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The Global Gender Report for 2014 recognizes that while the most glaring case for gender equality comes from data about the economic benefit of women’s inclusion, fairness is “another simple and powerful reason” why gender equality should be fought for. Although “another” may sound quite an understatement, the Report does not fail to pinpoint that women represent one half of the world’s population and investigates to what an extent they are exercising the right of equal access to health, education, power and political representation.
The Report presents a Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI) for 2014 which covers 142 countries and measures the relative gap between men and women in four categories or subindexes: Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, Economic Participation and Opportunity, and Political Empowerment. The data reveal that while a considerable progress has been achieved in the first two categories, there are substantial gender gaps in the third and the fourth one. Five of the Nordic countries have come closest to closing the gender gap with more than 80%. In Educational Attainment, 25 countries have fully closed the gap, while Angola, Ethiopia, Yemen, Guinea and Chad hold the last five spots in this category. In Health and Survival, 35 countries have fully closed the gap, with Vietnam, Albania, China, India and Armenia being the lowest-ranking.
According to the GGGI, no country has closed the gap in the subindexes of Economic Participation and Political Empowerment. On Economic Participation and Opportunity, 5 European and Central Asian countries plus 9 from Sub-Saharan Africa have closed more than 80% of the gap, the top 5 positions being occupied by Burundi, Norway, Malawi, the USA and the Bahamas. The last five spots in the category are held by Yemen, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan and Syria. In the subindex of Political Empowerment, the gender gap is closed more than 60% only in Iceland and Finland. Thirty-seven countries have closed less than 10% of the political gender gap, and five countries have closed less than 3% of the gap – Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Lebanon and Brunei Darussalam.
The overall figures point out that while the health gap and the education gap have been closed with almost 96% and 94%, the gender gap on economic participation and political empowerment has been closed with only 60% and 21% respectively. According to the World Bank’s Gender at Work Report:
“On virtually every global measure, women are more economically excluded than men. Trends suggest that women’s labor force participation (ages 15–64) worldwide over the last two decades has stagnated, declining from 57 to 55 percent globally. Participation is as low as 25 percent in the Middle East and North Africa. Globally, Gallup estimates that men are nearly twice as likely as women to have full-time jobs—and, in South Asia, they are more than three times as likely.”
In her article “Why are our daughters still trapped by sexist stereotypes?”, Linda Scott quotes Francie Blau and Lawrence Kahn who find that inclusive practices in Europe and English-speaking countries have increased the participation of women in the labour force but have perhaps penalized them for the expense of the adopted policies and programmes facilitating their involvement. Scott finds confirmation of this in the data provided by the World Economic Forum, which reveals the percentage of hired women is smaller than the number of women present in the labour force, and even smaller of those taking up management positions.
Interviews with 25,000 people conducted by Opportunity Now in the UK show that the major roadblock to equal job opportunities amount to the masculinist attitiudes and practice. Scott quotes a number of studies that identify long-hours, high stress, workplace bullying, a belief that women naturally prefer the role of housewives as the major obstacles to change. She also discusses a study conducted in 27 countries in Europe by the European Institute for Gender Equality that the respondents shared what Scott calls “an astonishingly old-fashioned set of expectations” envisioning the role of the woman predominantly at home and subordinate to males.
Women are still hired less often, paid unequally, and seldom advance. – Linda Scott
Some parts of the world face additional grave challenges. In her article “Empowering girls in the worst countries for gender equality” Lebogang Keolebogile Maruapula, Botswana, asserts that the two areas of particular concern, economic and political participation will continue to be a challenge unless cultural practices and beliefs that are holding women back come to an end. Such obstacles to women’s participation are “belief systems that see women as the inferior sex who should therefore be followers, not leaders, despite the fact that this is harmful to our economies”. Maruapula points out that women in some countries earn 50% of the men’s wage for carrying out similar tasks, and highlights the necessity for policies creating gender balance in the workplace to be implemented.
Makhtar Diop, a former Senegalese Economy and Finance Minister, identifies the factors that prevent girls in Eastern and Southern Africa from attending school to be poverty, work demands in the home, and child marriage. He pinpoints another acute problem – while some African countries have a very high rate of female labour participation, the norm of vulnerable employment remains. It is illustrated by women working longer hours than men (according to a study from 2006 – 467 minutes a day vs 371 minutes a day for men) and performing most of the household work. Diop acknowledges the fact that “access to family planning and maternal health services – as well as education for girls – typically results in improved economic opportunity for women and lower fertility”. Innovative programmes like “School for Husbands” have been introduced in countries like Niger, where the fertility rate of 7.6 children per woman is one of the highest in the word, to facilitate the demographic transition. Diop firmly believes that:
Strengthening women’s roles as leaders, entrepreneurs, consumers and economic stakeholders will transform the continent. For the better.
