Gender Equality Gap Greatest in Islamic Countries, Survey Shows

By Patrick Goodenough | October 29, 2014 | 4:18 AM EDT

Iranian women in Tehran. Iran is near the bottom of an annual survey ranking gender equality in 142 countries around the world. (AP Photo)

( – Nineteen out of 20 countries with the lowest scores in an annual survey of gender equality around the world are Islamic, and 12 are Arab states.

As a bloc, the Muslim world’s showing in this year’s “Global Gender Gap” report, compiled by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and released on Tuesday, is even worse than in previous recent years, when 17 of the bottom 20 were Islamic states.

The survey, covering a total of 142 countries this year, measures gaps between women and men in four key areas: political empowerment, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, and health and survival.

The 20 countries at the bottom of the 2014 list, in order from the lowest-ranked, are Yemen, Pakistan, Chad, Syria, Mali, Iran, Cote d’Ivoire, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Guinea, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman, Ethiopia, Algeria, Turkey, Bahrain and Tunisia.

With the exception of Ethiopia, all are Muslim-majority states.

The highest-ranking Islamic state in the WEF survey is Kazakhstan in 43rd place. (Mozambique, ranked 27th, is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation bloc, but does not have a Muslim majority.)

The highest-placed Arab state is Kuwait, in 113th position.

At the other end of the WEF survey, as was the case in previous years, are the Nordic countries, with Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark taking the top five places.

The United States is in 20th position, up three places from the 2013 index. In the four sub-indexes, the U.S. placed fourth out of the 142 countries in economic participation and opportunity; 39th in educational attainment; 54th in political empowerment; and 62nd in health and survival.

Overall, this year’s Global Gender Gap report found an improvement in gender equality worldwide. It found that 105 countries have become more equal since the index was first compiled in 2006.

Iran, in the sixth lowest position on this year’s index, is currently a member of the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women, a 45-member body that deals with gender equality and the advancement of women. Iran was elected to the CSW last April for a second four-year term, after no country opposed its candidacy.

In the four sub-indexes of the survey, Iran placed 139th out of the 142 countries in economic participation and opportunity; 135th in political empowerment; 104th in educational attainment; and 89th in health and survival.

Despite Iran’s poor performance in this and other measures of women’s wellbeing, the regime insists that it – and Islam at large – treats women fairly.

“Field of economic activities is open for women,” supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in one of a series of women-related posts on his official Twitter account earlier this month. “It’s against God’s rule to keep them from economic activities in Islam’s name.”

“Thank God, our women are pioneers in many scientific fields today. Girls shouldn’t be deprived from acquiring knowledge,” he said in another tweet. “It is oppressive & anti-Islamic to prevent women from a proper pursuit of education & acquiring knowledge & wisdom.”

Iran drew widespread criticism in recent days for hanging a woman convicted of killing a man she claimed had tried to rape her.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow