GENEVA (Reuters) - Women still lag far behind men in top political and decision-making roles, a waste of talent given that their access to education and healthcare is nearly equal, the World Economic Forum said on Wednesday.
In its 2008 Global Gender Gap report, the think tank ranked Norway, Finland and Sweden as the countries with the greatest equality between the sexes, while Saudi Arabia, Chad and Yemen were the least equal.
Averaging 130 national scores, the report found that girls and women have reached near-parity with their male peers in educational attainment, health and survival, in both rich and poor countries.
But economically, in terms of workforce participation and earning opportunities, and politically, in terms of empowerment, the gap between the sexes remains large.
"The world's women are nearly as educated and as healthy as men, but are nowhere to be found in terms of decision-making," said Saadia Zahidi of the World Economic Forum, a Swiss-based think tank best known for its Davos summit held in January.
"Given that women have almost closed the gap with men on health and education, it is a waste of their talents if they are not catching up in economics and politics," she said.
The report uses United Nations and other data to weigh how evenly each country shares its resources and opportunities between men and women.
"The index does not penalize those countries that have low levels of education overall, for example, but rather those where the distribution of education is uneven between women and men," said study co-author Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard University.
Outside the Nordic region, which traditionally scores well on measures of gender parity, New Zealand placed fifth, in part because of its female political empowerment including the tenure of Helen Clark as prime minister.
The Philippines, whose president is a woman, followed in sixth place, and Ireland, the Netherlands, and Latvia placed eighth, ninth and tenth respectively.
The United States ranked 27th, ahead of its neighbor Canada for the first time since the gender gap report was launched three years ago. Canada fell 13 spots to 31st place.
Trinidad, Argentina and Cuba were rated highest among Latin American and Caribbean countries, and Lesotho was the top-rated African state in gender parity.