News

Pick Up the Pace and Mind the Gap

By: Katja Iversen and Whitney Sogol, Women Deliver; Originally posted by The Huffington Post

With the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) new release of the 9th edition of the Global Gender Gap Index, the world has more hard data than ever before to support the claim that investing in girls and women is a win for everyone. The Global Gender Gap Index analyzes whether women have the same opportunities as men in the arenas of health, education, economic participation and political empowerment, and discusses the implications of disparities for global development. Evidence from this year’s report is both reassuring and disconcerting.

Some countries have made modest progress, such as the United States, which moved back up to 20th place in the rankings. Others backslid, such as the United Kingdom, which is now ranked at 26th. The Nordics are as usual topping the index.

Oddly, three countries with questionable reproductive health and rights records came in high in the rankings: Nicaragua ranked 6th, Ireland 8th and the Philippines 9th. Given the substantial impact access to sexual and reproductive health -including to safe and legal abortion - has on a woman's quality of life, risk of dying in childbirth, productivity and so much more, it would be good if WEF would include considerations about sexual and reproductive health when ranking countries in the next Index.

This "gap in the gap" noted, the report's most important finding -- the one that should leave us unsettled, but inspired to act -- is that the world is not on track to close the gender gap until 2095. This means that inequality in the workplace, for example, is likely to continue for approximately 81 years. We must pick up the pace."

Accelerating progress to make gender equity a global reality will not be easy, especially since it will require changing deeply ingrained individual, cultural, and organizational norms. We must be determined and strategic in our approach. We must remain resilient and resolute until the unfinished business of closing the gender gap is done.

Girls and women deserve lives full of opportunity on par with that afforded to boys and men. Progress made to date is the result of hard-fought battles. It should be our shared goal to use the important data provided by the Index to motivate investments and actions that eventually render the need for a report on gender equality obsolete. Doing so would mean that business—and humanity—are doing well.

At Women Deliver, we witness success stories of individuals and organizations driving progress toward gender equality every day. Several key strategies stand out as ideal approaches to closing the gender gap today, not tomorrow.

  1. Invest in the health, rights and wellbeing of girls and women, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights. When we invest in girls and women there is a ripple effect of positive outcomes. When women are more educated, they are more likely to access quality health services and products, less likely to die in childbirth, more likely to send their children to school, and more likely to be financially successful. Since women tend to invest a greater share of their earnings back into their communities, the effect of investing in girls and women cascades to families, communities, and nations.
     
  2. Ensure that women have a seat in the boardroom. WEF’s Global Gender Gap Index reaffirms prior research done by McKinsey & Co and others showing that “companies that include more women at the top levels of leadership tend to outperform those that don’t,” and that gender equality has become a “business imperative”. Businesses must take concrete action to incorporate tactics to advance gender equality into their business strategy. Coca-cola and eBay are trailblazers on this front. They should be watched closely.
     
  3. Use powerful storytelling and messaging to shift individual and organizational social norms and structures. It is time to lay the platitude, “change comes slow or not at all” to rest. We can make progress right now. Businesses, individuals, government, NGOs, and multilaterals must get on the bullhorn to tout the human rights, economic, health, political, and business case for gender equality. Changing behaviors and beliefs is one of the most difficult tasks of global health and development, but the dividends are too good to pass up. Until we are able to create a sea change in how women are perceived and treated, we will have to keep looking down to “mind the gap”.

These are just three examples of dozens of strategies available. We must use all the resources in our toolkit to expedite progress toward making gender equality a global reality.

WEF’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Index gives us impetus to act. It also gives us evidence to inspire investments where the pay-off is greatest. We must invest more in girls and women.  Women deliver for themselves, their families, and societies. Women deliver the opportunity to alleviate poverty, spur economic growth, and reduce maternal, newborn and child deaths. Women deliver a stronger workforce, better business outcomes, and a better tomorrow. When you invest in girls and women, everyone wins.

Katja Iversen, CEO, Women Deliver, @katja_iversen

Whitney Sogol, Manager of Public/Private Sector Engagement, Women Deliver @whitsogs

Follow Women Deliver @WomenDeliver

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