10 Countries With Very Surprising Women's Rights Rankings

Since 2006, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has published an annual report on gender inequality around the world. The Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) ranks countries according to their scores in four categories: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. The GGGR generates a lot of commentary about which countries are the “best” and “worst” for women, but since the report is actually about inequality and not empowerment, this is not a correct interpretation. Countries where women are relatively well off internationally can receive very low scores if women’s rights and opportunities are less than those of their countrymen (emphasis on the men). Here are 10 countries whose 2011 rankings might surprise you.

1. The Philippines (Ranked 8th)

In the most recent publication of the GGGR, the Philippines ranked just below Denmark but above the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands. This is surprising given the Philippines’ low GDP per capita of $3547. The Philippines’ high ranking, however, is tied to its commitments to universal education and women’s health care, and its strong legislation against gender discrimination.

2. Cuba (Ranked 20th)

Cuba ranks 20thon the GGGR, placing it only three countries below the United States and above many wealthier countries. Like the Philippines, Cuba has virtually no gender gap when it comes to education, and is ranked among the top countries in the world for women’s access to health care.

 3. Mozambique (Ranked 26th)

With very low scores on women’s health and educational attainment, it is surprising to find Mozambique so high in the GGGR rankings. However, Mozambique is launched to the top of the list by its emphasis on women’s political empowerment. While there is no legal quota for the number of women in parliament, Mozambique’s political parties have introduced voluntary quotas.

4. Luxembourg (Ranked 30th)

Luxembourg has a very small gender gap in educational attainment, health, and economics. However, with a female-male ratio of .25 in parliament, Luxembourg lags behind other Western European countries on the GGGR’s political empowerment scale.

5. Austria (Ranked 34th)

Austria’s scores look similar to Luxembourg’s for economics, politics, and health care, but Austria has a wider gender gap on economic empowerment measurements. Austrian women report earning significantly less than men for similar work, and the ratio of female to male [legislators, senior officials, and managers] is only .39.

6. France (Ranked 48th)

France has very small gender gaps in education and health, but its low scores in the political and economic empowerment result in a much lower GGGR score than comparable Western European countries. This gender gap became a topic of international discussion in the wake of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal last spring. That event may have brought greater visibility to enduring inequalities, as French feminist Anne Daguerre explained in her piece in The Guardian.

7.  Bangladesh (Ranked 69th)

With a GDP per capita of under $1,700, Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world. The gender gaps for economic opportunity, education, and health care are very large. Thanks to its high score in the political empowerment category, however, Bangladesh ranks much higher on the GGGR than wealthier India (#113) and Pakistan (#133).

8. Brazil (Ranked 82nd)

Brazil has a female president and a rapidly growing economy, but it ranks in the bottom half of countries on the GGGR. Surprisingly, this low score is attributed mainly to its performance in the “political empowerment” category of the report’s analysis. The WEF reports that Brazil has very limited legislation protecting women against violence.

9. Japan (Ranked 89th)

Given its high GDP per capita ($30,920 in 2011) and low population growth (-.14%), it is surprising to see Japan with such a low ranking on the GGGR. However, the WEF reports that there are significant inequalities in economic participation and opportunity in Japan, as well as in women’s political empowerment. Japanese women face highly unequal wages, and attend university at significantly lower rates than Japanese men. The ratio of women to men in parliamentary or ministerial positions in the Japanese government is .13.

10. Turkey (Ranked 122nd)

At number 122, Turkey ranks in the bottom 15 on the GGGR index. The report shows that Turkey has a very wide gender gap with regards to educational attainment and economic participation.  This is surprising given the discussions (albeit at a standstill) about Turkey joining the European Union. In fact, a New York Times article cited Turkish experts who believe that “women’s progress is being undermined by Turkey’s flagging prospects for European Union membership.”