Sisterhood Blog

Israel's Dismal Gender Gap Index Ranking — and What It Means

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

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Sisterhood contributor Allison Kaplan Sommer recently wrote about how women working in Israel’s public sector earn less than their male counterparts. But gender inequality is not a problem relegated to the public sector, to be sure. According to data released recently by the World Economic Forum, Israel is ranked in 52nd place out of 134 countries in the Gender Gap Index — down from a rank of 45 in 2009. Actually, there seems to be a general downward movement. In 2006, Israel ranked 35th, and in 2007, Israel ranked 36th. Something is wrong with this picture.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2010, which collates research collected over the past five years, looks at the relative status of women in areas of education, health, economics and politics across the globe. The Scandinavian countries have consistently been ranked at the top of the list — this year, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland have taken the top four positions respectively. It is worth noting, however, that there has never been a case in which women’s status exceeded men’s status in any indicator. Put differently, in no country have women ever held a majority of parliamentary seats or made higher salaries on average than men.

According to report co-author Saadia Zahidi, Director and Head of Constituents at the World Economic Forum, 86% of the countries researched have narrowed their gender gaps, while 14% are regressing. The highest-ranking country has closed the gap by around 83%. Even Yemen, at the bottom, has closed some of its gap, and the United States in the top 20 for the first time. Israel, however, is wavering.

It was unclear to me whether Israel is in the category of countries going up or going down, and Zahidi gave me the following explanation via email:

As the rankings are relative, they can vary due to the performance of other countries or if new countries are added and they enter the rankings above Israel. Therefore, to track progress relative to a country’s own past performance, it is necessary to compare between past and present scores rather than ranks. Israel’s score has fluctuated, as you point out, but the overall trend is upward (when comparing between 2006 and 2010) indicating that gender gaps in Israel are narrowing.

On a scale where zero represents inequality and one represents equality, Israel is listed as having a 0.58 female to male ratio in wage equality for similar work, and a 0.64 female to male ratio in estimated earned income, both troubling indicators of women’s economic power that place Israel 110th in the world in terms of wage equality. Meanwhile, Israel ranks 17th in the world in labor force participation — meaning, women are working but are being paid terribly.

Politically, Israeli women fare badly as well. Women have a 14% parliamentary representation and a 17% ministerial representation, placing women 70th in the world.

Perhaps the most perplexing are the educational indicators. Israel ranks first in the world in girls’ and women’s enrollment in primary education, enrollment in secondary education, and enrollment in tertiary education, but ranks 68th in the world in terms of women’s literacy. Meaning, girls are being educated, but they are not being educated well.

“Education is a basic prerequisite [for closing gender gaps], but high rankings in education do not automatically translate into high levels of women’s economic and political participation,” Zahidi explained to me. “While many middle- and high-income economies have been successful at closing gaps in education, not all have been able to fully integrate and advance women once they are part of the talent pipeline. In Israel the wage gaps (both hard data and perceptions) are still fairly wide and there are a limited set of women in senior positions in business and politics.”

In short, when it comes to women’s economic and political status, Israel has quite a long way to go. As Zahidi says, “If women are now nearly as educated and as healthy as men, it makes sense that they should now be part of the decision-making processes.”


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