A Millennium Needed for Gender Equality in South Asia

The way things are going on, and considering the past fifty centuries, the economic and social servitude accepted by women, and witnessing the current rate of progress, it will take South Asia an entire millennium to reach a modicum of gender equality in the workplace. And the fact is that the situation in West is no better.
Recent years have seen a dramatic slowdown in progress towards workplace gender equality worldwide. At the current rate of progress, economic parity between the sexes could take another 170 years to reach. In 2015, that figure was 118 years.
There are dramatic differences between the regions, with the current length of time it will take to close the economic gender gap ranging from 47 to more than 1,000 years.
Regional gaps
In South Asia, progress on closing the economic gap has been negligible.
The region has the second-lowest score on this year’s Global Gender Gap Index, with 67% of its overall gender gap closed.
The Middle East and North Africa won’t see the economic gender gap close for another 356 years at current levels of progress. Overall, it is the lowest placed region, having closed 60% of its overall gender gap.
East Asia and the Pacific will take 111 years to reach economic gender parity, and has so far closed 68% of its overall gender gap.
The gap in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is predicted to close in 93 years. This region has the fourth-smallest gender gap of 70%.
Sub-Saharan Africa will take 60 years to reach economic gender parity, but has closed nearly 68% of its gender gap.
Latin America and the Caribbean, facing an approximate 60-year wait for economic gender parity, have closed nearly 70% of their gender gap.
Western Europe is expected to be the first to close its gender gap, by 2063, or in 47 years’ time. It has now closed 75% of its gender gap, more than any other region.
Country performance
On a national level, 11 countries have closed their economic gender gap by more than 80%. Four are from sub-Saharan Africa (Burundi, Botswana, Rwanda and Ghana) and three Nordic countries (Norway, Iceland and Sweden).
However, 19 countries – 15 of which are from the Middle East and North Africa region – have closed less than 50% of the gap. Pakistan and Syria hold the last two spots.
Why does economic gender equality matter?
The economic gender gap measures things such as how many women are in the workforce and how much women earn compared with men.
For instance, women around the world earn, on average, just over half of what men earn – despite working longer hours, on average, when taking paid and unpaid work into account.
In addition, only 54% of women are present in the global workforce, compared with 81% for men. That’s despite the fact that, in 95 countries, women attend university in equal or higher numbers than men.
The number of women in senior positions also remains stubbornly low, with only four countries in the world having equal numbers of male and female legislators, senior officials and managers.
Women on average are benefiting from only two-thirds of the access to health, education, economic participation and political representation that men have.
“Women and men must be equal partners in managing the challenges our world faces – and in reaping the opportunities. Both voices are critical in ensuring the Fourth Industrial Revolution delivers its promise for society,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.
Overall gender equality – who does best?
The top four performing nations are all in the Nordic region: Iceland (1), Finland (2), Norway (3) and Sweden (4). Rwanda beats Ireland into 5th place, while the Philippines, Slovenia, New Zealand and Nicaragua make up the rest of the top 10.
Earlier this year, the Economist named Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland as the world’s best places for working women in its “glass-ceiling index”, and the Guardian recently ran a piece explaining why Iceland is the best place in the world to be a woman.
This year’s Gender Gap Report finds that progress towards global parity in the key economic pillar has slowed dramatically. The gap – which stands at 59% – is now larger than at any point since 2008.
However: “These forecasts are not foregone conclusions. Instead, they reflect the current state of progress and serve as a call to action to policy-makers and other stakeholders to double down on efforts to accelerate gender equality,” said Saadia Zahidi, Head of Education, Gender and Work, and Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum.
And this is because of myths surrounding investing in Women. We need to bust those myths.
“Women are better suited for baby-making than money-making.” It sounds ridiculous today, but myths like this – based on no scientific evidence – drove the decisions of our forefathers (and foremothers) for generations. Even today, around the world girls and women battle commonly held views and beliefs that limit their opportunities and potential. Myths, like the seven listed below, rob women of their power to advance themselves, their families, their communities, and ultimately, their nations.
