Four Nordic countries lead the world in eliminating inequality between men and women and the United States entered the top 20 nations for the first time, according to a survey of 134 nations released Tuesday.
But France fell to 46th place _ a loss of 28 places _ because it has fewer women in ministerial posts, the survey said. Many Arab and predominantly Muslim countries remain near the bottom of the list, including Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Yemen.
The four Nordic countries _ Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden _ have topped the Global Gender Gap Index since it was first released in 2006 by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum, and Iceland remained in first place for the second straight year.
"Low gender gaps are directly correlated with high economic competitiveness," Klaus Schwab, the forum's founder and executive chairman, said in a statement. "Women and girls must be treated equally if a country is to grow and prosper."
"We still need a true gender equality revolution, not only to mobilize a major pool of talent both in terms of volume and quality, but also to create a more compassionate value system within all our institutions," Schwab said.
The United States leaped in the rankings from 31st place last year to 19th this year based on very high levels of literacy for both women and men and very high levels of women in primary, secondary and higher education, with women outstripping men in colleges and universities.
According to the report, the U.S. ranks sixth in the world in terms of economic participation and opportunity for women. The U.S. has significant numbers of women in legislative, managerial and professional positions.
The index, released at a news conference here, assesses the 134 countries on how well they divide resources and opportunities between men and women, regardless of income level. It measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four areas _ economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political attainment, health and survival.
Ricardo Hausmann, director of the Center for International Development at Harvard University who co-authored the report, said current data show 96 percent of health gaps and 93 percent of education gaps have been closed in the 134 countries, "and yet, only 60 percent of economic participation gaps have been closed."
Co-author Saadia Zahidi, head of the forum's women leaders and gender parity program, said in a statement that five years of data covering 114 of the 134 countries show that 86 percent have narrowed their gender gaps while 14 percent have increased the gaps.
In addition to the four Nordic countries, the top 20 countries include eight other European nations _ Ireland, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Britain, the Netherlands and Latvia.
The Philippines remained at ninth place for a second year, setting the example for Asia with its strong performance on all four measures. Sri Lanka was in 16th place, Singapore climbed to 56th position from 84th last year and Japan moved up seven places to 94, both largely due to improvements in women's estimated earned income.
Lesotho, with high female participation in the labor force and more girls than boys attending school, topped African nations at number eight. It was followed by South Africa at number 12, a result of high numbers of women in parliament and ministerial positions and narrow gaps in education.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, once again Trinidad and Tobago at 21 tops the region because of high proportions of women legislators, senior officials, managers, members of parliament and ministers. Cuba followed in 24th place with Costa Rica and Argentina not far behind in 28th and 29th position. Chile gained 16 places to 48, driven mainly by ex-president Michelle Bachelet's tenure, the high proportion of women ministers and nearly balanced education for both sexes.