13 Nov 2008

NZ fifth on gender equality list

4:50 pm on 13 November 2008

New Zealand is the fifth best country in the world for gender equality, according to the latest world gender gap survey.

The World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index surveyed participation, educational attainment, political empowerment, health and survival.

Norway rose from third to first place and scored 82.45% in the table of 130 countries, denoting the percentage of the gap between women and men that has been closed to date.

Finland was second, followed by Sweden and Iceland.

However, the survey says that despite having had two female prime ministers over the past decade, New Zealand still lags behind in political equality for women.

Among its findings, the survey says New Zealand women have achieved education and health equality, but are still paid only 75% of what their male counterparts earn.

Saadia Zahidi is one of the co-authors of the survey and told Morning Report that New Zealand was not all that far from a top-four placing.

Warning countries may suffer

The study by the Geneva-based group warns that countries could suffer financially when women have limited access to opportunities. It says having more women at the top of financial institutions and government is "vital" to finding solutions to the economic turmoil.

"Greater representation of women in senior leadership positions within governments and financial institutions is vital not only to find solutions to the current economic turmoil, but to stave off such crises in future," said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the forum.

The BBC reports that in the United Kingdom, women have, on average, 80% of the opportunities afforded to men and the UK is slipping backwards in its attempts to close the gender gap.

The UK came 13th and slipped from 11th place last year, while France was among the countries whose ranking rose sharply, from 51st to 15th place, helped by gains in economic participation and political empowerment.

Australia ranked 21, while the United States was 27th on the index. At the bottom were Benin, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Chad and, lastly, Yemen.

The survey stems from a collaboration of individuals at Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley and the World Economic Forum.