Performance by Region
Figure 6 provides a snapshot of the regional average gender gap closed so far. In 2020, four regions have closed at least 71% of their gaps. Western Europe is once again the region where the gender gap is smallest (76.7%), placing it ahead of North America, which has closed 72.9% of its gap, Latin America and the Caribbean (72.1%), and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (71.5%). The East Asia and the Pacific region (68.5%) is just ahead of Sub-Saharan Africa (68.0%), while South Asia has closed 66.1% of its gap and is ahead of the Middle East and North Africa, the region with the lowest performance (61.1%). The reader should note that population-weighted group averages are used throughout the report.
Figure 6: Gender gap closed to date by region, 2020
Figure 7: Evolution of the Global Gender Gap Index by region over time
Evolution in scores, 2006-2020
Progress towards gender parity is proceeding at different speeds across the eight geographic areas benchmarked by this report. Figure 7 tracks the evolution of the overall index since 2006 by region. It highlights the local progress towards gender parity made over the past decade in East Asia and the Pacific, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, North America, Western Europe, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean. All regions have reduced their gender gaps by at least three decimal points this year.
The two most improved regions this year are Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, which have both reduced their gaps by 1.4 percentage points, followed by Western Europe (gap reduced by 0.9 percentage points). All other regions improve at a slower rate (gaps have been reduced by 0.6 points or less).
The performances of Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America have been driven by a significant reduction of political empowerment gaps (+4.3 and +5.0 points, respectively, compared to the 2018 edition). While six of the eight regions have improved their Political Empowerment subindex scores, the progress of these two regions are the most significant in this edition of report, and among the most remarkable year-on-year improvements in this subindex since 2012. In contrast, Political Empowerment in East Asia and the Pacific is regressing, marking the only negative trend in this subindex across all regions.
Progress in Economic Participation and Opportunity across regions is more mixed. Only one region improves by more than 1 percentage point (Middle East and North Africa, which began from a low base, 43%); while in two regions (North America and South Asia) gender gaps in this subindex are marginally wider than they were in the previous assessment, and in all other regions there is virtually no change on this aspect.
In terms of the Educational Attainment and Health and Survival subindexes, most regions register similar scores to those reported in the last edition. However, both East Asia and the Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa have reduced educational gender gaps by about 1 percentage point.
Figure 8: Regional performance 2020, by subindex
Breaking down regional results by subindex reveals further differences across geographies (see Figure 8). Overall, three facts stand out from this analysis. First, while political empowerment has improved significantly in many regions, it is still the area with the largest gender gap in all regions. It is particularly low in the Middle East and North Africa, where only 10% of the gap has been closed, as well as in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (15%), East Asia and the Pacific (16%) and North America (18%). On the other hand, Western Europe is the region where progress towards gender parity in politics is the most advanced, as 41% of the gap has been closed. However, much still needs to be done to advance women’s political participation even in this region.
Second, Health and Survival and Educational Attainment gaps are, as discussed above, relatively small across all regions. Third, Economic Participation and Opportunity is the subindex where gender gaps vary the most across regions. In North America and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 76% and 73% of the gaps have been closed so far, while South Asia (37%) and Middle East and North Africa (43%) are the regions where women are the most disadvantaged in the workplace.
While these conclusions can be drawn from the direct comparison of regional subindex aggregates, analysing country performances within each region brings to light a more complex reality.
As introduced above, the East Asia and the Pacific region has closed 68.5% of the overall gender gap. Since 2006 its progress towards gender parity has been very slow with a mere 2.5 percentage point gain. It represents the second-smallest gain over the period, after North America, but the gender gap itself in this region is considerably narrower. If the region maintains the same rate of improvement as the 2006–2019 period, and given the current gap, it will take another 163 years to close the gender gap, the most time of any region (see Figure 6). And though it is eight years shorter than what was predicted in the previous edition of the index, thanks to a small gain of 0.3 percentage points, this duration is three times longer than what is predicted for Western Europe (54 years).
