THE PHILIPPINES dropped in an annual index designed to measure the magnitude of gender-based disparities and monitor countries’ progress in narrowing them.

The Global Gender Gap Index 2020

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2020 placed the Philippines 16th among 153 countries with an overall score of 0.781 — on a scale of 0.00 denoting inequality to 1.00 signifying equality — from eighth last year out of 149 countries with a score of 0.799.

Until this year’s report, the Philippines had stayed in the top 10 since the study began in 2006 — 10th in 2017, seventh in 2016 and 2015, ninth in 2014, fifth in 2013, eighth in 2012 and 2011, ninth in 2010 and 2009, as well as sixth in 2008, 2007 and in 2006.

The overall scores and rankings are based on at least 50 indicators that make up 14 variables grouped under four sub-indices, namely: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

This year’s report attributes the country’s lower placement and lower overall score to a decrease in the political empowerment sub-index score to 0.353 from 0.416 last year, bringing the country’s sub-ranking to 29th spot from 13th previously.

“The downgrade is almost entirely attributable to lower female representation in the cabinet, which declined from 25% to 10% between 2017 and 2019. Female representation in the parliament was also slightly down and stood at 28% at the beginning of 2019 [from 29.5% in 2018],” the report read.

Per sub-index, the Philippines:

• stayed in 14th place with a score of 0.792 in terms of economic participation and opportunity (even as the score marginally declined from 0.801 last year);

• fell to 37th spot from first in terms of educational attainment (even as the score dipped to 0.999 from a perfect 1.000 previously);

• went up to 41st place from 42nd in terms of health and survival despite its score remaining steady at 0.979.

The report noted that the Philippines is “only one of four countries” to have “women outnumbering men in senior and leadership roles, as well as in professional and technical professions.”

In a mobile phone message, Women’s Business Council of the Philippines, Inc. Chairperson Carolina “Chiqui” Escareal-Go said that while the Philippines slipped out of the global top 10 due to declines in political empowerment and enrolment in primary education, its health ranking has “improved a bit” while its placement in economic participation and opportunity remained “stable.”

UnionBank of the Philippines, Inc. Chief Economist Ruben Carlo O. Asuncion said the drop in the overall ranking “may not be something of a direct concern.”

“One major reason is that other countries may have been improving at a faster rate than others… I say this because there has not been a visible fundamental change in the Philippines’ setting that would make it more difficult for women economically, socially and most especially, politically,” Mr. Asuncion said in an e-mail.

“Although it is not perfect and we can definitely need to improve — more so that women can have equal opportunities as that of men — the country is still worthy to be emulated in terms of how women are free and how they can easily pursue their hopes and dreams.”

The economist also cited the country’s slipping in the enrolment in primary education variable to 83rd place from first place.

“I am thinking this may be one-off, but this can also be something that government authorities can look into carefully. With my understanding of the government’s focus on providing education for all people, particularly primary education, this looks somehow unaligned with its development thrust. This is suspect because all the other sub-indices under educational attainment are high-ranking. In fact, the sub-indices are top or ranked number one,” he said, referring to the indicators of literacy rate, and enrolment rates in secondary and tertiary levels in which the country ranked first.

The report noted that closing the overall gender gap across politics, economics, health and education would take 99.5 years, lower than the projected 108 years in the previous report. At the current pace, the gender gaps “can potentially be closed in 54 years in Western Europe, 59 years in Latin America and the Caribbean… 71 and a half years in South Asia, 95 years in Sub-Saharan Africa, 107 years in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 140 years in the Middle East and North Africa, 151 years in North America, and 163 years in East Asia and the Pacific.” — Lourdes O. Pilar