The World Economic Forum (WEF) has ranked the Maldives 97th out of 136 countries in the gender gap index 2013, falling two spots from the previous year.
Whilst the Maldives scores highly in terms of educational equality, last week’s report shows it to be falling behind when it comes to economic and political parity between the sexes.
The WEF’s Global Gender Gap index captures the magnitude and scope of gender-based national disparities across four key areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.
Maldivian women are well-educated and enjoy relatively high standards of health, but they remain largely frozen out of the political and economic sectors, the WEF found.
Compared to the 2007 ranking, the Maldives has only moved two points up the scale in 2013, and continues to hover around the middle of gender gap index with a score of 0.66 percent – 0 representing complete inequality, and 1 representing full equality and the least gaps between sexes.
This mediocre score may stop the Maldives from being named as one of the worst countries to be a woman in the world, but the low ranking reflects the fact that it is failing to close the gender gaps preventing the country from achieving gender equality – one of the two remaining development goals the Maldives is yet to reach before 2015.
In the educational attainment category – which looks at literacy rates and access for men and women to basic and highest level education – the Maldives achieved a perfect equality score of 1.
On “health and survival”, the Maldives also scored relatively strongly due to high female life expectancy (77 years) and balanced sex-ratio figures.
However, when it comes to the “economic participation and opportunity” category of the index which looks at female labour force participation, salaries and access to high paid positions, the country’s performance is pitiful.
Maldives ranks 99th out of 136 countries in terms of economic equality between sexes, far behind that of some under-developed and poverty-stricken states in Africa such as Burundi and Malawi.
The economic inequalities faced by women have been flagged in the 2010 ‘Household Income and Expenditure Survey” report, which concluded that two thirds of unemployed people in the Maldives are women, and that working women earn a third less than their male counterparts in the same jobs or positions.
According to a UNDP report – ‘Women in Public Life in the Maldives’ published in 2010 – a “considerable gap” exists in the opportunities for women to take an active part in economic and political life” while “there were no policies in place that provide equal opportunities for women’s employment.”
Also missing are childcare facilities, flexible working hours, maternity leave, protection from unfair demotion or termination, and initiatives to support women to re-enter to job markets.
Restriction on women’s mobility and reluctance from family members to allow women to travel alone to other islands for work is also a key obstacle to employment.
While the tourism industry contributes indirectly to over 70 percent of the national income, a report published in September 2011 found that social stigma prevented women from working in the sector.
According to the study, ‘Women in Tourism: Challenges of Including Women in the Maldivian Resort Sector’, Maldivian women accounted for only three percent of all women working in the sector – which was already 92 percent male dominated
Meanwhile, the political empowerment pillar of the index by far contributes most to the Maldives’ slippage in ranking.
Only 5 out of 77 parliament members are women and as of now only two women are in 14 seat-cabinet and the country has never had an elected female head of state. This brings down Maldives political empowerment ranking to 101, making it one of the countries with least representation of women in shaping and implementing national policies.
Looking at the regional performance, Maldives comes ahead of India ranked at 101, Nepal at 121 and Pakistan at 135 – the world’s second worst place to be a woman, next to Yemen. However, Sri Lanka (55th), Bhutan (75th) and Bangladesh (93rd) fare much better due to improvements in reducing economic and political gaps.
Elsewhere, Iceland ranks first – for the fifth consecutive year – with the smallest gaps between sexes. It is joined in the top by Nordic neighbours, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark and a surprising number of less developed countries such as the Philippines (5th) and Nicaragua (10th), Cuba (15th) and Lesotho (16th).
“Both within countries and between countries are two distinct tracks to economic gender equality, with education serving as the accelerator. For countries that provide this basic investment, women’s integration in the workforce is the next frontier of change.” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.