Time to be vigilant on women’s equality
By Susana Malcorra
This week the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) begins its deliberations. This UN Commission, established in 1946, serves as a catalyst and call to action to galvanize local and global efforts towards achieving a more balanced world. This more gender-balanced world is necessary, not only for economies and communities to thrive, but also to develop the resilience necessary for these communities to better sustain shocks and external pressures, whether economic, socio-political, conflict-driven or environmental in nature.
Although the twin goals of promoting gender parity and women’s empowerment have advanced since the inception of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action to achieve greater equality and opportunity for women, progress on both fronts can be described as highly uneven at best. In many parts of the world, basic women’s rights are still ignored. Elsewhere a positive agenda for promoting balance has taken root, but public policies still fall short in putting in place the measures needed to equate, for example, family bearing responsibilities, salaries or participation in the workforce at all levels.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) sheds light on some very disquieting trends: 88% of countries have restrictions against women in the workplace embedded in the constitution or law. Some forbid women from doing specific jobs; 59 countries have no laws against sexual harassment in the workplace; and there are 18 countries where women can be legally prevented from working. Furthermore, the IMF indicates that, in countries ranked in the bottom 50% for gender equality, the gains of such equality are estimated to be substantial: an increase in the size of the economy by 35% on average – representing more than a missed opportunity.
The dividends that could arise from the full participation of all members of society in the workplace are clear. Yet, progress to realize these dividends remains elusive. Many still see the empowerment of women as a zero-sum game where “if women win”, “men lose”. In parallel, a worrisome trend has arisen among some political leaders who promote the adoption of family policies as contradictory with gender policies. This narrow concept of family doesn’t recognize the value for both men and women inherent in sharing child-rearing responsibilities, allowing both to balance work, family and life in a more equitable manner. Policies such as shared maternal and paternal leave and support for parents to rejoin the workforce while early child-care is fully covered by public financing are not futuristic, but necessary to ensure the participation of both men and women in the economy.
In many countries, governments struggle to find ways to finance current and future pension plans due aging populations. It therefore seems only natural that conducive policies and incentives should be put in place that would provide an enabling environment to support women and men to have more children if they so choose. Proper public support and infrastructure that enables both men and women to pursue careers on equal footing would have a positive impact in terms of GDP growth, as well as by increasing financial contributions to finance pension systems. This approach is not solely about basic women’s rights; it also makes economic sense both in the short- and the long-term.
Why then is it that policies that seem obvious do not gain traction as quickly as they should? One thesis is that that such an approach challenges established notions of power coming from a defined role for women in the household. At the heart of this power struggle lies the unmet desires and ambitions of women to occupy their full share of responsibilities and opportunities in this world.
It is not progressive, but long overdue that all of us, men and women who care about equality, remain vigilant about political trends could imperil and even erode the gains that have been made. It is also time for us to put pressure on governments at all levels, local, state, national and multinational, to translate words in deeds and to put in place the policy frameworks necessary to facilitate the unhindered access of women to all opportunities.
The delay in implementing these policies means that gender parity will be achieved sometime in the XXII century. We cannot wait any longer. The time is now to deliver concrete results. For this reason, I have joined the Group of Women Leaders, voices for Change and Inclusion, to actively advocate for these matters and promote the adoption of policies with real impact in our respective fields of influence.
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We are living a very special moment in History in which even the very
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While there seems to be general agreement that there is no
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