Western European countries have long led the world on gender equality, but the latest annual Gender Gap Report, just issued by the World Economic Forum, shows that the U.S. is making significant gains in an area where it has often lagged the Western world.
The annual WEF report grades countries on five metrics to measure the degree of gender equality or inequality: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Countries are scored between 0.0 for most unequal, meaning that women have zero access, or 1.0 for fully equal.
The 2012 report ranks the U.S. 22nd in the world. The only non-Western nations that rank higher than the U.S., meaning their societies are more equal for women, are South Africa, Cuba, Lesotho, Nicaragua, and the Philippines. American society has been catching up to its historical leaders, as this chart of WEF gender equality scores across Western Europe since 2006 shows.
I haven't included Scandinavian countries in this chart. Their scores are so high that it would make it to difficult to portray the U.S.'s relative gains against the rest of Western Europe. But what's also striking about this is the relatively poor gender equality in two of Western Europe's largest economies and more liberal societies: France and Italy.
In the broader European context, the U.S. is in fact a better place for women, judging by the WEF data, than is the majority of the continent. Here's a map of Europe, color-coded by gender equality. The blue countries are, according to the WEF data, more accessible societies for women than is the United States, with darker blue signifying better scores. The red countries are less friendly societies for women, with darker red signifying worse scores.
This map tells a few different stories. The first is the striking degrees of inequality that remain in Western Europe. In the cases of Spain and France, that has worsened considerably over recent years. The second is the remarkable successes that women have found in Scandinavian countries, by far the most equal for women in the world. And perhaps the third would be the deep problems of gender inequality that persist in much of the former Soviet Union. I'll be looking more into several of these issues throughout the day, so check back.