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COVID-19 Has Delayed Gender Equality Progress by Another 36 Years: Report


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The COVID-19 pandemic has added 36 years to the amount of time it will take to close the gender gap worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The international organization released its “Global Gender Gap Report 2021” on Tuesday that estimates it will take an average of 135.6 years for women and men to reach parity. 

WEF previously estimated it would take 99.5 years to close the gap in its 2020 report.

"Another generation of women will have to wait for gender parity," WEF said in a statement released to France24. 

WEF examined gender data from 156 countries and has published the annual report since 2006, measuring equality in terms of economic opportunity, political power, education, and health. Countries are then ranked on a scale of 0 to 100 against the Global Gender Gap Index. Afghanistan, Guyana, and Niger were ranked for the first time this year. 

The global gender gap is 68% closed and is down by half a point compared to 2020, according to the report. The decline is mostly attributed to poor economic growth across countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Many women were forced to balance unpaid care and domestic work or in some cases leave their jobs entirely. Men and women were both hit economically the pandemic but of all the employed women in the world, 5% lost their jobs compared to 3.9% of men. There has also been a decline in the number of women hired for leadership roles, setting progress back by one to two years. 

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Western Europe was the best performing region whereas the Middle East and North Africa — where only 31% of women participate in the labor force — had the widest gap, the report found.

Iceland, ranked at the top of the list for the 12th year in a row with only 10.8% of its gender gap left to close, followed by Finland, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Lithuania, Serbia, Timor-Leste, Togo, and the United Arab Emirates have shown the greatest improvements and have closed their gender gaps by at least 4.4 percentage points or more. 

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Countries across the world saw improvements in certain areas but others continue to lag behind. Over a fifth of countries (37) reached gender parity in education. And despite the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health during the COVID-19 pandemic, 95% of the gender gap in health closed. 

Declines in gender equality still trump the wins and women are experiencing greater economic obstacles, declining political participation, and workplace challenges.

The report estimates that at this rate it will take 145 years to close the political gender gap given that women only hold 26.1% of parliamentary seats worldwide. More than half of the countries in the report (81) have yet to have a woman head of state. Wage gaps and a lack of women in senior and leadership roles are slowing down progress which means the economic gender gap is not expected to close until 2288. 

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COVID-19 recovery plans that apply a gender lens are key to ensuring that women and girls don’t fall even further behind. 

WEF stressed the importance of public and private partnerships to move forward and prioritize the promotion of gender equality. Through equitable paid family and medical leave, access to skill training, fair employment hiring, and promotions, women can receive the opportunities they need to reach their full potential.  

"If we want a dynamic future economy, it is vital for women to be represented in the jobs of tomorrow," Zahidi said in the statement.