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Global Gender Gaps Narrowed Slightly In 2013; Iceland World's Most Equal: Report

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The world's gender gaps narrowed slightly this year, when compared to the previous year, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2013, published by the World Economic Forum on Friday.

Notable improvements were recorded in economic equality and political participation between the sexes, says the report, compiled by the independent international organization.

The eighth annual edition of the report ranks 136 countries, representing more than 93 percent of the world's population, on their ability to close the gender gap in four key areas: economic participation and opportunity, political empowerment, health and survival, educational attainment, political participation and economic equality. Eighty-six out of 133 countries that were measured in both 2012 and 2013 improved their gender gap in the second year, with the area of political participation seeing the greatest progress.

Overall, the report finds four Nordic countries on top of the ranking. Iceland is the most advanced country in the world in terms of gender equality for the fifth year running. It, along with Finland, Norway and Sweden, has now closed over 80 percent of its gender gap.

Nordic countries continued to lead the way because they had a long history of investing in people, according to Saadia Zahidi, co-author of the report and head of the Women Leaders and Gender Parity Program.

"They are small economies with small populations; they recognize that talent matters," she said.

The Philippines enters the list of top five for the first time, primarily due to success in health, education and economic participation. It is followed by Ireland, New Zealand, Denmark, Switzerland and Nicaragua in the top 10.

A number of African countries, such as Lesotho (16th), South Africa (17th), Burundi (22nd) and Mozambique (26th), fare relatively well in this year's report. This is largely due to the participation of women in the workforce.

The United States and Russia, the world's two major powers that never had a woman as its President, are placed 23rd and 61st respectively.

Mexico climbs 16 places to 68 due to increases in the number of female parliamentarians and the number of women in professional roles.

Asia's major economies performed poorly, with China in 69th place, India 101st, Japan 105th and South Korea 111th.

Middle East and North Africa is the only region not to have improved its overall standing in 2013. The highest placed country in the region is the United Arab Emirates, 109th. At the bottom of the ranking are Chad, Pakistan and Yemen.

Europe's progress towards eliminating its gender gap is polarized, with countries from Northern and Western Europe presenting a stark contrast to those from the South and East.

In both developing and developed countries alike, relative to the numbers of women in tertiary education and in the workforce overall, women's presence in economic leadership positions is limited, the report notes.

The Global Gender Gap Index, introduced in 2006, is designed to measure gender-based gaps in access to resources and opportunities in individual countries rather than the actual levels of the available resources and opportunities in those countries, the World Economic Forum says.

"Countries will need to start thinking of human capital very differently - including how they integrate women into leadership roles. This shift in mindset and practice is not a goal for the future, it is an imperative today," said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

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