NEW YORK — Women have gained little ground in political leadership around the world, with men still in about 80 percent of key elected and appointed positions, according to the World Economic Forum's annual Global Gender Gap Report.
"Some countries are moving in the right direction, but very slowly," said Saadia Zahidi, head of the WEF's Women Leaders and Gender Parity program, in an interview before the release of the 2012 report. "We're talking about very small and slow changes."
The survey found that 20 percent of the political decision-making gap has been closed, Zahidi said. Last year, the report showed 19 percent of it had narrowed. Overall, Nordic nations were once again the most equal, according to the report. Iceland claimed the No. 1 position for the fourth year in a row, followed by Finland, Norway and Sweden.
The rankings are determined through 14 indicators of access to resources and opportunities, looking at variables such as maternal death rates, life expectancy and the number of female government ministers, in 135 countries. The Geneva-based WEF issued its first gender gap index in 2006.
The disparity in health and education categories has been shrinking faster than others, according to the report. About 96 percent of the differences in health outcomes between men and women have disappeared, and 60 percent of the gap in labor force participation, job advancement and wages has closed.
In political empowerment, measured by the ratio of women to men in minister-level and parliamentary positions, progress has been halting. In the United States, for example, 17 percent of Congress is female, relatively unchanged from 2005. The U.S. slipped to No. 22 in the overall index in 2012 from No. 17 last year, in part because of the decrease in the percentage of women in cabinet-level positions.
The WEF this year is starting pilot projects in Mexico, Turkey and Japan to try to close what the organization calls the "economic participation gender gap" in those countries by 10 percent over three years. WEF task forces will work with government agencies and private companies to establish different programs in each country, Zahidi said.