This lacklustre performance is particularly concerning considering the region is home to 1.13 billion women, the most of any region. In China (score of 67.6%, 106th) alone, there are almost 700 billion women still facing major barriers to economic and political advancement. In such a vast and culturally and economically diverse region, averages necessarily conceal large differences among countries. With an overall score of 79.9%, New Zealand features among the top 10 nations globally and leads the region ahead of the Philippines (78.1%, 16th). Papua New Guinea, covered for the first time, is the region’s worst performer with a score of 63.5% (127th globally).
Similar to all regions, Political Empowerment (one of the four subindexes of the Global Gender Gap Index) is where the region performs the worst by far (see Figure 8). But unlike all the other regions, the East Asia and Pacific region is where the performance has deteriorated since last year. With only 15.9% of the gap closed, the region is on par with Eastern Europe and Central Asia (15.0%) and just ahead of the Middle East (10.2%), while 25 percentage points behind Western Europe. Only four of the region’s 20 countries studied have a score above 20%, including New Zealand (47.4%, 13th globally), while four countries from the region rank among the worst 10 performers, including Japan (4.9%, 144th) and Brunei Darussalam (3.1%, 148th), while Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu rank last in the world, with a score of 0. This means that, in either country, there has never been a female head of state in the past 50 years, and there is currently no woman in parliament or in ministerial positions.
The region has closed two-thirds of its economic gender gap, posting a small gain compared with last year. Based on the rate of progress between 2006 and 2019, it will take approximately another 100 years to close the gap. The region’s best performing country in this subindex, Lao PDR, ranks 2nd globally with a score of 83.9%, on par with Iceland and just behind Benin (84.7%).
The region has closed 94% of the gender gap in terms of health and survival, but it remains the worst-performing of all regions and has made no progress since 2006. Since regional averages are weighted by population, the poor performances of China and, to a lesser extent, of Viet Nam (last and 151st, respectively, out of 153 countries in this subindex) contribute significantly to this result. The two countries have, respectively, the lowest and the third-lowest female/male ratio at birth, with approximately 90 girls born for every 100 boys. The global average stands at 94 girls for every 100 boys. The region’s performance in terms of healthy life expectancy is in line with other regions: on average, women consistently outlive mean by a few years—specifically, by 1.3 years in China and by as many as 6.9 years in Mongolia.
Finally, Educational Attainment is the subindex where the region is the closest to parity, with 98% of the gap closed to date. There is virtual parity (score of 99% or more) in nine of the 20 countries of the region. The region’s worst performer, Papua New Guinea, has closed 90% of its educational gender gap (132nd).
The Eastern Europe and Central Asia region has closed 71.5% of its gender gap so far, yet the five points that separate this region from Western Europe (the region where the average gaps are the narrowest) represent a significant difference. Globally, on average, progress towards gender parity have been as slow as 0.3 percentage points per year; and if the Eastern Europe and Central Asia will close its gap at this average rate it may take almost 20 years for this region to catch up with today’s Western Europe performance. To date, the time to fully close its overall gender gap is estimated to be 107 years.
Overall, gender gaps across Eastern Europe and Central Asia are relatively evenly distributed: 21 of the 26 countries in this region have closed at least 70% and the top-ranked country (Latvia 78.5%) is 16 percentage points higher than the lowest-positioned Tajikistan (62.6%), which is a significantly smaller difference than that observed in any other region. Most of the countries in this region (18 out of 26) have improved performances since last year, while eight have decreased their overall scores or remained stagnant.
Gender gaps are small across all countries in terms of Educational Attainment (above 94%) and Health and Survival, where all but three countries (Albania, Armenia and Azerbaijan) have closed at least 97% of this gap.
In terms of Economic Participation and Opportunity, thanks to a high participation of women in the labour force (74.7%) and a remarkable high share of women in senior roles (47%), Belarus achieves the best subindex performance (83.7%), which is 34.1 percentage points higher than Tajikistan’s (49.6%), and 22.4 percentage points higher than the second-worst performer, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Women’s participation in the labour force is generally high in many countries of the region. Consequently, gender gaps yet to be closed in this dimension are 20% or lower in 18 of the 26 countries in this region. Notably, in both Lithuania and Latvia, over 74% of women are in the labour market, which translates into 4% and 6% of gaps yet to close, respectively.
