US ranks lower than Kazakhstan and Algeria on gender equality

Study to mark International Day of the Girl shows poorest countries offer fewest opportunities for girls, but world’s richest nation also disappoints

The US, the world’s biggest economy, ranks below Kazakhstan and Algeria for gender equality, according to a report showing the countries that offer the most opportunities for girls.

Niger was named the worst country in the Girls’ Opportunity Index, compiled by Save the Children to mark International Day of the Girl.

A girl’s life: how inequality starts before birth

The US came 32nd in the index due to its low representation of women in parliament, high teenage pregnancy rates and and its record on maternal deaths. Fourteen women died per 100,000 live births in the US in 2015, a similar number to Uruguay and Lebanon.

Save the Children’s head of inclusive development, Lisa Wise, one of the report’s authors, said that the low ranking of the US was surprising. “It’s one of those cases where it should be performing better.” For Wise, it highlighted that the issue of gender equality isn’t unique to developing countries. “Girls in relation to boys are denied their opportunities in high-income countries too.”

Chad, Central African Republic, Mali and Somalia were among the five states with the lowest rankings in the index of 144 countries.

Wise said that it was no coincidence that the bottom 20 countries were among the world’s poorest states. The index showed an intersection between household income and girls’ rights, she said. “These countries have a high proportion of girls who are extremely poor. You have households forced to make extremely difficult decisions. There is a toxic mix between income poverty and those indicators across the board.”

Niger, which is the least developed country in the UN’s human development index, is plagued by drought, insurgency and an influx of refugees from conflict in surrounding states. The country has the highest rate of child marriage in the world, with 76% of women now aged 20 to 24 married before they were 18. The majority of the 25 countries with the highest rates of child marriage globally are considered fragile states or at high risk of natural disaster.

However, some low-income countries defied trends by performing relatively well. Rwanda has the highest proportion of female MPs in the world. With 64% of parliamentary seats held by women, the country came 49th in the index – well ahead of its neighbours Burundi and Tanzania, at 107 and 118 respectively, and Brazil, an upper-middle income country at 102.

Globally, only 23% of parliamentary seats are held by women. Qatar and Vanuatu have no female MPs.

Nepal scored higher than other low-income countries, due to its relatively strong lower-secondary school completion rate for girls, which, at 86%, is similar to Spain’s.

Wise said that such exceptions show “change is possible, even if you have a relatively low level of government resources to do so”, and that governments should put gender equality and girls at the forefront of their planning and budgeting.

In Nepal, for example, there is a mandatory minimum local budget allocation for women, children and so-called lower castes, and affirmative action to increase the number of female teachers. In March, the country launched a strategy to end child marriage.

“It’s not an inevitability that low income equals gender inequality,” Wise added.

Sweden was named the best country in the world to be a girl, followed by Finland, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium. The UK was ranked 15th.

Danny Vannucchi, international campaigns manager at Plan International UK, which lobbied for the creation of International Day of the Girl, said girls all too often bear the brunt of poverty. “Girls are often the first to be taken out of school during times of economic uncertainty and forced into work or early marriage.

“Many child brides give birth before their bodies are ready, facing health complications, and are often subjected to a life of violence and abuse.”

Anna MacSwan

The GuardianTramp

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