Malta has the second worst track record among EU member states for equality between women and men, according to an index by the World Economic Forum.

The index, part of The Global Gender Gap Report 2010, published yesterday, places Malta in 83rd place among 134 countries, with Cyprus being the only EU member state to have a lower rank. Gender equality improved slightly over the previous year when Malta had ranked 88th.

Malta ranks first with 21 other countries for gender equality in education. This sub index takes into consideration enrolment in primary and secondary schools – both compulsory – and enrolment in tertiary education, where female participation is higher than males.

However, Malta’s overall rating plummets when other factors are taken into account.

On the economic front, Malta ranks a lowly 104th, primarily because few women participate in the labour market. In 2010, only 39 per cent of women, as opposed to 78 per cent of men, formed part of the labour force. This represented a slight drop from the 40 per cent registered a year before and contrasts with top-ranked Iceland where 81 per cent of women are active in the labour force.

Gender disparity in the economy also leads to a major discrepancy between the average income earned by women and men. While Maltese men earn an estimated $32,000, women earn less than half.

Women are also less visible in managerial and senior official posts, which further dampens Malta’s index.

In the political empowerment index – the number of women MPs, ministers and the years in by a female head of state – Malta ranks 51st. It is better ranked than nine other EU countries, including Italy and Cyprus.

Only nine per cent of parliamentarians are women, which contrasts with Iceland’s 43 per cent, while 25 per cent of Cabinet posts are occupied by women. In Iceland, female ministers account for 45 per cent of Cabinet posts, including the Prime Minister.

Agatha Barbara’s five-year Presidency in the 1980s is also taken into account by the index. However, it contrasts with the aggregate of 45 years occupied by male heads of state.

In the health and survival index, Malta places 72nd. However, this ranking is based solely on life expectancy of women over men and the sex ratio at birth.

The overall index places Iceland in pole position, the same as last year. Three other Nordic countries – Norway, Finland and Sweden – come second, third and fourth respectively.

The Global Gender Gap Reports have been drawn up for the past five years, giving the World Economic Forum the means to quantify the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress over time.

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