Lesotho’s women on top of global gender rankings

IT IS often the case that when global reports are issued, developing countries are often in the bottom rankings.

They only seem to make it into the news when it is something not so positive.

So it came as a pleasant surprise to many of us to learn from Eziakonwa-Onochie, the UN resident co-ordinator and UNDP resident representative for Lesotho, that Lesotho was at number eight in the global rankings of 134 countries in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report for 2010. 

Not only that but it is also at number one out of 25 countries which make up the sub- Saharan cluster.

The issue of closing the gender gap between men and women is not just a matter of equality and human rights. 

As stated in the report, women comprise 50 percent of the potential talent base of the world and since human talent is the most important determinant of country competitiveness, this makes gap closure a matter of economic efficiency. 

That is why many multi-national corporations are aligning their vision with this goal by ensuring that women and girls in their communities benefit from the business.

The United Nations has created a new entity for gender equality and empowerment.

The power of women consumers is being recognised and globally, progress is being made in ensuring that the girl child gets an education.

It’s important to note how the structure of the study makes it possible for a developing country like Lesotho to rank ahead of developed nations such as the United Kingdom. 

The following three points explain this:

The report focuses on gaps in access to resources and opportunities between the sexes and not the actual levels of available resources and opportunities.

The emphasis is on gender equality and not women’s empowerment and the study is neutral on cases where women outperform men but rewards or penalises on the gap between men and women on the chosen variables.

The study evaluates countries on outcome variables rather than input measures.

As the authors clarify, data on men and women in high skilled jobs is collected (an outcome variable) but data on say length of maternity leave (a policy variable) is excluded. 

The top 10 positions are dominated by four Nordic countries, with Iceland taking first position, followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden in that order. 

The rest are, in order of ranking, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark, Lesotho, Philippines and Switzerland. 

South Africa is number 12 with the United Kingdom at number 15. 

Yemen has the widest gap between male and female and closes the rankings at number 134.

Lesotho has been steadily improving since the study was launched in 2006. 

Its rankings have moved from number 43 up to number 10 in 2009. 

The following are some of the salient points of Lesotho’s actual performance under each of the four criteria covered by the study:

Economic participation and opportunity:

Lesotho ranks number one overall in this category mainly because there are more women than men legislators, senior officials and managers with a ratio of 1.08. 

This trend is the same for women professional and technical workers with a female to male ratio of 1.38.

Educational attainment:

This is where Lesotho performed the best with number one ranking overall in all four variables under this criterion. 

The enrolment of females in primary, secondary and tertiary education was more than that of males. 

Also the country’s literacy rate for women is higher than that for males.

Health and Survival:

Again Lesotho attained a top ranking on both variables of sex ratio at birth and healthy life expectancy.

Political empowerment:

At number 34 overall, this criteria diluted the above rankings. Lesotho has, compared to other countries, lower ratios of women in parliament (0.32), women ministers (0.46) and a zero for the number of years with a female head of state.

One wonders what other factors affect the lives of women in Lesotho as it can be argued that generally, their quality of life does not fully reflect these findings. 

That calls for an altogether different study and remains the subject for another day. 

For now, there is cause to celebrate Lesotho’s achievement and hope the country maintains its upward climb to the top of the Global Gender Gap world rankings.

Tendai Murahwa is a writer, consultant and trainer living in Maseru.  Her areas of interest are women, leadership and personal transformation.  Her email address is afrikarizma@gmail.com

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