Canada has fallen three places down the global rankings for gender equality, its first dip since 2017.
With a self-proclaimed feminist prime minister and a gender-balanced cabinet, a person could be forgiven for thinking Canada was on the upswing. But on Tuesday, the annual World Economic Forum Gender Parity Report revealed Canada fell from 16th place to 19th — just below Switzerland, South Africa and Denmark. The United States fell to 53rd.
“Developing and deploying one-half of the world’s available talent has a huge bearing on the growth, competitiveness and future-readiness of economies and businesses worldwide,” the WEF said. “Gender parity has a fundamental bearing on whether or not economies and societies thrive.”
Now in its 14th year, the Global Gender Gap Report benchmarks 153 countries on their progress towards gender parity.
The 2020 report presents a mixed picture. Overall, the quest for equality has improved, with the report stating it will take 99.5 years to achieve gender parity worldwide, down from 108 years in the 2018 index. Greater political representation for women has contributed to this, but overall, the political arena remains the worst-performing dimension.
The report suggests none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and it’s unlikely our children will either.
Despite the drop in the overall ranking, Canada tied with a number of countries — including Australia, France, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand — for first place in educational attainment. The report said 25 countries have mostly closed the gender gap in education at 96.1 per cent. Health-care was also close to parity at 95.7 per cent.
The WEF gender parity index’s rankings are designed to create global awareness of the challenges that gender gaps pose, as well as the opportunities that emerge when action is taken to reduce them.
The political gender gap is high
The report said having women at the helm can help increase parity at every level, but politics remains the area where least progress has been made. In North America, only 18 per cent of the political gender gap has been closed.
In Canada, the report found representation of women in government hovers around 25 per cent, approximately 10 per cent below Western Europe’s average.
The report noted marginal improvements. Globally, the political gender gap is expected to take 95 years to close, compared to 107 years last year. Worldwide in 2019, women now hold 25.2 per cent of parliamentary lower-house seats and 21.2 per cent of ministerial positions, compared to 24.1 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively, last year.
But the report also said 85 countries have had no female head of state. Nine countries to date have zero women representation.
In terms of economic participation, the gender gap will take 257 years to close — an increase from the 202 years in the 2019 report. Globally, gender parity stands at 68.6 per cent. The bottom 10 countries have closed just 40 per cent of the gender gap.
Why are scores so low?
The report points to three factors for low scoring. The first includes low levels of women in managerial or leadership positions, wage stagnation, and lower labour force participation and income.
“Women have been hit by a triple whammy: first, they are more highly represented in many of the roles that have been hit hardest by automation, for example, retail and white-collar clerical roles,” the report said.
In emerging tech roles like cloud computing, just 12 per cent of professionals are women. In engineering and data and AI, the numbers are 15 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively.
Second, not enough women are entering professions where wage growth has been the most pronounced. As a result, women often find themselves in stagnant middle-low wage categories.
The third is a lack of “care infrastructure,” like daycare services, and lack of access to capital, which strongly limit the opportunities available to women.
The report’s findings highlight that there is no country where men spend the same amount of time on unpaid work as women. In countries where the ratio is lowest, it is still 2:1. There are still 72 countries where women are barred from opening bank accounts or obtaining credit.
Women spend at least twice as much time on care and voluntary work in every country where data is available, and lack of access to capital prevents women from starting businesses that could cater to their lifestyles, a key driver of income.
Canada has just over one-fifth of a per cent of its women in companies’ board of director positions at 25.8 per cent.
If these gender gaps aren’t addressed soon, the WEF warned that the overall gap could widen, undoing years of progress.
“Without changing legislation, cultural and social attitudes towards the relative amount of time women spend on unpaid domestic work and care, the burden of household and care duties will not be re-balanced, a situation that will continue to undermine women’s career opportunities,” the report said.