FILE PHOTO: Women hold placards during a demonstration to call for gender equality and demanding an end to violence against…
FILE - Women hold placards during a demonstration to call for gender equality and demand an end to violence against women, on International Women's Day in Brussels, Belgium, March 8, 2021.

GENEVA - The World Economic Forum says women will have to wait another 135.6 years to achieve global gender parity. 

The forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, released Wednesday, said the COVID-19 pandemic had set back efforts to close the gender gap by a generation.

For the 12th consecutive year, Iceland topped the rankings as the most gender-equal country in the world, followed by Finland, Norway, New Zealand and Sweden.  Two African countries, Namibia and Rwanda, entered the rankings of 156 countries in sixth and seventh place.  Afghanistan was at the bottom of the ranking.

The United States moved up 23 positions to 30th.   Authors of the report said that jump in gender parity was due to improvements in the makeup of the new U.S. administration.

China was in the top half of the G-20 nations and ahead of all emerging markets with the exception of Russia.  In another advance for gender equality, the United Arab Emirates broke into the top half of the rankings, the first Arab country to do so.

The report said women face many hurdles in the workplace, hurdles made worse by the pandemic.  World Economic Forum Managing Director Saadia Zahidi said many more women than men have lost jobs because of COVID-19 lockdowns. She said women also assume greater responsibilities in housework and child and elder care in the household.

"The sectors that have been the most impacted by the lockdowns across the world tend to be sectors that are also large employers of women," Zahidi said. "So, the consumer and retail sectors that have been impacted globally, the travel and tourism industry that has been impacted globally, these are all sectors that tend to be large employers of women.”

FILE - Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, front center, and his cabinet, with two women, are shown at his residence in Tokyo, Sept. 16, 2020. Women account for less than 10% of lawmakers in the more powerful of Japan's two-chamber parliament.

Another problem that will further handicap women’s ability to move ahead in the post-COVID-19 period is the changing face of work. Sue Duke, head of global public policy at LinkedIn, said women are not well-represented in fast-growing “jobs of tomorrow,” such as cloud computing, engineering and artificial intelligence data products.

“We have seen a graphic acceleration in digitization and technology being integrated into all aspects of our lives," Duke said. "We have to have women’s voices, perspectives represented in that foundational formative change and playing an equal role in what technology is developed, how it is deployed and precisely what impact it is going to have.”

The report said Western Europe continued to be the best-performing region, with nearly 78 percent of its overall gender gap closed. North America was a close second.

The report said sub-Saharan Africa had made slow progress and that it would take 121.7 years to close the gender gap there, given the present rate of improvement.  South Asia was the second-lowest performer. However, the report said, the Middle East and North Africa continue to be regions with the largest gender gaps to be closed.