The deception of numbers [Archives:2006/1005/Viewpoint]

December 7 2006

Yemen came last among 117 countries around the world with regards to equality between men and women, while Sweden tops the list. The Global Gender Gap Report 2006, which covers 90 percent of the world's population, was compiled by researchers from Harvard University, the London Business School and the World Economic Forum. The report took four aspects in consideration: economic participation and opportunity, education attainment, political empowerment and health and survival. We even came lower than Saudi Arabia despite three decades of political participation of women and relative contribution to the public sphere.

The ranking shows that Yemeni women receive only 47 percent of men's rights in those four categories. The problem with numbers is that calculating an average is quite deceptive. What puts us way at the bottom is education and economy.

In fact, the report comes as an overall surprise with Spain ranking 13th, three steps above Canada, while Tanzania is just one place below America, which ranked 22nd.

If analyzing the factors individually, we find that Sweden comes first in political equality and is the only country where there are equal number of men and women in politics. Only 10 countries around the world have equal education opportunities and only the U.K. and France of the G8 countries are among those ten. There are 35 countries providing equal health care to men and women, including Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Brazil. And the most surprise of all is Tanzania as the only country with equal economic participation of men and women.

The Gender Gap Index is only one of many other indicators showing the severity of discrimination against women in Yemen. There are still many places in Yemen where females do all the cooking and the work and they are left to eat the remains of food left over by the men of the family. In many places in Yemen, women do not have a say about their future, whether it is education and work, or even marriage or the number of children. This challenge is why the women's movement in Yemen, including government and NGOs are working hard to improve women's conditions and defend their rights. One of the main strategic demands of this movement is the quota system whereby 30 percent of the elected and non-elected decision making positions in the state are reserved for women.

Placing last in the gender gap report is a blow to the face of all Yemenis, women and men. Somehow it feels unfair with all the efforts and progress, but that is the issue with averages; the achievements get swept away due to the disadvantages. If the quota system gets approved and implemented even if partially I am sure that in upcoming reports Yemen will take a giant leap and be placed in a better position – which Yemen truly deserves.