Okay, I’ve got some bad news: in terms of wellbeing, women in the U.S. fare worse than our counterparts in the African nation of Lesotho (the former Basutoland, a landlocked nation heavily dependent on remittances from people who go elsewhere to earn a living).

Well, at least that’s the word from the World Economic Forum, which  has just released its annual report on the worldwide gender gap. The U.S. ranks twenty-third—below such paragons of female wellbeing as Cuba and the Philippines.

Mona Charen is perplexed:

What the heck are they measuring? Well, for one thing, the report examines the difference between men and women within countries, not the absolute welfare of women in one country compared with another. Still, the study has been received as a report card on women’s well-being. Rubbish.

ne of the gender-gap measures is the number of women in national political leadership. The U.S. ranked 60th for equality in political leadership. Only 18 percent of the members of Congress are women, and countries like Germany and Bangladesh that have (or have recently had) female chief executives get extra points. Do you believe that the World Economic Forum is telling us something useful when it reports that women in India, Mozambique, and Senegal have greater “political empowerment” vis-à-vis men than American women?

Counting up the number of women in parliament or the executive mansion doesn’t tell you much. Some countries have laws requiring a certain number of women to serve in the parliament. The WEF questionnaire specifically asks if nations have imposed such quotas. India has one for village councils and has attempted to pass another for the national parliament, though it has yet to be ratified. But why should the World Economic Forum extend garlands to nations that deny to women (and men) the freedom to choose the best candidate, even if it happens to be a man?

Indira Gandhi was prime minister of India from 1966 to 1977, and again from 1980 to 1984. Call it a great milestone for women if you like, but at the time, brides were still commonly bought and sold in India (many of them children), female infanticide was widespread, and women were barred from many sports, schools, and other activities.

Of course, the “findings” of the World Economic Forum don’t reflect whether women in a particular country face a good or a bad environment. They measure whether the country has instituted the prescriptions of a small international elite.

The wellbeing of women, Mona notes, rests on whether the society in which they live is thriving economically—not on whether the society in which they live meets the standards of an elite and ideologically-motivated cadre of academics.