The truth is, women around the world are resourceful economic agents, overcoming persistent, gender-based barriers every day. Women have demonstrated they can build informal and formal businesses out of very little capital, create networks to maximize limited resources, all while shouldering the traditional responsibilities placed upon them, duties like child- and home-care. Women succeed in spite of laws, policies and institutions that hold them back, but it is a constant struggle. It is time to create supportive environments for women to thrive economically, and bust these myths once and for all.
1. The myth: investing in women doesn’t pay off
The truth: closing gender gaps will actually lead to an increase in global GDP
A recent McKinsey Global Institute report found that if women play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much $28 trillion or 26% could be added to global annual GDP by 2025. Now that’s a payoff we can all get behind.
2. The myth: gender inequality is not an issue in developed countries
The truth: gender inequality remains high around the world
Although many countries have made progress on some aspects of gender equality, inequality remains high. In the US, there are just 66 women for every 100 men in leadership and managerial positions, and women do almost double the unpaid care work that men do. Meanwhile, in Europe the situation for women is even less promising. Men hold 89% of executive committee jobs at the top 100 companies. There’s work to be done.
3. The myth: women’s income is not used any differently than men’s income
The truth: a greater percentage of women’s income is reinvested in their families and communities
This spending drives improved access to education, nutrition and healthcare – win, win, win. Evidence also shows that it is not merely a woman’s increased income, but rather her control over that income that helps her achieve economic empowerment. A study in Brazil showed that the likelihood of a child’s survival increased by 20% when the mother made financial choices. These key economic decisions, however, are intricately wrapped into cultural norms around gender, age, ethnic background, health or physical status, and overall social hierarchy.
4. The myth: women choose to work less than men
The truth: women shoulder a greater burden of unpaid work, and have fewer paid work opportunities
Women don’t work less than men; in fact, they often work more. The issue is that their work is unpaid and often unregistered – rearing children and caring for the elderly rarely produces a paycheck. In some regions like South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, women shoulder up to 90% of unpaid care work. It’s time to balance the scales.
5. The myth: inequality ends as women’s income increases
The truth: it’s giving women control over income that ends inequality
Evidence shows that it is not merely a woman’s increased income, but rather her control over that income that helps her achieve economic empowerment. When a woman holds the strings to the family purse, that family is more likely to thrive. Brazil’s Bolsa Familia Program, which provides cash transfers directly to the female head of households, accounted for up to 25% of Brazil’s reduction in inequality and 16% of its drop in extreme poverty.
6. The myth: women’s groups are not necessary for economic development
The truth: women’s groups – including cooperatives, collectives, farmer groups, business associations and trade unions – are often the only path to sustainable economic development for many women around the world.
Women’s groups can offer a safe haven in which women of limited means can pool and maximize resources, manage risk, innovate and experiment, build skills and capacity, mentor and learn from one another, organize and advocate for rights, share care responsibilities, build confidence, and receive key information on everything from market information to nutritional guidance, family planning and reproductive health.
7. The myth: family-friendly, gender-responsive policies are not worth the investment
The truth: In the US, every $1 invested in family planning results in $7 of savings; in developing countries like Jordan, $1 can result in as much as $16 in savings. The Copenhagen Consensus showed that every dollar spent on modern contraceptive methods will yield $120 in overall benefits.
Companies that invest in family-friendly, gender-responsive policies have found high returns on their investments, including reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. By providing healthcare for women and their children at the workplace, studies in Bangladesh and Egypt point to a $3:17 and $4:17 return on investment.
Harmful myths like these continue to limit women as they seek careers, advance in the workplace, and seek access to capital – especially in the most economically disadvantaged parts of the world. These myths do not just impede women on a personal level, they also hinder our collective progress. The data and research above tell a different story about the exponential power of women. Growth is possible. Prosperity is possible. And it becomes a reality with women in the driver’s seat.


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