• Iceland has been the frontrunner on the Global Gender Gap Index for 11 years in a row. It’s followed by Nordic neighbours Norway, Finland and Sweden.
  • The latest figures show the global gender gap narrowed slightly to 68.6%. But gender equality is still almost a century away at the current pace of change.
  • The United States is 53rd in the ranking, a drop of two places. China is down three to 106th.

Iceland has once again held on to the top spot in the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Index.

For 11 consecutive years the Nordic nation, with a population of just over 360,000, has been the frontrunner in the index, which benchmarks countries according to how close they are to reaching gender equality.

Iceland has closed almost 88% of its gender gap and increased its lead over second-ranked Norway.

The World Economic Forum Gender Gap Top 10
Iceland leads the way at gender parity
Image: World Economic Forum

A century away

The latest figures indicate an overall positive direction of travel.

The global gender gap – which is measured across four key areas, or subindexes: health, education, work and politics – has narrowed slightly to 68.6%. The average gap left to close is now 31.4%, compared to 32% last year.

But there is still an excruciatingly long wait for gender equality: it will take 99.5 years to achieve full parity between men and women at the current rate of change.

Best performers

The majority of countries made strides towards parity in the last 12 months – some moving faster than others. The 16 countries that make up the index’s top 10% recorded an improvement of more than 3.3% year-on-year.

Since the report began in 2006, Nordic countries have frequently monopolized the top spots in the ranking, and 2020 is no exception. Just below second-placed Norway are Finland and Sweden.

In fifth place is Nicaragua, followed by New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, Rwanda and Germany.

The most-improved countries are Albania, Ethiopia, Mali, Mexico and Spain.

The United States is 53rd this year, a fall of two places. The world’s second-largest economy, China, is down three to 106th.

Looking at the data by region, Western Europe has made the most progress in closing the gender gap, followed by North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in ten countries across three regions. Accelerators are established in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Panama in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

All Country Accelerators, along with Knowledge Partner countries demonstrating global leadership in closing gender gaps, are part of a wider ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, that facilitates exchange of insights and experiences through the Forum’s platform.

In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

Progress in politics

85 of the 153 countries covered in the latest edition have never had a female head of government. Perhaps no coincidence then that five of the top 10 most gender-equal countries have women in charge.

This year’s overall improvement was mostly the result of progress in politics, as the number of women in parliaments around the world increased. Even so, only 24.7% of the gap in the Political Empowerment subindex has been bridged so far.

Women's political empowerment: Global Gender Gap Report
Less than a quarter of the gap as been closed
Image: World Economic Forum

There were also marginal gains in Educational Attainment and Health and Survival, both of which are nearing parity at 96.1% and 95.7%, respectively.

However, the Economic Participation and Opportunity gap widened slightly, meaning it will now take even longer to close – 257 years, compared to the previous estimate of 202 years.