Gaping global gender gap demands urgent action

Published : 03 Jul 2023 06:57 PM

On the face of it, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2023, published last week, should bring cheer to the organizations and individuals that are striving for gender equality and parity. After all, progress has been made across the board, on almost every single parameter, as the overall score is 68.4 percent — up from 68.1 percent last year. On almost all benchmarks, progress has been made toward closing the gender gap.

However, the pace of closing the gap — or achieving parity between males and females — is painfully slow. This was acknowledged by the World Economic Forum, which stated that, at the current rate, it will take fully 131 years for the world to achieve parity; a rate that even the report’s authors say is too slow to be acceptable. It is a joke and almost a slap in the face of the UN, which has set gender equality as one of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

Besides education and health — the two parameters on which the world as a whole is doing reasonably well, with the gap closed up to 95 percent — there is a lot of work to be done in every benchmark, including, most worryingly, economics and political participation, with even the most advanced and politically aware nations far from achieving equality. Political parity, for instance, has barely inched up from 2022, hovering at 22.5 percent, marginally higher than last year’s 22.4 percent. Even more worryingly, the race for parity has taken a backslide in terms of economic participation and opportunity, with the score falling from 60 percent in 2022 to 59.8 percent in 2023.

Only nine out of 146 nations covered in the report have closed the overall gap to 80 percent or more and the highest, Iceland, with 91.2 percent, is the only one to have closed the gap to more than 90 percent. As can be expected, there is a lot of disparity among the different regions of the world. Seven of the top 10 nations are European, while Africa, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific account for only one country each and North America is surprisingly absent from the top 10.

While Europe is in the lead, just ahead of North America, in terms of overall parity, Southern Asia and the Middle East and North Africa are the laggards, with Southern Asia clocking 63.4 percent and MENA 62.6 percent. Accordingly, these two regions will take 149 and 152 years, respectively, to achieve total gender parity, says the report.

For humanity to achieve the goal of achieving gender parity at a much faster and more acceptable rate, it is important for every section of society to play its role. As of now, even Iceland, which leads the world, is not on track to meet the UN SDG target.

First of all, governments need to acknowledge how far behind they are in their attempts to achieve this goal as per the UN’s timelines. Next, they should introduce stringent legislation, with incentives and penalties, to ensure that parity is actually achieved, as more than 20 years of platitudes and lip service have seen practically no advancement on gender equality.

Businesses need to be policed more closely and penalized if they fail to progress toward gender equality.

For gender parity to advance, governments need to increase their social budgets, whether for education, health or childcare. For instance, the economic participation of women, at least in developed nations, can only progress if women can afford to leave their children in childcare. This sector has regressed since the COVID-19 pandemic, with many women spending more money on childcare than they earn from working. This has been seen in Europe and North America in particular.

Similarly, for gender parity to be achieved in terms of education and health in the Southern Asia and MENA regions, the governments there need to invest more, such as by setting up more schools closer to the home villages of many of the girls and women who currently miss out on an education.

Businesses, too, need to be policed more closely and penalized if they fail to progress toward gender equality. Here, even the most “progressive” parts of the world appear medieval, as the glass ceiling is far from being broken. Only 5 percent of companies worldwide were being led by a woman in 2021, as per a survey conducted by consultancy firm Deloitte.

Never mind the position of CEO, women have to struggle to even get a seat in the boardroom. Even in a country like the US, just 23.9 percent of board members are women. These are the low-hanging fruits that businesses and governments must achieve rapidly. There is no cost or challenge involved in a company having women make up at least 50 percent of its directors. But the fact that women remain so far behind even in developed nations shows the sheer dominance of men and the mindset that they are satisfied or even happy with the status quo.

An even bigger challenge than the boardroom is to ensure some sort of parity in political power. As of January 2023, according to the UN, only 31 countries had women as the head of state or head of government, while women constituted only 22.8 percent of Cabinet ministers around the world and 26.5 percent of members of national parliaments.

For these changes to come about, ordinary people also need to change their mindsets. Instead of tolerating these inequalities, societies need to put an end to them by protesting, voting or even through consumer power, such as by preferring products made by companies that are seen to be taking concrete steps toward ensuring gender parity.

If societies remain silent on this issue, gender equality may forever remain a distant dream and a mere slogan.

Ranvir S. Nayar is managing editor of Media India Group. 

Source: Arab News