On Saturday, in Saudi Arabia, one woman with an international driver’s license drove to her local grocery store, alone, to purchase a container of milk. Elated, she arrived home to report that the trip was uneventful. Elsewhere, also participating in an “It’s okay to drive” day, dozens of Saudi women climbed into the driver’s seat and went somewhere.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where it is illegal for women to secure a driver’s license. Explained by a Saudi cleric to the NY Times, the campaign for women to drive “would lead to ruined marriages, a low birthrate, the spread of adultery, more car accidents and ‘the spending of excessive amounts on beauty products.'” (Sounds familiar. Econlife quoted a 19th century European man saying that learning to read could induce female “hysteria.”)
Last week, the World Gender Gap Report 2013 was published. With economics, education, health and politics the four focus areas, the report sought to avoid a development bias by looking at “gaps,” not “levels.” Rather than comparing access to resources and opportunities among countries through one set of criteria, it measured the gap within each country. After assessing each country’s gap in terms of itself, it looked at progress since 2006 and created a worldwide rank.
Over 380 pages in length, the report conveys a monumental amount of gender issue data for 136 countries. For the past 4 years, Iceland has ranked #1 with the smallest gender gap, Finland and Norway #2 or 3 during those years and then Sweden, consistently #4. Now #23, in 2011 the US was #17. At the other end, Yemen, Pakistan, Chad, Syria were ranked 133-136. Moving higher from #133 last year, Saudi Arabia was #127.
Concluding, the WEF reports progress: