Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Knowing How We Are Doing Should Lead to Action

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, April 2 / 18

Zack Gross

Every year, the United Nations and other world bodies measure the progress and standing of most countries around the world in relation to our natural environment, gender equality, economic opportunity and other issues.  Overall, the answer to this set of questions is that we, as a planet, are not doing as well as we need to be doing, but that Canada is doing better than most countries.

If you watch or listen to daily news reports, you are aware that there is always a story on how the stock market index is faring - but one never hears about the Happiness Index!  This measures countries in terms of life expectancy, social supports and corruption.  The latest survey looked at 156 countries and listed Finland as the #1 happiest country followed by Norway and Denmark, with Canada placing 7th. 

You may remember how, just a few months ago, San Jose Sharks National Hockey League players complained when visiting Winnipeg that the city was just too cold and dark, with thin sheets on hotel beds and poor internet connections.  Officials in Finland, upon being named the Happiest Country, have said that while life in the winter is indeed cold, dark and snowy, Finnish people enjoy great personal freedoms and social services.

There are many health indices published annually, some of them looking at personal health and others at our health care systems.  The Bloomberg World Health Index explores mostly personal health, such as tobacco use, high blood pressure and cholesterol problems but also availability of clean water for home use. 

The UN looks more at social health, such as inequalities in the system, efficiency and levels of training of personnel.  Italy tops the list of 163 countries in personal health, with Iceland and Switzerland coming next.  Canada ranks #17.  In social health, France and Italy are at the top with Canada down in the twenties.

The Global Gender Gap is measured by the World Economic Forum, an organization that brings together political and business leaders annually to discuss world trends.  This year, it looked at 144 countries.  The good news is that education for women and girls is improving, with 95% of females having access now to some educational opportunities. 

However, most categories, such as health, economic participation and political involvement suffer from very slow progress or are actually falling back.  Women are more than 40% behind men worldwide in benefitting from economic activity and are almost 75% behind in political participation.   The WEF asserts that national economies are losing billions of dollars annually and the benefit of many great minds due to women’s diminished role in business and public life.

Even in Canada, women still earn only 70% of what men do for the same work and Canada is far behind many countries, including poorer ones, when it comes to electing women to office at all levels of government.  It wasn’t too many years ago that it was estimated that it might take 100 years here for women to “catch up”.  In some of the more traditional societies around the world, such as the Middle East and South Asia, the gender gap is larger and will take even longer to close.
Finally, let’s take a look at the Global Sustainability Index which measures how people are doing socially, how our economies are faring, and how well our natural environment is surviving.  Generally speaking, the societies and economies that are faring the best in offering opportunity and services to their citizens are located in Europe, for example Finland, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland.

The countries with the cleanest environments are located in Africa, away from modern life, urbanization and pollution.  However, these countries suffer many social and economic challenges, for example Burundi, Togo, Lesotho and Uganda.  Opportunities for employment and development to counter poverty would be most welcome.

The Sustainability Index has a message for us, that there is work to be done on renewable energy, ecologically friendly agricultural practices, employment, good governance, and income and gender equality.  A comment this group makes is that there are many meetings taking place around the world to deal with issues like climate change, yet little or no real progress or change is taking place.

How we are doing is that we know what the problems are that we need to address in our world.  Moving from intention to action – and finding a way to agree internationally and coordinate our efforts – are the challenges.  Hopefully, knowing how we are doing will spur us to action.

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of Brandon’s The Marquis Project and now co-ordinates outreach for Fair Trade Manitoba.

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