Where are the most women the most unequal?

Where are the largest populations of most disempowered women in the world? The ten countries with the largest numbers of women and the lowest scores on the latest Global Gender Gap Report include China, India, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Japan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, and Turkey. Four of these countries are in Asia, three are in the Middle East, two are in Africa, and one is in Latin America. Only Ethiopia qualifies as low-income according to the World Bank, five are lower-middle income (India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and  Egypt), four are upper middle income (China, Brazil, Iran, and Turkey), and one is high income (Japan). Majority Hindu, Moslem, Christian, and Buddhist countries are all represented on the list. 

There are several important takeouts here. First, women’s disempowerment is not necessarily connected to a country’s level of income or development. Second women’s disempowerment is not the preserve of any one religion or culture. All very interesting. But one of the most important takeaways from this list is that it tells us exactly where we should be targeting national, regional, and global “female-empowerment” investments to make the most difference for the most women, and ultimately for the world.

The Gender Gap Index measures national gender gaps across four measures – economic, education, health, and political power. Countries are scored on each of these four measures and given an aggregate score, ranging between 0 and 1 (perfect gender equality). Among our ten countries, Pakistan scores the lowest in aggregate (.546) and Brazil scores the highest (.684). Country performance varies according to each measure. For example, most countries score well on health – all score above .9 – indicating that the lifespans of men and women are close to equal in the countries. Similarly, education scores are high across all ten countries – above .8 – indicating that men and women’s educational participation is very close to converging. However, scores on economic power (labor market participation and wages) are low ranging from .309 in Pakistan to .728 in Nigeria. This reflects the lower participation of women in paid work and in work that is paid at the same rate as work that men do. The lowest scores of all are recorded for political power, which reflects the low proportion of women elected to Parliaments relative to men. These scores range from .046 in Iran to .407 in India.

Where to target the gender-equity $ for maximum impact?

This information tells investors exactly where they should be targeting the gender-equity dollar. The most urgent need is for investments that encourage and support women to run for public office and to lead ministries and governments. This is particularly critical in Iran, Nigeria, Japan, Egypt, and Turkey. The second priority is for investments that increase women’s labor force participation and wages, especially in Pakistan, India, Iran, Egypt, Turkey, and India. Education investments are still needed in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ethiopia and health investments could still close remaining health gaps for women in China, India, and Pakistan.

When it comes to increasing women’s incomes, improving women’s health and education, and empowering woman as leaders in their own political systems, the women and girls living in these ten countries should be a special focus of their own governments, the United Nations, companies, and civil society. Women living in the five countries with the lowest gender gap scores (Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, and Turkey) have a special claim on international resources. If we are interested in targeting these resources to the largest groups of women who have the most to gain as a group, and the greatest to contribute to economic and human development, the Gender Gap Index analysis points to exactly what kinds of investments can have the greatest impact.