female head of state? Heck, if Sarah Palin had become our head of state, in fact, we would have vaulted far forward on this list but nothing for women would have substantively changed for the better. Is access to — and social ability to use or demand the use of — birth control a more important indicator of the gap between the status of men and women? What about violence against women? And, maybe more importantly, all factors of language and assimilation being equal, do you really think that, as a woman, you'd be in better shape in the Philippines, Lesotho, Mozambique or Moldova than here? The Global Gender Gap Report [World Economic Forum] Best Countries For Women [Forbes] Where Women Are Treated (Almost) Equally [Time] Sexes Equal In Education, Women Lack Power: Study [Reuters] Related: Indicators On Contraceptive Use [United Nations Statistics Division]
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