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British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, left, and Alberta Premier Alison Redford. A study of global gender equity says Canada lags in female representation in politics.


Canada is losing ground in a key global measure of gender equality, sliding out of the world's top 20 chiefly due to a lack of female representation in politics.

Canada slid three notches in the World Economic Forum's annual gender gap ranking, landing in the 21st spot, behind the Philippines, Latvia, Cuba and Nicaragua.

The world's most economically equal societies are still the Nordic ones: Iceland remains in first place, followed by Finland, Norway and Sweden. Yemen lands in last place in the 135-country list.

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The seventh annual ranking is compiled using data on economic equality, access to education, political participation and access to health care.

It stresses the economic importance of closing the gap -- and draws a link between competitiveness and gender equality. Six of the top 10 countries in the forum's global competitiveness index this year are also in the top 20 of the global gender gap index.

"The data suggests a strong correlation between those countries that are most successful at closing the gender gap and those that are the most economically competitive," the forum said.

Canada's position has fluctuated in past years. In 2006 -- the first year of the study -- Canada was in 14th place of 115 countries.

This year's drop stems from "a small decrease in the secondary education ratio and in the percentage of women in ministerial positions," the study said.

The country fairs better in the sub-index of economic opportunity, landing in 12th spot, with high levels of incomes, labour market participation and professional workers -- even as wage equality lags.

Political empowerment is a key area where Canada falls behind, as measured by years with female as head of state, women in ministerial positions and women in parliament. In this category, Canada ranks 38th, behind Ecuador, Sri Lanka and the U.K.

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Worldwide, progress has been slow in narrowing the global gender gap, the study finds. More than half of countries surveyed have failed to close their economic gender gap by more than 5 per cent in the past seven years.

"In the future, talent will be more important than capital or anything else," said Klaus Schwab, the forum's founder and executive chairman. "To develop the gender dimension is not just a question of equality; it is the entry card to succeed and prosper in an ever more competitive world."

Some countries are making remarkable strides, none more so than in Nicaragua. It ranks as the most equal country in Latin America thanks to more women in parliament, while Brazil jumped 20 spots due to improvements in primary education and the number of women in ministerial positions.

Others still lag. India, in 105th place, is the lowest-ranked of the BRIC economies, while Pakistan is among the bottom 10 countries for primary and secondary education along with literacy.

Countries should share their experiences on how they are making their societies more equal, said co-author Laura Tyson of University of California at Berkeley.

"As countries experiment with policy choices in this area, they should share the lessons from their experience to accelerate progress."

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