Addressing gender inequality | Sunday Observer

Addressing gender inequality

23 June, 2019
Protest against gender inequality
Protest against gender inequality

The gender pay gap is one of the most pressing issues that affect working women across the globe. In most countries, women are generally paid less than men even in the same job categories and working conditions. This was brought to the fore when thousands of women across Switzerland went on strike last week to protest gender inequality in the country.

The women demonstrators, many clad in purple, skipped work and instead took to the streets in citiesa cross Switzerland to call for equal pay and equal rights.

And they did so 28 years to the day after the historic 1991 women’s strike in Switzerland that put pressure on the Government to better implement a constitutional amendment on gender equality. The 1991 strike led to the passage of the Gender Equality Act five years later, which gave women legal protection from discrimination and gender bias in their workplaces.

Last year, the Swiss Parliament also passed an equal pay law that requires companies with 100 people or more to do wage-gap studies to determine if there are disparities in how much women and men are paid for the same work. However, the law did not cover enough employers or go far enough to punish companies that failed to remedy disparities. According to Switzerland’s Federal Statistics Office, in 2016, Swiss women working in the private sector earned one-fifth less than men. The Swiss women were marching to tell lawmakers and employers that there is still a lot more to be done.

This is one of the issues that have still not been addressed properly 24 year after the Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace held from September 4 - 15, 1995 in Beijing, China. Next year marks the 25th anniversary of the conference, but the world is no closer to finding solution to some of the issues affecting women, including gender inequality. Most of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, which have to be fulfilled by 2030, touch on the empowerment of women and girls, though many countries still have a long way to go in this regard.

These issues were also in focus at the recently-concluded Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver, Canada that brought together 8,000 delegates from around the world. I had the opportunity to attend this international conference, which was also a precursor for the celebrations that would mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Conference and Action Plan.

Indeed, gender equality was a prime issue highlighted at the parley, mainly through a report compiled by Equal Measures 2030, an organisation working towards this goal. The inaugural SDG Gender Index, developed by the Equal Measures 2030 partnership, found that 2.8 billion women and girls currently live in countries that are not doing enough to improve women’s lives. No country in the world is on track to achieve gender equality by 2030, according to this index which will be updated in 2021 and at regular intervals until the 2030 SDG deadline. Data are drawn from UN agencies, the World Bank, NGOs, think tanks and from the consultancy firm, Gallup.

Even the Nordic States, which score highly in the index, would need to take huge strides to fulfil gender commitments in the 17 SDGs, which 193 countries signed up to in 2015. The goals are considered the blueprint for global efforts to end poverty and inequality and halt the climate crisis. The index measured progress in 129 countries, marking them from zero to 100 –100 meaning equality has been achieved – on 51 targets in 14 of the goals. These targets either specifically reference gender equality, or touch on issues that have a disproportionate effect on women and girls, such as, whether women have access to mobile banking, or the internet, or a safe water source.

According to the index, countries with an overall score of 90 or more are making excellent progress, while those scoring 59 or less are making very poor headway on achieving the goals. The average overall score for the 129 countries in the index – home to 95 percent of the world’s women and girls – was 65.7, considered a poor result in the scoring system. Sri Lanka scored 62.1, which points to some of the achievements of the country such as universal access to education. However, only 21 countries achieved marks of 80 or above, with the top country, Denmark, achieving 89.3. Women’s under representation in Parliament, the gender pay gap and gender-based violence were among the areas all countries were struggling to tackle.

More than half of the countries scored poorly on efforts to achieve SDG 5, the goal to end gender inequality and empower women. The goal contains specific targets to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, end female genital mutilation and child marriage, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, and uphold women’s reproductive rights.

Speaking at Women Deliver, Alison Holder, Director, Equal Measures 2030, said: “I don’t see many countries taking the ambitious action needed to tackle these problems. Even among the best scoring countries there are still massive problems when it comes to female empowerment.”

Also at the Conference, the Population Council, a gender equity research group, released findings from a multi-country study showing that girls who have babies in their teens are less likely to be paid for their work than women who didn’t. The study, prepared for the Conference, of 600 million women aged 20 to 49, from 43 low- and middle-income countries found teen mothers, aged 20 to 24, are 1.2 times more likely to work than their peers.

But “across all age groups, working women who had a child during adolescence are less likely to be paid for their work than women who did not have a child during adolescence,” according to the report. It found that women who have a child before age 18 are set back economically for the rest of their lives. More than half of all women in a majority of the countries studied, worked with employment rates being the lowest among 20- to 24-year-olds and increases steadily with age. In some countries, women’s employment levelled off after age 40.

These findings offer food for thought for governments, lawmakers, civil society groups and women’s groups all over the world. With 2030 just 11 years away, it seems unlikely that all these problems would be solved by then.

But a start can be made right now to lay the foundation to achieve these goals at least by 2040. More resources must be allocated for women’s empowerment, though it is also a matter of political and social will. If more countries can muster that courage, the SDG goals will be within reach.