By Sharon Johnson
WeNEws senior correspondent
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Women live longer than men, yet speakers at a recent conference asserted that the low status of women and girls results in about 3.9 million excess deaths of girls relative to men.
Countries are beginning to address these disparities, according to the World Economic Forum's report, which found that 55 percent of 135 surveyed countries took steps to reduce gender gaps last year.
The Geneva-based nonprofit foundation ranked countries according to salaries, work-force participation, access to education, representation in decision-making structures and life expectancy and survival.
"No country has yet to achieve gender equality, although the Nordic countries (Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) were at the top, having closed over 80 percent of their gender gaps," said Saadia Zahidi, director and head of constituents and co-author of the sixth annual report. "Countries at the bottom, such as Chad, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have closed about 50 percent."
"International scores for health and education were the most encouraging with 96 percent of the health gaps and 93 percent of the educational gaps already closed," said Zahidi. "Around the globe, women's economic and political participation continues to have the largest gaps."
The United States ranked 17th on the list, moving up from the 19th spot last year and 31st in 2009.
"One of the major disparities for American women is the pay gap," said Racquel Russell, special assistant to the president for mobility and opportunity in the White House Domestic Policy Council. "Despite gains in education and labor force participation, women earn 77 cents of every dollar paid to men. To overcome this disparity, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and has supported the Paycheck Fairness Act and legislation to attract and retain women in fields, such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics that pay higher salaries."
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Sharon Johnson is a New York-based freelance writer.
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