South Africa’s gender gap regarding economic opportunity and participation is growing, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).Earlier this month the WEF released its Global Gender Gap report for 2017, which found that the gender gap widened globally for the first time in a decade.The situation worsened for women in 60 out of 144 countries included in the report. At the current rate, women globally were not likely to reach economic parity with men until 2234, the report said, and it would take 217 years before gender parity overall was reached.Gender specialist at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) Nonhlanhla Sibanda-Moyo said the WEF’s findings were disheartening.“It’s quite disheartening that in 2017 we see these results. Surely we should be seeing progress towards gender parity, but clearly we are still very far from reaching equality,” she said.Sibanda-Moyo said that South Africa’s poor ranking regarding the economic gender gap was cause for concern.“We know women’s economic empowerment is strongly linked to the perpetuation of violence against women. “If women remain in economically disadvantaged positions, it also follows that efforts to stop violence against women will be negatively affected.”South Africa is one of 60 countries that saw a drop in its global ranking for gender equality, dropping from the top 15 to 19.The country fared particularly badly on the WEF’s economic participation and opportunity (EPO) sub-index, however, ranking at 89th globally and 21st out of 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.Sibanda-Moyo is an author of the CSVR’s recent report on violence against women, titled “Violence against women in South Africa: A country in crisis”.In the study, the CSVR noted that women’s economic empowerment was vital to combating violence against women.“The lack of access to financial resources and support is a central barrier to leaving abusive relationships or even reporting incidences of abuse, both of which are important in the fight to end violence against women.“Thus, efforts to increase women’s economic empowerment through encouraging and strengthening their entrepreneurship and labour rights, encouraging universal access to education, and providing access to capital and resource control are recommended as essential to combat violence against women in South Africa,” the study said.According to the WEF, women’s economic empowerment in South Africa dragged far behind other sub-Saharan countries such as Burundi (ranked first globally); Benin (4); Rwanda (7); Guinea (10); Burkina Faso (47) and Chad (77). South Africa has an economic gender gap of 34.8%, while Burundi only has a gap of 8.9% between men and women living in that country.South Africa fared especially badly for wage equality for similar work with a gender gap of 43.7%, according to the WEF.