GENEVA Nordic countries again dominated the World Economic Forum's ranking of gender-equal countries, while New Zealand squeezed into the top five and the United States fell to 31st place.
Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland retained the top four spots in the 2007 Gender Gap Index released by the Swiss-based think tank on Thursday.
The Forum compared four areas: differences between men and women's salaries, access to education, political representation and health including life expectancy.
Nordic countries were "strong performers" in all four areas, although "no country has yet achieved gender equality", it said. All four countries improved their scores for women's economic participation, driven mainly by a decreasing gap between women and men's labor force participation rates and salaries.
New Zealand moved up two places to fifth and the Philippines ranked sixth for a second year, both thanks to better economic participation ratios. They eclipsed Germany which fell to seventh place from fifth.
Yemen, Chad, Pakistan, Nepal and Saudi Arabia were at the bottom of the table of 128 countries, with the biggest gaps in the four areas.
The United States, the world's leading economy which had ranked 23rd in 2006, fell back as a result of weaker economic and employment opportunities for women, though female political empowerment improved somewhat over the year, the Forum said.
Britain fell to 11th from ninth, although it posted an increase in its overall score.
France moved up 19 places to 51st in the latest ranking, due to improved women's labor force participation rates, while Switzerland dropped 14 to rank 40th this year and Canada fell back four spots to 18th.
Tunisia, Turkey and Morocco -- ranked 102, 121 and 122 respectively -- also scored worse than a year ago.
South Africa placed highest among African countries, though it fell two places to 20th in 2007. Cuba, ranked 22nd, was Latin America's top-ranked country. The Communist state had not been included in the 2006 index.
The 2007 ranking added Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belize, Cuba, the Maldives, Mozambique, Oman, Qatar, Suriname, Syria, Tajikistan and Vietnam to the 115 covered in last year's index.
Almost all the data used to compile it came from United Nations agencies such as the International Labour Organisation, U.N. Development Programme and World Health Organisation.
(Reporting by Laura MacInnis and Stephanie Nebehay)