As any reader, you might ask yourself why yet another article has been devoted to an analysis on gender equality, female representation and all such relevant notions. You may have second thoughts about reading along, in case you came across more pessimistic news that gender equality is still unattainable and unreachable, despite living in the last days of this decade. You may look at the title in dismay, wondering if you have the strength to read an analysis on yet more bleak evidence proving that we might never achieve equal gender representation. Yet this isn’t what you will encounter in this analysis. This article will serve as a rejuvenating breath of fresh air, as an indicator of revolutionary and expansive change.
If you have been paying close attention to the news during the past couple of months, you will have noticed that some developments are hard to miss. Sahle-Work Zewde became Ethiopia’s first female President in October 2018. Almost one year later, Ursula von der Leyen was appointed President of the European Commission in September 2019. Roula Khalaf has been serving as Financial Times’ Top Editor since November 2019. Esther Duflo was jointly awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for her research on the eradication of poverty. Sanna Marin was appointed Finland’s Prime Minister, along with 5 other women that compose the newly elected Finnish Parliament in December 2019.
The list of names could go on, with more examples serving as evidence of a very welcoming fact: the tide is changing and gender equality with regards to female representation has become an even more frequent occurrence. “Very optimistic, not actually true though” you may mutter under your breath. Yet more and more studies show that, when it comes to decision making and leadership positions, the percentage of females that are occupying important offices is increasing. In recent studies, the European Union has shown that the Gender Equality Index Score of the European Union for 2019 is almost 68%, a significant improvement that marks a sharp rise compared to the last decade. What is more, the UN reported that as of June 2019, 12 women are serving as Head of State and 13 as Head of Government. Despite small, these numbers symbolise the beginning of what could be regarded as a revolution in the field of gender equality.
Women in the field of political activism have also not gone unnoticed. From gun safety and control to environmental protection, leading personalities like teenagers Emma Gonzalez and Greta Thunberg have appeared on the covers of newspapers, magazines and articles that have gone viral within minutes of their publication. Their messages and actions have had far-reaching effects and have been welcomed warmly, despite initial scepticism and negative comments both from the public and leaders internationally. The same can be said about Representatives Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ilhan Omar, serving as women of colour in the US Congress, who have instigated the beginning of change on crucial US policy matters.
It becomes clear that the tide has changed as far as female representation is concerned. More and more women occupy leading positions, and the news are filled with daily articles about more women becoming CEOs and acquiring decision-making roles.
Yet, is this news-worthy material? Isn’t gender equality regarded as a given fact, an unchanged reality?
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Though theoretically, males and females are considered equals in every aspect of their social occupations i.e. in the workplace, in the family, even in their daily treatment, the sad reality shows otherwise. In several countries, women were only recently recognized some of the same rights as men. In Saudi Arabia, for example, despite this being an immensely progressive change, women were allowed to drive for the first time in 2017.
Gender inequality is also evident when it comes to equal pay in the workplace. There is an apparent and significantly wide pay gap between the earnings of males and females occupying the same positions in the workplace. The World Economic Forum recently published its annual Global Gender Gap Report, which includes surprising findings.
Taking into consideration four factors, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment, the WEF composed a ranking of 153 nations in terms of equal pay among genders. Iceland, Norway and Finland occupy the leaderboard and are thought to be the most gender equal nations for 2019, whereas war- and crisis-torn nations namely Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen are ranked with values equal to or below 0.5, emphasising the growing inequality that exists.
The report showcases a mixed picture.
It shows that achieving the quest for gender parity has significantly improved, compared to earlier reports at the beginning of the 2010 decade. There has been a marked and registered improvement in equal pay among gender on average as compared to reports from 2012 or 2014. Political representation for women has also become an increasingly more frequent phenomenon, but overall the political arena remains the dimension with the least gender equality and female presence even in the face of recent changes. The most alarming findings, however, state that the gender pay gap will cease to exist in approximately 202 years and at this moment, women are globally paid only 63% of what men earn.
This article doesn’t intend to focus on the pessimistic facts, despite being hard to miss. It aims to showcase that, progressively, gradually and quite steadily, the tide is turning for women and their opportunities. Though small, these steps could eventually lead to the world experiencing the equal contribution of both males and females and undergo a process of societal transformation towards greater gender equality. 200 years is a long period but change never arrived from one day to the other. It takes time, but the task will be achieved. As Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the WEF, mentioned, “More than ever, societies cannot afford to lose out on the skills, ideas and perspectives of half of humanity.”
You may wonder what the bright side of these news is. Change is coming. It is approaching fast and our societies have already started experiencing it and welcoming it warmly. Looking ahead, policy makers ought to take action to equip younger generations with the necessary skills to succeed in the constantly changing workplace according to the standards of each time. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has seen the rise of artificial intelligence, the automation of jobs and the more frequent necessity for data analysis and interpretation. It would be wrong to assume that gender equality can be achieved without young generations being equipped with skills that would help them better adapt to our rapidly changing societies.
by Katya Mavrelli
Cover image from cnn.com.