For anyone who might assume East Asian countries are culturally similar and view the Koreas, Japan, or China through that lens, the World Economic Forum’s The Global Gender Gap Report 2011 is illuminating. Comparing the rankings for South Korea (#107), Japan (#98), and China (#61) provides striking proof, that each country is quite unique, and also still quite bad for women. On top of that, the only country in the Asia-Pacific that reaches the Top 20 is The Philippines (#8). Ouch!
The Report doesn’t measure levels, but gaps in access, in order not to conflate the gender gap with development. Next, the Report eschews cultural variables for outcome variables, like health, education, economic participation, and political empowerment. Last, the Report measures gender equality, not empowerment. The most interesting part of the calculation process involves “truncating” the raw data by means of equality benchmarks. That’s all very wonky, but it does show what fun can be had with numbers.
Those numbers reveal three countries with distinct problems. South Korea’s most unequal ranking comes from economic participation (#78). China has a serious problem with health and survival (#133). Japan, although it shares a #1 ranking in health and survival with several countries, including The Philippines, is #100 in economic participation. Japan (#80) bests China (#87) in educational attainment, but both beat South Korea (#97). It seems in Japan and South Korea men and women are more likely to live healthily than Chinese women in particular. But, in Japan and South Korea, men have more employment opportunities than women. And, male children are favored more than female ones. I’m wondering if some of this inequality is reflected in income levels, with poorer women dragging down the averages overall, or in empowerment where elite women are more likely to be employed in bureaucracies.
The raw data is fascinating, and it reveals a diversity of national responses to development that undermines a narrow-minded fixation on GDP or trade figures. Although being a woman in East Asia might be improving as development lifts all boats, men still do better. What is to be done?
First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips…Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye.