Response to: “Yemeni women reject the indings of the latest ‘Gender Gap’ survey” [Archives:2006/1008/Letters to the Editor]

December 18 2006

Fiona Greig,
Harvard University
Co-author of The Global Gender Gap Index 2006

As a co-author on the Global Gender Gap Index 2006, I can assure you that our intention with the index is certainly not to signal approval or disapproval of countries' efforts to empower women, much less create complacency within any country regarding their progress in closing the gender gap. Rather our goal is to motivate all countries to strive towards equality. As the author rightly noted, even the top performing country Sweden is only 81 percent of the way towards equality. We are hopeful to see improvement in Sweden's and Yemen's performance in the years to come and commend all countries on their efforts to close the gender gap.

Indeed it was precisely our intention to leave policies up to the countries themselves. This is because the causes of, and thus policies to address, gender gaps may vary drastically in different countries. As Husnia Ahmad Al-Kadri suggests in her quote, low literacy rates in Yemen may be due to early marriage trends; the same explanation may not hold for low literacy rates in Benin, however. It is our very hope that country experts, such as Sumayya Ali Rajja and Al-Kadri, will use the Gender Gap Index as a benchmark upon which to improve using policies and interventions that are appropriate for the specific cultural and social environment in Yemen.

As for Yemen's specific challenges there are many. But the main reason for its poor performance in the Gulf Region is its gender gap in education outcomes: in Yemen the female to male enrolment ratios are 0.73 in primary school, 0.46 in secondary school, and 0.38 in tertiary education. Almost all of the other Gulf countries have reached parity (or better) in school enrollment rates. Perhaps as a result, Yemen also does poorly relative to its neighbors in the gender gap in economic participation and opportunity, although it does score marginally higher than Saudi Arabia in this dimension.

Ali Rajja's attempt at the presidency is a testimony to the strength of the women's movement and potential for positive change in Yemen. I hope she will run again and win.