WEF Says the Philippines is the Most Gender Equal Country in Asia, But That Doesn't Mean Women are Empowered

We did well, but there's still a long way to go.
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By now, you've probably seen (and celebrated) the news that the Philippines has emerged as the most gender-equal country in Asia, ranking eighth in the world out of 149 nations. The Global Gender Gap report of the World Economic Forum (WEF) was released December 17, as the latest in the annual analysis released by the international think tank.

But before we clap ourselves on the back for a job well done, let's take a closer look at the report.

The WEF gender gap report isn't about women empowerment.

First of all, WEF clarifies that the gender gap report is exactly that: It's about how countries close the gender gap across four factors—economic, education, health and political—based on quantitative data, and it is not about women empowerment. “[The report] ranks countries according to their proximity to gender equality rather than to women’s empowerment,” the introduction to the study reads. “Our aim is to focus on whether the gap between women and men in the chosen indicators has declined, rather than whether women are winning the so-called ‘battle of the sexes.'” 

The report is entirely quantitative.

Second, the study focuses on measuring gaps, not levels. In short, countries are scored mainly on whether they provide equal access to resources and opportunities for both genders, but it does not take into actual levels of the available resources, or their quality.

In particular, the basis for measuring political participation is admittedly limited. The report only measures the gender gap "at the highest level of political decision-making"—by measuring the ration of men to women in leadership positions in the government. Admittedly, the report lacks a way to measure political participation at the local government level. Importantly, too, the index does not measure the number of laws, for example, that the countries have in place to protect women or to preserve gender equality.


The Philippines has always had the narrowest gender gap in Asia. But there is still a long way to go. 

Ever since the WEF started the survey in 2006, the Philippines has never left the top 10 and has consistently been the country with the narrowest gender gap in Asia. In fact, the country improved its standing to eighth place from 10th place last year. This strong performance largely stems from the index’s high regard for gender parity in terms of life expectancy and educational attainment. Male and female Filipinos were found to have the same levels of life expectancy. Furthermore, enrollment rates from primary to tertiary education are of the same levels for Filipino boys and girls.

The disparity starts once they join the workforce.

In terms of pay, male Filipino workers still tend to receive higher amounts even when the data provided in the index show there are now more female senior officials and “professional and technical” workers in the labor force. The higher pay for men stands despite the fact that the country achieved its highest rating in the economic criteria this year, with the report’s authors even noting that the country improved its “wage equality.” However, the report does not take into account whether the government provides standard maternity and paternal leaves, or if there are laws that protect women in the workplace. 

Globally, the average gender gap that remains to be closed is measured at 32%. It's a marginal improvement over last year, mostly thanks to improvements in most of the countries covered in the study. These numbers—and our standing, especially—shouldn't lull us into thinking that there still isn't a long way to go.

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Elyssa Christine Lopez
Elyssa Christine Lopez is a staff writer of Esquire. Follow her on Twitter @elyssalopz
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