The World Economic Forum (WEF)’s annual Global Gender Gap report is here, and the United States is nowhere near the top. It came in 28th. As is usually the case with such lists, Nordic countries are heavily represented, with Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden in the top four spots, respectively. Ireland came in at five.
But number six on the list really drove home Mark Twain’s point about statistics. According to the WEF, Rwanda has the sixth best record for “gender equality” on the entire planet. Yep, Rwanda. As in Hotel Rwanda. WTF?
Even if you’re the type to view America as the root of all evil on planet earth, is “gender equality” really better in Rwanda? Is Rwanda really better in this respect than Canada? Switzerland? Japan? According to this list, yes. But ladies, don’t buy your ticket to Kigali just yet.
The reason Rwanda is ranked so high is because the methodology used to determine the rankings places a huge emphasis on female representation in government. And in this respect, Rwanda knocks it out of the park. According to the Guardian, 64 percent of Rwanda’s parliamentarians are women, which is the highest percentage in the world. However, the high percentage of women in parliament doesn’t exactly translate to a better life for most of the country’s women.
“I go to these meetings, we sit round a table and I hear about this amazing progress. And ask myself – are we living in the same country?” a Rwandan women’s rights campaigner told the Guardian. It’s worth noting that she refused to be named out of fear of reprisals from the government. “These women parliamentarians have a good salary, good for them – I’m pleased, really I am – but it’s like a vase of flowers in a living room: it looks good, it smells good, but ultimately it does nothing.”
Another reason the country fairs so well in the rankings is because there are more women in the labor force than men. Of course, that probably has more to do with the fact that civil war and genocide ravaged the male workforce than the fact that Rwanda is committed to closing the gender gap.
To be fair, the country has made great progress for women in the 20 years since the genocide. As the Guardian reports:
…gender rights are enshrined in its constitution, and a swath of laws have given women the right to inherit land, share the assets of a marriage and obtain credit. As many girls as boys receive primary and secondary education, maternal mortality is lower and the birth rate is falling.
There is also a drive to rid the country of gender-based violence – one-stop centres are being rolled out, while electronic billboards in Kigali declare: “Together we can stop sexual harassment”.
But as the unnamed activist put it, “What [do these laws] mean, if you are so poor you cannot eat?”
You’d think that the WEF might have spotted the flaw in its own methodology once it saw the actual rankings. Then again, this is the same organization that’s currently trumpeting the fact that the global gender pay gap “may take 118 years to close.” As if the gender pay gap is a pressing concern for women living in countries like Yemen, Pakistan, or Syria (the three lowest ranked countries on the list), where it would be nice to get some basic rights first.
So at the end of the day, if you’re a woman forced to make a choice between relocating to the United States or Rwanda, you’re still probably just a tad bit better off chosing the U.S., regardless of what the WEF might say.