Two additional positive aspects characterize this region: first, the share of women among senior officials is relatively high. In five countries (Belarus, Latvia, Georgia, Poland and Russian Federation) at least 40% of these senior roles are women, and in another 10 countries, women who are senior officials are above 35%. Second—and possibly related to the high participation of women in the labour force—a few countries demonstrate relatively low differences in income between genders, including Slovenia (80.9%), Lithuania (76.3%) and Moldova (74.9%).
In contrast, Political Empowerment is weak in most countries of the region. The best regional performer is Albania, which has closed only 37.6% of its gap, although this is over 30 percentage points ahead of the lowest performer, Azerbaijan (which has only closed only 6.3 percent of this gap).
The Latin America and the Caribbean region has closed 72.1% of its gender gap so far, progressing 1 percentage point since last year. At this rate it will take 59 years to close the gender gap.
All countries in the region fall into a 13.8% range between the best performer Nicaragua (80.4%) and the lowest-performing Guatemala (66.6%). Among the 24 countries covered in both the 2018 and 2020 editions, 15 countries have improved their overall scores and nine have registered a stagnant performance or reversal since last year. Among the most improved countries, Mexico reduced its gender gap by 3.4 points on a year-over-year basis.
Looking at the four subindexes, all countries are well positioned in terms of Health and Survival, where 13 countries have achieved full gender parity, and even the least-performing country in the region (Suriname) has closed almost 97% of its gender gap. Similarly, gender parity in Educational Attainment is complete in 11 countries, and is above 96.7% in all other countries, including the least-performing (Guatemala).
Regional performances on the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex, however, vary within a wider range (26.4 percentage points) between the score of the Bahamas (83.8%) and that of Mexico (57.4%), which, despite a remarkable improvement in other dimensions, has not improved its gap over the past three years. In fact, Mexico attains the second-lowest labour force participation of women in the region after Guatemala. Only 47% of Mexican women are in the labour market, corresponding to a ratio between women and men of 57%. In Guatemala, 43% of women are actively engaged in the labour market, corresponding to a ratio of 49.5% relative to men’s participation. In other large economies in the region women are relatively more active: in Brazil and Colombia over 60% of women are in the labour market and in Argentina, 57%. However, only one country (Barbados) is close to achieving gender parity in labour force participation, as 75% of the women and 80% of men are in the labour market today.
Among women already in the labour force, in many countries they are as equally engaged in professional and technical professions as men: in 11 countries at least 98% of the gap has been closed already, and only in one country (Cuba) is the gap still large (38.4%). Differences among countries are more marked when it comes to senior roles. In some countries gender parity has been achieved (namely, Colombia, Bahamas, Honduras and Jamaica), yet three countries (Argentina, Peru and Chile) are still halfway from achieving gender parity in this aspect. Similarly, income disparities among genders remain wide: four countries (Argentina, Guatemala, Suriname and Mexico) have closed between 46% and 50% of their income gender gap so far, and even the best performer, Nicaragua, has yet to close over 32% of its gap.
Political empowerment gaps are also large in many countries of the region. However, recent fast progress in Costa Rica and Mexico has allowed these countries to join Nicaragua as the group of countries that has closed at least 46% of the gap on this subindex. Other countries have progressed at a fast pace on this dimension this year: Colombia, notably, has closed 31.8% of its gap versus 20.3% in the previous assessment, and another six countries have doubled their scores since 2018 but remain below the 30% level. Moreover, in 2019 there were almost 50% of women among parliament members in Bolivia, Cuba and Mexico, and at least 50% of women among ministers in Colombia, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has the lowest score (61.1%) of all regions in the Global Gender Gap Index. The gap has narrowed by 0.5 percentage points since last year and by 3.6 points since 2006. Assuming the same rate of progress going forward, it will take approximately 150 years to close the gender gap in the MENA region, 15 years shorter than what was predicted last year. For now, many women in the region continue to face limitations of basic rights, including for divorce, inheritance, asset ownership, access to justice and freedom of movement.
