How Can We Measure the Gender Gap?

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

Research by the World Economic Forum seeks to quantify how nations are dividing resources between women and men—regardless of whether the countries are rich or poor.

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First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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