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Global gender gap could take 134 years to close — but 2024 elections offer hope, WEF says

Niharika Kulkarni | Afp | Getty Images
  • The 2024 bumper election cycle presents a unique opportunity to make progress in closing the global gender gap, according to the World Economic Forum.
  • It will now take 134 years — or five generations — to close the global gender gap, up from 131 years in 2023, based on WEF estimates.
  • This year's sweeping election cycle could narrow that gap, however, by boosting women's representation in the political sphere, the non-governmental organization said.

The 2024 bumper election year presents a unique opportunity to make progress in closing the global gender gap, according to the World Economic Forum.

In a new report published Wednesday, WEF said that while worldwide gender inequality had narrowed marginally over the past year, it had done so at a slower pace than before. It is now estimated to take 134 years — or five generations — to close the global gender gap, up from 131 years in 2023, WEF said.

This year's sweeping election cycle could narrow that gap, however, by boosting women's representation in the political sphere, the non-governmental organization said.

"When so many people are going to polls around the world, and there's so much change in political systems, there's an opportunity here to leap forward," Saadia Zahidi, managing director at WEF, told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

"We cannot wait until 2158 for parity: the time for decisive action is now," Zahidi added in a press release.

WEF's Global Gender Gap Report, now in its 18th year, is an annual index designed to measure gender equality. It benchmarks gender-based gaps in four areas: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment.

Political participation was identified as an area of stark imbalance, despite modest gains at the federal and local level. But with around half of the world's population eligible to vote in scores of elections this year, it is also considered an area of significant potential.

"Very similar to how many industries are structured, there is this vertical gap that continues in political leadership levels," Zahidi said.

According to a separate WEF report, last year women held about 27% of parliamentary seats and 23% of ministerial positions, as well as represented fewer than 10% of the world's heads of state. Women also held around 25% of C-suite positions, WEF and LinkedIn data showed.

"With over 60 national elections in 2024 and the largest global population in history set to vote, women's political representation and the overall gender gap could be set to improve," the report added.  

That could happen both at the top level, with more leadership positions for women, as well as via policies designed to support and empower women.

Last week, Mexico voted in its first female president Claudia Sheinbaum, whose campaign included pledges to reduce violence toward women. It came a day after Iceland elected Halla Tomasdottir as president following a business career, which included improving female representation in financial services.

Europe remains ahead on gender equality

The global gender gap now stands at 68.5%, a 0.1 percentage point improvement on last year, primarily due to modest gains in economic participation and opportunity.

"Despite some bright spots, the slow and incremental gains highlighted in this year's Global Gender Gap Report underscore the urgent need for a renewed global commitment to achieving gender parity, particularly in economic and political spheres," Zahidi said.

Iceland ranked as the most gender-equal country in the world for the 15th consecutive year and the only country to have closed 93.5% of its gender gap.

It was followed in the top 10 by Finland, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, Nicaragua, Germany, Namibia, Ireland and Spain. While no country has yet achieved full gender parity, the top ten ranking countries have closed at least 80% of their gap.

Europe continues to lead on a regional level, with a gender parity score of 75%, slightly ahead of North America, where 74.8% of the gap is closed.

Latin America, ranking in third place with a score of 74.2%, has seen the greatest improvement of any region since the inception of the index.

Eastern Asia and Pacific, meanwhile, has a score of 69.2%, slightly ahead of Central Asia's 69.1%, Sub-Saharan Africa's 68.4%, and Southern Asia's 63.7%. The Middle East and North Africa ranked bottom with 61.7%.

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