The World Economic Forum has been keeping track of the global gender gap—how women’s health, education, economic and political opportunities compare to men’s—for a decade now. The ten years of data shows overall positive signs, but this year’s report sounds a sour note. The WEF’s examination of 144 countries chalks up 2016 as an “ambiguous” year for progress, with the number of counties making advances coming close to the number of those that reversed course. (Iceland topped the list, followed by Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Rwanda. The U.K. was No. 20 and the U.S. was No. 45.)
A big culprit in the stagnation is anemic growth in the labor participation rate among women. Women are still entering the workforce, but not as quickly as they once did. That slowdown is partly due to automation that’s eliminating jobs that tend to belong to women, like sales and administrative positions. It’s also the result of limited infrastructure for the care of children and the elderly, which keeps women away from work.
As women confront this economic setback, they’ve also reached near-parity with men on the WEF’s health and education metrics. That progress is the result of “deliberate” initiatives to ensure equal access, even in developing countries, WEF’s Saadia Zahidi told me.
Nations now need to put that kind of strategic effort into addressing the factors that hamper women’s livelihoods too.