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Washington - It may take women around the world more than two centuries to achieve workplace equality, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum.

Since 2006, the organisation has tried to figure out whether the world is becoming more or less equal for women. This year, for the first time, it says things are getting worse.

Here's how the World Economic Forum does the math: Each year, the group assesses how women around the world are doing based on a variety of factors.
 
The researchers compare data from 144 countries in four main categories: economic participation and opportunity, education, political empowerment, and health and survival. (The International Labor Organization, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation all contribute some information. The World Economic Forum also does some of its own polling.)

First, the good news: When it comes to health outcomes and educational attainment, the world is doing well. Women are about as healthy as men and attend school at about the same rate.

However, women aren't doing nearly as well when you look at politics and the economy. Fewer women are participating in the workforce than in the past, and salaries are growing less equal. As the report explains, it will take 217 years for that gap to close.

Why?

It's not simply of matter of women making less than men in the same field. Instead, the report's authors blame the fact that women are more likely than men to do unpaid work at home, and more likely to work in industries with lower average pay. 

The cherry on top of the inequality ice cream sundae: women are much less likely than men to hold high-paid senior positions worldwide.

Of course, there are some bright spots: Iceland remains the world's most gender-equal country across all indicators; much of Western Europe follows close behind.

"In 2017, we should not be seeing progress toward gender parity shift into reverse," Saadia Zahidi, the World Economic Forum's head of education, gender and work, said in a statement. "Gender equality is both a moral and economic imperative. Some countries understand this and they are now seeing dividends from the proactive measures they have taken to address their gender gaps."

Though the United States scores high overall, the country still boasts big gaps in workforce participation and wages. And that's bad, not just for women: The World Economic Forum estimates that the U.S. could add $1.75 trillion (about R23 trillion) to its economy by reaching parity. 

"The world as a whole could increase global GDP by $5.3 trillion (about R70 trillion) by 2025 if it closed the gender gap in economic participation by 25 percent over the same period," the report's authors conclude.

The Washington Post