At the current rate of progress, it will take 157 years to close the gender gap in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017.

The region came in last place, behind south Asia, in the organisation’s annual Global Gender Gap Index, despite crossing the threshold of having a gender gap of slightly less than 40 per cent for the first time.

The index seeks to measure the relative gaps between women and men across four key areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment, benchmarking 144 countries on their progress on a scale of zero (imparity) to one (parity).

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the best performing country in the Middle East, coming 120th overall, performing best in the education (62nd) and political (67th) categories. Bahrain came 126th overall, Kuwait 129th, and Saudi Arabia 138th.

“The UAE has seen notable improvements on gender parity in ministerial positions and wage equality for similar work, [and] comes close to fully closing its gender gap on the educational attainment subindex,” read the report.

It added that Bahrain had achieved a sizeable increase in gender parity in estimated earned income. Kuwait has seen improvements in gender parity among professional and technical workers, as well as in life expectancy, but recorded a decline in wage equality for similar work and women’s share of estimated earned income.

Saudi Arabia saw some progress in gender parity of professional technical workers, but also experienced a modest decline in wage equality for similar work.

“Saudi Arabia has actually made the most progress in terms of female economic participation since the report began in 2006. Admittedly, it came from a low base, but proportionately it has been significant,” Saadia Zahidi, the WEF’s head of gender and education, told Arab News. “We will only see the effect of the decision to allow women to drive next year, but you can expect that to be positive,” she added.

The top performing countries overall were Iceland, Norway, Finland, Rwanda and Sweden.

Klaus Schwab, founder and chief executive of the World Economic Forum, said that as talent was one of the most essential factors for growth and competitiveness, if women and girls were not integrated the “global community loses out on skills, ideas and perspectives that are critical for addressing global challenges and harnessing new opportunities”.

But while there are countries that have made great progress, this year’s report found that, globally, gender parity is “shifting into reverse” for the first time since the WEF started measuring it in 2006.

Weighted by population, in 2017, the average progress on closing the global gender gap stands at 68 per cent – meaning an average gap of 32 per cent remains to be closed worldwide across the four index areas in order to achieve universal gender parity, compared to an average gap of 31.7 per cent last year.

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