The best-performing country, Israel, attains a middle position in ranking (64th ) on the overall index. The other 18 countries in the region rank below 100. The second-best performer is the United Arab Emirates at 120th, followed by Kuwait (122nd) and Tunisia (124th). Seven of the 10 countries with the largest gender gaps in the world are from the MENA region, including Iraq and Yemen, which are, respectively, penultimate and last in the ranking of 153 countries.
The MENA region has essentially closed the health gender gap, with an average score of 96.9% (maximum is 98.0). In all MENA countries except in Bahrain and Kuwait, women live longer than men on average. The educational gender gap of the region is extremely narrow, with a score of 98.0 (maximum of 1). However, serious gender imbalances persist in some countries when it comes to literacy. In Yemen, only 35% of women are literate, compared with 73% of men.8 In Mauritania and Morocco, the differential is approximately 20 percentage points. While the situation is by and large satisfactory in terms of health outcomes and educational attainment, the gender gap is cavernous in the remaining two categories.
The region’s average score on the Political Empowerment subindex is 10.2%, the worst performance among all regions and four times worse than the Western European average. It must be noted, however, that the average has almost trebled since 2006, when the score was 3.5%. Three-quarters of MENA countries rank beyond the 100th mark in this subindex. Women are almost absent of political life in Oman (2.1%, 150th) and Yemen (1.9%, 151st). There has been no female head of state in the last 50 years in 17 of the 19 MENA countries studied. Only Israel and Turkey have had a female head of state (for 5.7 and 2.7 years, respectively). The average female representation in parliament is 15%, the lowest share of all regions.
Finally, the economic gender gap runs deep. MENA labour markets are generally characterized by low female participation and discrimination against women, with dire consequences on economic growth, social cohesion and social mobility. The regional average score on the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex is 42.5%, the second-lowest mark after South Asia (36.5%). In 16 countries, less than half of women participate in the labour force. The rate is even below 20% in six countries, including in Yemen, where the female participation rate of 6.3% is the lowest in the world. Furthermore, the estimated earned income of women is on average 28% of what men earn. In six countries the ratio is less than one-fifth.
The South Asia region has closed two-thirds of its gender gap. The region is home to 860 million women, three-fourths of whom live in India. Among the eight regions of the world, South Asia’s gender gap is the second-largest after the MENA region, where only 61% of the gender gap has been closed. Since 2006, South Asia is the region that has progressed the most, gaining six percentage points. If the rate of progress of the past 15 years was to continue—a very strong hypothesis indeed—it will take 71 years to close the region’s gender gap.
Reflecting the magnitude of the challenge when it comes to gender parity, Bangladesh (overall score of 72.6%) is the only one of the seven South Asian countries studied to feature in the top 100 of the Global Gender Gap Index (see Table 1). India ranks 112th (66.8%) and Pakistan (56.4%) is antepenultimate, only ahead of Iraq and Yemen.
The performance of South Asia across the four main areas of the Global Gender Gap Index is one of stark contrasts. With a score of 38.7% on the Political Empowerment subindex, the region is on par with the leading region, Western Europe (40.9). The score is four times better that of the MENA region (10.2), which otherwise has a very similar profile to South Asia in the other three subindexes. The performance is also helped by the fact that Bangladesh (1st), India (4th), and Sri Lanka (9th) are among the 10 countries with the most years with a female head of state in the past 50 years. Indeed, Bangladesh is the only country in the world where that number exceeds the number of years with a male head of state (25.6 compared with 24.4). In terms of female representation in parliament and in cabinets, however, South Asia’s performance is largely in line with other emerging regions. For example, women represent 20% or less of the parliament in six of the seven countries studied, the only exception being Sri Lanka (33%, 34th).
In fact, South Asia is the only region that scores better on the Political and Empowerment subindex than on the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex, where South Asia has only bridged 37% of its gender gap. The region ranks last in this dimension, notably standing 6 percentage points behind the MENA region and almost 40 points behind North America. The situation has been deteriorating steadily, from a peak at 45% in 2012, and the gender gap is now significantly wider than in 2006.
