Gender equality at work could take 'more than 200 years'

The World Economic Forum warned of women's declining participation in politics, unequal access to health and education. Germany was ranked 14th in gender wage equality, while the US slid to 51st.

A new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) released on Tuesday said it will take centuries for gender parity to be achieved in workplaces around the world.

Politics | 18.03.2018

The WEF findings indicate that the global gender gap across a range of areas will not close for another 108 years and that it would take some 202 years to close the workplace gap.

While the report highlighted some improvements in wage equality in 2018 compared to 2017, it warned that this progress was offset by declining representation of women in politics, coupled with greater inequality in their access to health and education.

"The overall picture is that gender equality has stalled," said Saadia Zahidi, head of social and economic agendas at WEF.

"The future of our labor market may not be as equal as the trajectory we thought we were on," she added.

Read more: Gender equality: 'Battle for fundamental human rights'

Watch video 00:54
Now live
00:54 mins.
Business | 08.03.2018

German women earn less than men

Germany in 14th place worldwide

Nordic countries led the way in progress thus far. Men and women were most equal in Iceland, followed by Norway, Sweden and Finland. On the other hand, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and last-placed Yemen showed the largest overall gender gaps.

Among the world's 20 leading economies, France was at the top, reaching 12th place overall, followed by Germany in 14th place, Britain in 15th, Canada in 16th and South Africa in 19th.

The US, however, continued to decline and slipped to 51st, with the report highlighting a recent dip in gender parity at ministerial-level positions.

WEF used data from institutions such as the International Labor Organization, the UN Development Program and the World Health Organization. It concluded that no country has yet closed the pay gap and found the global wage gap at nearly 51 percent.

Related Subjects

Despite years of advances in education, health and political representation, women still registered setbacks in all three areas this year. The only area of improvement was that of economic opportunity.

Additionally, the report highlighted that the number of women in leadership roles has risen to 34 percent globally.

Read more: In German politics, women still have a long way to go

8 pioneers in women's rights

Anita Augspurg (1857 - 1943)

A feminist with an unconventional lifestyle, Anita Augspurg was determined to study law — even though women were not allowed to in Germany. She studied in Zurich and became the first doctor of law of the German Empire in 1897. However, it took 25 more years for women to be licensed to practice law in the country. The feminist movement activist left Germany when the Nazis took power in 1933.

8 pioneers in women's rights

Hedwig Dohm (1831 - 1919)

While it was widely believed at the time that gender roles were determined by biological factors, Hedwig Dohm was one of the first feminist thinkers to maintain that it was culture, socialization and education that imposed the patterns. She campaigned to allow equal access to education for boys and girls and was convinced that women's employment was the path to independence and a free life.

8 pioneers in women's rights

Louise Dittmar (1807 - 1884)

While the constitution proclaimed by the National Assembly in Frankfurt in 1848 was based on democratic principles, it was an all-male domain. Women had no right of assembly, no suffrage and no right to work at the time. "Freedom for all is currently a widely discussed topic, yet the word 'all' seems to refer to men only," wrote women's rights activist and journalist Louise Dittmar in response.

8 pioneers in women's rights

Agnes Schultheiss (1873 - 1959)

Active in the city of Ulm (picture), Agnes Schultheiss was committed to social and political causes. In 1908, she founded the Good Shepherd association, which took care of young girls who were expelled from their families for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. "Act politically by educating through the press, by influencing men and above all by participating in the election!" was her rallying cry.

8 pioneers in women's rights

Marie Munk (1885 - 1978)

In 1930, the pioneering reformist Marie Munk became Germany's first judge. "The more I study and practice law, the more I realize I feel my passion for freedom," she once said. She, however, did not get to keep her position for very long. She was dismissed in 1933 because of her Jewish roots. She fled to the US in 1936.

8 pioneers in women's rights

Elisabeth Selbert (1896 - 1986)

Like most young girls at the time, she learned to embroider, knit and sew. No one could have predicted the political role she would late play. After she got married in 1920, she joined the Social Democratic Party (SPD). In 1948 she was elected to the Parliamentary Council, the body in charge of drafting the Basic Law. The council included 61 men and 4 women, among them Elisabeth Selbert.

8 pioneers in women's rights

Hedy Lamarr (1914 - 2000)

"Any girl can look glamorous, she only has to stand still and look stupid," actor Hedy Lamarr once said. The Hollywood star, however, had way more to offer. At the beginning of World War II, the tech genius developed a radio guidance system that was later incorporated into Bluetooth technology.

8 pioneers in women's rights

Mileva Marić-Einstein (1875 - 1948)

Mileva Marić, who was born in Serbia, was the second woman to finish a full program of study at the Department of Mathematics and Physics at Zurich's Polytechnic. No one knows how much she may have contributed to the first theory of relativity, but she was definitely Albert Einstein's most important intellectual partner at that time, and they founded a family together.

Childcare an impediment

In 2018, fewer women were working than men and a main reason for the discrepancy was the lack of childcare. This factor has kept women from jobs or from advancing to senior roles, according to the study.

"Most economies still have not made much progress in providing better infrastructure for childcare," Zahidi said, emphasizing the fact that women are more often responsible for unpaid work, including childcare.

"This continues to be a major source of why women don't enter the labor market at all or aren't able to progress as much as they should given the talent that they have," she explained.

Women were largely missing at top levels, the report found, filling only a third of all managerial roles.

The same pattern was observed in politics, with just 17 female heads of state in 2017. Only 18 percent of ministerial positions and 24 percent of parliamentary roles globally were held by women, the report added.

Read more: Women into politics! Greater female participation in Cambodia

Watch video 04:00
Now live
04:00 mins.
Made in Germany | 24.04.2018

Equal wages - but not for everyone

Automation's impact

Another major factor keeping women from the workplace and hurting their chances of obtaining equal pay for equal work appears to be automation, the study warned.

In the jobs they traditionally perform, such as administration, customer service and telemarketing, the report suggested that automation is having a disproportionate impact.

Read more: Women talk AI and gender equality in Iceland

Most troubling, women are barely participating in the burgeoning artificial intelligence (AI) field, where they make up just 22 percent of the workforce.  As AI grows, the divide between the sexes in the field could widen, the report warned.

"It's going to be one of the roles growing in demand in the future," Zahidi said of AI. "It's a general purpose technology used across multiple sectors. Who's developing this technology matters," she added.

Watch video 01:54
Now live
01:54 mins.
Made in Germany | 07.03.2018

Why do women still earn less?

jcg/rt (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.