Gender parity was one of the ten key global challenges that experts the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland identified in January 2015. Political empowerment was discussed by a number of participants. The President of the Republic of Rwanda revealed the country’s successful strategy of involving women in politics though mobilization of the population resulting in women comprising 30% of the parliamentarians. Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, made a point that “a critical issue for women is the possibility to be a mother and the ability to participate fully in the workforce.” Women comprise 40% of Norway’s parliamentarians, participation facilitated by social policy that provides free kindergartens, one year of paid maternity leave, and 10 weeks’ paternal leave. Melinda Gates, Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USA, emphasized that particularly in developing countries, women play a central role in society:
If you invest in a girl or a woman, you are investing in everybody else.
The World Economic Forum in Davos became the setting for the launching of the second phase of the #HeForShe initiative. Earlier, in October 2014 UN Women goodwill ambassador Emma Watson announced the launching of this UN campaign calling on men and boys to become advocates for gender equality. In her speech she emphasized the role of both genders in bringing about a social and cultural change. Watson made an important distinction that while feminism has often been associated with man-hating, it is by definition “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”, “the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”
In her open invitation to men to fight against sexism, Watson emphasized that this is a question of human rights and freedom that concerns everybody, and that men have been “imprisoned by gender stereotypes” too: “I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. In fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success.” Watson identified a reciprocal relationship between gender-based identity and equality:
If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.
Sociology expert Nicki Lisa Cole finds it significant that the most important words in Watson’s speech were not about women and girls but about masculinity – “the collection of behaviors, practices, embodiments, ideas, and values that come to be associated with male bodies.” The author reviews a number of studies, which examine how commonly held beliefs about achieving and asserting masculinity has triggered social problems such as sexualized violence, lack of autonomy in healthcare decisions, lack of parity in political representation, lack of access to education and jobs, unequal payment rates, and when intersecting with racism and xenophobia – political, economic and environmental violence on a regional and more global level.
The second phase of the #HeForShe initiative is a year-long campaign called IMPACT 10x10x10, which is about “engaging governments, businesses and universities, and having them make concrete commitments to gender equality”, at the same time extending an invitation to the people behind these organizations to share their stories. In a passionate speech at a press conference attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Emma Watson reflected on the response to #HeForShe, which had its conference watched over 11 million times, and gave rise to 1.2 billion social media conversations.
Men who have signed the petition have asked what the next steps should be. To them Watson answered: “The truth is, the ‘what now?’ is down to you. What your HeForShe commitment will be, is personal, and there is no best way. Everything is valid.” She stressed the importance of the commitments to be concrete and to be made visible. The UN Women goodwill ambassador asserted that the “impact” can already be seen in individual’s changed life stories:
“I’ve had my breath taken away when a fan told me that since watching my speech she has stopped herself being beaten up by her father. I’ve been stunned by the amount of men in my life that have contacted me since my speech to tell me to keep going, and that they want to make sure their daughters will still be alive to see a world where women have parity, economically and politically.”
Watson reminded once again that “women share this planet 50/50 and they are underrepresented, their potential astonishingly untapped”. Ironically, it has been noted that the World Economic Forum in Davos was a good example of this underrepresentation – only 17% of the participants were women. According to Fortune the number actually fails to reflect the lack of gender equality in global leadership as in their Global 500 (the 500 largest companies ranked by revenues) only 3.4% of the companies have female chief executives, and in politics only 6% of all heads of state and 8% of all heads of government are women.
Where does the insight of #HeForShe lie? To a great extent, it is in the realization that “the achievement of gender equality requires an inclusive approach that recognizes the crucial role of men and boys as partners for women’s rights, and as having needs of their own in the formulation of that balance”. It calls for men’s understanding that gender equality is of benefit to all humanity, of benefit to men too. This vision follows the UN Women’s principle of “promoting inclusiveness, highlighting the crucial role of men and boys as partners for women’s rights and gender equality”.
IMPACT 10x10x10 has its focus on three sectors: government, private sectors and youth, engaging Heads of State, CEOS and university Presidents. Frameworks of the campaign directed at each of these sectors are available for downloading at the campaign’s website. Inspirational, but also practical, they outline the campaign’s goals and present suggestions for concrete actions that persons and institutions willing to help closing the gender gap may undertake.
Emma Watson’s powerful appeal during the #HeForShe launching campaign was: “If not me, who? If not now, when?” It is about solidarity, it is about inclusion, it is about unity. How will your personal commitment change the figures of the next Gender Gap Report?
[Head photo: © UN Women]
Blagovesta Troeva works at the Department of English at New Bulgarian University, Sofia. She obtained her first Master’s degree in British and American Studies at Sofia University, Bulgaria. While her career develops in the field of foreign language teaching, she also has profound interests in human rights, anti-discrimination, inclusion and learning difficulties. She has completed the Erasmus Mundus Special and Inclusive Education – a joined Master’s programme of the University of Roehampton, London, Oslo University, and Charles University, Prague.