South Asia has made significant strides in narrowing its educational gender gap. In 2006, the gap stood at almost 20%, the largest of all regions. Since then, the gap has narrowed to 6%. Female attainment at all education levels is generally on par, or at times better than for men across the region—but absolute attainment levels for both sexes remain generally low. The main issue is gender differences in literacy rate. In India, 66% of women are literate compared with 82% of men. Pakistan’s literacy rates are 46% and 71%, respectively.
Among the four areas the index looks at, health and survival is where the South Asia’s gender gap is the narrowest, with a score of 94.7%, even though the region has stagnated since 2006. Women enjoy a longer healthy life expectancy than men do, except in Bhutan. The performance continues to be undermined by the abnormally low sex ratios at birth in India (91 girls for every 100 boys) and Pakistan (92 girls for every 100 boys).
Sub-Saharan Africa has closed 68.0% of its gender gap so far. This result is significant progress since the last edition of the report, which leads to a decline in the number of years it will take to close the gender gap, now estimated at 95. Performances are widespread in this region between the best performer, Rwanda (which has so far closed 79.1% of its gap), and Congo, DRC (57.8%). Among the 33 countries covered in both the 2018 and 2020 editions, 21 countries have improved their scores and 12 have regressed since last year. Seven of the 33 have narrowed their gender gap by more than 2 percentage points; the most improved country (Ethiopia) has reduced almost 5 percentage points of its gap in one year and has currently closed 70.5% of its overall gender gap.
Notably, seven countries (Madagascar, Ghana, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Liberia and Mali) have reduced their Educational Attainment gap between 1.5 and 4.7 percentage points. However, three countries (Guinea, Congo DRC and Chad) where the educational gender gap is larger have registered a stagnant performance and have yet to close 32% and 40% of their gaps. On the other side of the spectrum, three countries have already achieved parity in education (Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia), and four have closed more than 98% of their gaps. Gender differences in education remain particularly large beyond elementary school. For instance, gender gaps in tertiary enrolment are as large as 81% in Chad, and over 50% in Ethiopia, Burundi, Benin, Guinea, Mali and Sierra Leone.
Gender parity in Health and Survival is relatively advanced in most countries of the region. All countries achieve full parity in terms of sex-ratio at birth; however, life expectancy remains low for both men and women in many countries. For instance, Guinea, the country with the largest gender gap on the Health and Survival subindex, has already closed 96.2% of this gap, yet women and men can expect to live only 52.2 and 52.1 years of healthy life, respectively.
Regional divides in Economic Participation and Opportunity gender parity are particularly stark in Sub-Saharan Africa. Benin, the best performer, has closed 84.7% of this gap while Cote d’Ivoire only 54.5%. Further, four of the five most improved on this subindex are from Sub-Saharan Africa (Cape Verde, Mali, Nigeria and Sierra Leone). However, the particularly strong performance of Benin reflects similarly low levels of income for both men and women, as well as no information on presence of women among senior positions and technical workers.
On average, labour participation of women is relatively high in most Sub-Saharan African countries. In Burundi, Guinea, Rwanda and Sierra Leone there are at least as many women as men in the labour market, and in Senegal, the lowest performer, at least 36% of the women are in the labour market.
In contrast, however, while there are many women in the labour force in most countries, senior roles are preponderantly still held my men. Only in Cameroon is the situation relatively advanced (49% of senior officials are women); while in most countries the share of women among senior officials varies between 30% and 14%.
Income and wage gender gaps are also large in most countries. In terms of wages, few countries (Burundi, Rwanda and Guinea and Gambia) have already closed at least 75% of their gaps, while Ethiopia and Lesotho have yet to close over 50% of their gaps.
Cross-country differences are even starkers in terms of income, where three countries (Burundi, Liberia and Zambia) have achieved gender parity (though granting low income levels to both men and women), while in two countries (Gambia and Ghana) gender gaps in income are as large as 65% and 68.9%.
