Saadia Zahidi is a Director and Head of Constituents at the World Economic Forum. In this role, she is responsible for engaging women leaders, gender parity groups, religious leaders, NGOs and labor leaders. She is also co-author of the Forum’s "Global Gender Gap Report," a benchmark in global research on the gap in parity between women and men.
Zahidi previously worked as an economist with the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Program. She has a bachelor's degree from Smith College and a master's degree in international economics from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.
Question: What are global gender gaps?
Saadia Zahidi: What we try to do is see whether countries are dividing resources equitably between women and men regardless whether they are rich countries or poor countries. And so when you look at it that way what we find is that the highest ranking countries in the world—which are Iceland and Sweden and Finland and Norway—they’ve closed around 80% to 85% of their gender gap. So even the highest ranking countries have not quite reached that 100% mark.
At the bottom end, you’ve got countries like Chad and Pakistan and Yemen—and Yemen, for example has closed about 46% of its gender gap. So women tend to have less than half of the resources and opportunities that men have in a country such as Yemen. That’s sort of the scale of things. So you’ve got countries performing extremely poorly and countries performing very well, but still not having reached gender equality.
Question: How are gender gaps and empowerment for women different?
Saadia Zahidi: You know, essentially what we were trying to do is see, certainly there are rich countries that are able to provide high levels of health and high levels of education to women. But then we would be having just basically a comparison from a rich country to a rich country. What we wanted to do is to be able to see how are all countries—regardless of how rich they are—how well are they distributing their resources between women and men. And so to be able to have a sense of the gaps, whether it’s a poor country or whether it’s a rich country.
We had a debate about, you know, do we want a feminist index. Do we want to have an index where if countries are giving more of something to women, should they be rewarded more? And what we decided to go for is a parity index. And so reward countries up to parity and if, for example, in countries such as Sweden you’ve got 1.5 women for every man in university, that country doesn’t get extra points as compared to a country that’s got absolute parity in terms of tertiary level enrollment.
Question: How do you measure global progress for women?
Saadia Zahidi: We tried to look at very objective outcome measures. So we’re saying we’re not looking at cultural factors, we’re not looking at policies and other environmental factors that would play into what those outcomes are, so we’re not looking at policies, for example, related to maternity leave. And we’re not looking at land rights. But what we are looking at is what are the outcomes, for example, on health and survival. What’s happening in terms of women’s healthy life expectancy as compared to that of men’s? What’s happening in terms of the sex ratio at birth?
We’re then looking at a second category, which is educational attainment. So what’s happening in terms of literacy rates, but then also primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level enrollment which tells you a lot about what’s going to happen in terms of the future of that workforce?
Third, we look at economic participation. So first, sheer number of women that are in the workforce, labor force participation, then we’re looking at some idea of what is the wage gap? So not just the wage gap overall in terms of average incomes, but what’s the wage gap for similar work or for the same work. And finally, whether women are making into leadership positions.
And then the fourth category is political empowerment. So what’s happening in terms of women in Parliament, women in ministerial level positions, women in the executive office? Those are the four categories that essentially tell us where do women stand in terms of gaps between women and men.
Recorded on October 13, 2010
Interviewed by John Cookson