Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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End to Gender Gap Hundreds of Years Away? 

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, May 15 / 13

Zack Gross

While we may have just celebrated Mother’s Day, improvement in women’s status in our world seems not to be in the cards for the near future. 

Canada, as a rich and relatively progressive country, was recently given an A+ by the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies for women’s health and education, but the CCPA’s research shows that women lag behind in areas such as political involvement and income equality. 

The scoring system used in this study points to the fact that women’s place in comparison to men’s has improved by only 2.3%, meaning that it could take over two hundred more years for equality to be reached. 

Female legislators, senior officials and managers aren’t present in politics and corporations in anywhere near equal numbers to men and are paid on average significantly less.   Recent figures peg women’s pay at 70% for work equal to men’s.

Six months ago, the World Economic Forum released its annual Global Gender Gap report that uses very similar categories to measure women’s progress compared to men’s.  It announced that Canada had fallen three places to 21st overall, being passed by relatively poor countries such as the Philippines, Lesotho and Latvia.  Only 12% of countries in the world lost ground in this measurement, and we were one!

Gap areas identified included girls’ percentage of high school enrolment having declined 4% compared to boys; women’s wage equality having declined by three cents since 2010 compared to males; and labour force participation and senior management attainment having stagnated.  As the momentum toward women’s participation and equality stalls, so do opportunities for senior women to mentor junior ones, and for companies to provide women with family-friendly employment policies.

During the current economic downturn, women have lost considerable ground. 

Women’s share of employment has declined for the first time since 2004, says Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.  Another report says that at least 70% of our federal stimulus funding for infrastructure has benefited men only.  Globally, due to economic and cultural factors, a more difficult position is held by women in traditional societies.

In 1997, the United Nations’ Human Development Report made the statement that “no country treats its women as well as its men.”  This was 50 years after the UN Declaration of Human Rights was launched to confront issues of inequality. 

Worldwide, two-thirds of illiterate people are female.  One in three women have experienced or witnessed gender-based violence. There is the old saying that “women do two-thirds of the work, receive 10% of the income and own 1% of the means of production.”

In politics globally, women hold only 15.6% of elected seats.  Some countries have instituted minimum numbers allowable so that women’s representation will be guaranteed but others countries do just the opposite, banning women’s participation.  Discrimination can get very basic in some traditional societies, where women may not be allowed to ride a bicycle or car, even leave their home without permission, or have easy access to personal identification documents such as passports.  Where tradition ends and oppression begins is an often-debated subject in development circles.

There has been a strong effort through the United Nations and many international development organizations to strengthen the position and role of women, starting with International Women’s Year in 1975 with an accompanying major global conference, and followed by conferences and International Decades for Women since, with a variety of focuses. 

One economic challenge that women have faced is accessing credit in order to start their own small business. The Grameen Bank, led by Muhammed Yunus, was one of the first to answer this call, offering small loans to thousands of women in South Asia.  Since then, other micro-finance organizations have been created around the world to continue this process. 

Although there have been shortcoming to this kind of initiative, such as men taking the money away from their women or women failing to create sustainable livelihoods with their loans, generally speaking 90% of the efforts have been effective.

The challenge of women in politics has been taken up by many groups as well, and as many authoritarian countries move toward greater democratization, one of the focuses has been writing women’s equality into new national constitutions, as was done in Kenya, a couple of years ago. 

Research shows that when women have a say in national direction, they focus on investing in basic needs such as health care, food security and environmental sustainability, while men tend to look much more at rapid economic growth without considering its effect on the whole population, or on military matters which will raise your Gross National Product but not your standard of living.

While the final closing of the gender equality gap may not happen in our lifetime, it is important to keep the momentum moving forward.  As another saying goes:  everybody does better when everybody does better!

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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