In parallel to limited presence of women among senior officials, the presence of women in politics is also underwhelming in most countries. Rwanda (the only country with a 50% share of woman in parliament in the region) and South Africa have closed at least 50% of their political empowerment gender gaps to date, while 21 countries closed only between 20% and 30% of their gaps. Notably, there are few women in parliament in half of the countries in the region, including Nigeria, where only 3.4% of parliament members are women. Similarly, women in ministerial positions are between 18% and 8% across 15 economies. Rwanda, South Africa and Ethiopia are important positive exceptions, with more than 48% of women among their ministers.
The presence of women is even scarcer at the head-of state level; 24 countries of the 34 assessed have never had a woman as a head of state over the past 50 years.
Since 2006, Western Europe has been the best-performing region on the Global Gender Gap Index and the 2020 edition is no exception. With an average score of 76.7% (out of 100), the region has now closed 77% of its gender gap, up from 76% in the previous edition and 71% in 2001. If progress over the period 2006–2020 was to continue at the same pace, it will take 54 years to close the gap in Western Europe, seven years shorter that what had been predicted previously.
The region is home to the four most gender-equal countries in the world—in order, Iceland (87.7), Norway (84.2), Finland (83.2) and Sweden (82.0); seven of the top 10 (see country commentaries for top 10 countries below); and half of the top 20. Twenty-one of the 24 Western European countries studied feature in the top half of the overall rankings. The exceptions are Greece (84th), Malta (90th) and Cyprus (91st). Indeed, almost 20 percentage points separate Iceland from Cyprus.
With the educational and health gender gaps virtually closed across all countries in the region, all efforts are concentrated on the political and economic gender gaps. On the Political Empowerment subindex the region is the most advanced among all regions, but only 41% of the gender gap has been closed in this area. In terms of the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex, Western Europe (69.3%) lags behind North America (75.6%) and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (73.2%).
Consequently, the size and evolution of the political and economic gender gaps are the two differentiating factors among Western European countries. For example, Iceland leads the Political Empowerment Category globally with a score of 70.2%, whereas Cyprus ranks 111th with a score of 11.2%, with female representation below 20% in the parliament and the cabinet. And while the score differential is smaller, Italy (59.6, 117th) trails Iceland (83.9, 2nd) by 115 places on the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex.
Spain (79.5, 8th overall) jumps 21 places from the previous edition, largely as a result of the nomination in 2018 of the world’s most female-centric government where 65% of ministers are women. It is one of the only 10 governments in the world with a share of 50% or more. Austria (74.4, 34th) also leapfrogs 19 places thanks to significantly larger female representation in both the cabinet and the parliament. On the other hand, the Netherlands loses ground (73.6, 38th, down 11 places in the rankings) as a result of lower female political representation, which remains high by international standards.
The North America region groups the United States (72.4, 53rd) and Canada (77.2, 19th).9 In 2006, both Europe and North America had closed 71% of their gender gaps. Today, Europe has closed 77% and North America, 73%. As a result of this positive but much slower evolution, it is expected that it will take almost three times longer to close the gap in North America (151 years) than in Europe (54 years). Like Europe, North America has closed its educational and health gender gaps. The region boasts the smallest gap when it comes to economic participation and opportunities (having closed 76% of the gender gap in this area), but this figure has remained exactly the same since 2006. In Europe, the gap is larger at 30% but has been reduced by almost 10 points since 2006. It is in the area of political empowerment that offers most room for improvement in North America, where only 18% of the political gender gap has been closed. This is less than half that of Europe (41%) and also worse than in Latin America (27%), South Asia (39%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (21%). In Canada and the United States, women representation in congress hovers around 25%, approximately 10% below Western Europe’s average. And while Canada’s cabinet achieved gender parity in 2018, only 20% of ministerial positions in the United States were filled by women. In both countries, there has been no female head of state in the past 50 years (there was a female prime minister in Canada for four months in 1993).
Table 3: The Global Gender Gap Index rankings by region, 2020