16 November 2007

2007 World Economic Forum Study on the Gender Gap

The World Economic Forum's 2007 study examining the gender gap was released this week, and there is considerable reason for women in Canada to cheer. Though Canada slipped from 14th to 18th in the overall ranking, the score (with 1.0 equalling "perfect" equality) Canada received this year is 0.720, which is strong but signifies room for improvement.
Nowhere is it more clear that Canada can do better than in the realm of political participation. We rank 43rd overall when it comes to women in Parliament, facing an almost 4-to-1 ratio of men to women represented in the House of Commons. 1 in 4 ministers, however, are women, reflective of the talent that sits in the Conservative caucus. That a woman has been the Prime Minister of Canada for under a year in the total of our history drags down the overall mark, which has us at 36th overall. When you consider that Canada is a member of the world's most prominent alliance of democracies--NATO--this is a big blight on the record. We may be doing better than some other NATO members, but this is something that we need to examine in absolute terms, not relative terms compared to our friends and allies. I see where Stephane Dion is coming from when he advocates that 1 in 3 Liberal candidates should be women, but there is a lot more to the problem than can be fixed by simply nominating worthy women in unwinnable ridings to meet a quota. Attitudes towards public women need to be examined in detail to get a clearer picture; one need only look at the manner in which someone like Belinda Stronach has been treated since entering politics to see why so many women that would make excellent MPs opt out for a more quiet route to changing the world.
It is in other aspects of Canadian life that women have reason to cheer. On every measure of education levels, we have reached equality, and in this country, education = opportunity. Presently there are 3 women to every 2 men attending post-secondary education. This is fantastic. It means that the future trends for other areas, such as economic, will continue to be upward, hopefully eliminating the wage gap perhaps within two generations (if we're lucky!). It may also result in more women entering the political realm so that we can reduce that ugly mark on the record. On wage equality currently, we're looking at about 72% for similar work. That must be improved.
One key feature that I found to be of interest is the score we received when it comes to legislation that punishes offenders who commit violence against women. It is not the best score, but on a scale where 0 is best, and 1 is worst, we're at 0.25. Still some work to do, but we're getting there. This time of year is always one in which violence against women garners attention, so hopefully that can be utilized to get us to that ideal score.
There are, of course, many more indicators than simply economic and political that will measure true equality. When figures of violence against women have sharply declined from current rates, that will be a positive. Presently the economic costs of this are huge, and I'm surprised that the WEF didn't include a mention of the fact that violence against women results in billions of dollars of costs per year. All of this is linked together, and hopefully we will have a concerted and sustained effort to achieve genuine equality in Canada.

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