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Israel has failed to make it into the top 30 countries striving towards equality between the sexes, according to a report published Thursday by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.
The second Global Gender Gap Report 2007 ranked Israel 36th out of 128 countries, based on assessments in four critical areas of inequality between men and women: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment and health and survival. Israel's rating was one place lower than its ranking the previous year, lagging behind states such as Colombia and Kazakhstan.
While Israel fares well in the areas of educational attainment, with the report showing that men and women here are quite equal in literacy rates and enrollment in primary, secondary and tertiary education, representation of women in influential positions in society - politics, senior officials and business - is extremely low. Female presence in the Knesset is only 14 percent, and women represent only 17% of ministerial positions.
Women's salaries are also much lower than those of men in the same employment fields, the report found.
"Obviously Israel has to make a stronger effort to minimize the gender gaps in society," Tziona Koenig Yair, executive director of the Israel Women's Network, told The Jerusalem Post. "The least Israel could have achieved [was] to stay in the same spot and not be moved down a level - that is the minimum we would have expected."
"The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report is a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities across the world and tracking how they evolve over time," commented Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, an independent organization.
"As policy makers and business leaders seek to address talent shortages, there is increasing urgency to close gender gaps and leverage the talents of both women and men."
The report's authors - Professor Ricardo Hausmann, director of the Center for International Development at Harvard University; Laura Tyson, professor of Business Administration and Economics at the University of California, Berkeley; and head of the World Economic Forum's Women Leaders Program, Saadia Zahidi - noted that countries with smaller gender gaps are far more prosperous because they are utilizing both sexes.
Four Nordic countries - Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland - topped the index's list, with New Zealand rounding out the first five. While Israel failed to make it into the top 30, it did not fall that far behind the United States, which came in at number 31, mostly due to its disparity in economic participation between the sexes.
Among the other findings of the report were that the highest-ranking country (Sweden) has closed a little over 80% of its gender gap, while the lowest-ranking country (Yemen) has closed only a little over 45% of its gender gap.
"By providing a comprehensible framework for assessing and comparing global gender gaps and by revealing those countries that, regardless of the overall level of resources available, are role models in dividing these resources equitably between women and men, we are expectant that this report serves as a catalyst for greater awareness as well as greater exchange between policy makers," commented Zahidi.
Of the 128 countries scrutinized by the report, 23 are from Latin America and the Caribbean, 23 from sub-Saharan Africa, over 20 from Asia, 15 from the Middle East and North Africa, as well as all European Union countries. The report is based on already existing data published by international organizations, such as the International Labor Organization, the United Nations Development Program and the World Health Organization.