Today, Yingluck Shinawatra, a 44-year-old businesswoman, was selected as Thailand’s first female prime minister. The new leader faces a delicate balancing act. In recent years, Thailand has witnessed violent strife, and Yingluck will have to answer to both the country’s military elite and her activist supporters, who seek to bring the military to account for its role in suppressing recent protests. It’s a tall order for any political leader, but observers will be watching Yingluck especially closely, since she’s a political novice (her background is in business). Regardless of the challenges ahead, though, today marks an historic moment for Thailand, and further progress in increasing worldwide gender parity. Just where does the world stand on that front?

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2010 Global Gender Gap Report, significant gaps persist in much of the world, but at the same time, the authors note, “never before has there been such momentum around the issue of gender parity on the global stage.” Of the 134 countries included in the report, Thailand ranks 57th overall on a measurement scale that includes four subcategories: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. While Thailand is ranked first for health and survival, its performance in the political empowerment category is dismal—it comes in 94th. The political empowerment category measures, over the last 50 years, a country’s female-to-male ratios in parliament and in ministerial positions. Thailand’s were 0.15 and 0.14, respectively. And it received low marks for having never had a female head of state. That, of course, has changed—so keep an eye out for how Thailand fares in the 2011 rankings.