U.S. ranks 17th out of 58 in gender gap study

By Rasmieyh Abdelnabi

The United States ranked 17th among 58 countries in a recent global gender gap study performed by the World Economic Forum.

The WEF is a not-for-profit international organization that works toward improving the world economic system by promoting a more equitable social system. The study’s main focus analyzes general equality among women and men.

The countries received overall scores based on five categories: economic participation, economic opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment and health and well-being.

Out of a possible seven points the United States received 4.4.

The No. 1 ranking country, Sweden, received a score of 5.53, and Egypt, the lowest ranking country, received 2.38.

According to the study, when compared to other countries, the United States scores well in educational attainment, political empowerment and economic participation, but falls short in economic opportunity and health and well-being.

Economic participation is defined by the ratio of women to men in the work field, which is about even in America. Economic opportunity looks at the “quality of women’s economic involvement, beyond their mere presence as workers.”

Political empowerment is measured by the number of women in decision-making roles, and educational attainment is the availability of education, while health and well-being is measured by comparing access to health care, nutrition, reproductive facilities and safety of women and men.

Colette Morrow, an associate professor at Purdue University-Calumet and a visiting women’s studies professor at NIU, has done work in Eastern Europe and said she was surprised the United States ranked poorly, despite its strong economy.

“Smaller and weaker economies ranked higher than the United States,” she said.

Barbara Burrell, associate professor of political science, agreed but was not surprised by the country’s comparably low ranking.

“I feel badly, I’m certainly not proud of my country,” Burrell said. Economically, we are one of the richest in the world, we have fabulous educational institutions and we have a culture that calls for equality.”

Morrow was most concerned about the scores of economic opportunities and health and well-being. As a mother-to-be, she experienced the hardships of holding a full-time job while pregnant. When she had a baby, Morrow had to combine sick-leave time with vacation time and still had to take four unpaid weeks off.

Although 1993’s Family Leave Act helped a little, not many women can afford to take 12 weeks off, Morrow said.

Not only is this a problem, but the lack of a national health care system, unlike most developed countries, contributes to the low score of health and well-being, Burrell said. “We have many kinds of people with no health insurance whatsoever,” she said.

“We have such a disparity, there are people men and women achieving at high rates but then we have people in poverty, mostly women and children,” Burrell said.

Bridging the gender gap is going to take the government’s involvement, she said. “We don’t have government policies that help women.”

Women represent the majority on campuses across the country so progress is real, but now the government needs to step in for the final push toward equality, she said.

Companies like Wal-Mart, already a target for many activists outside of gender issues, hire many women, but have low wages and don’t offer health insurance.

“They exploit women,” she said.

“I would’ve thought we would be a lot farther along when I first joined the women’s movement,” Burrell said.

Morrow is convinced she is pursuing a worthy cause: “Even if it is a futile endeavor, I am going to keep at it because it’s worth working on.”