Gender inequality has myriad faces: archaic laws that codify sexism, male control of joint income and household assets, exclusion from governance, trafficking and violence against women, denial of education and adequate health care, and gender segregation in the work force, to name a few. The scope of inequality is vast and its costs to society are mounting. Lifelong learning/education is also needed for those who serve in global institutions and those who participate in international governance processes. Those devoted to tackling our global challenges will need new or evolved skills, new ways of thinking and particular qualities of evolved, ethical leadership relevant to their roles in complex, international environments.
The Gender Equality and Governance Index was built with the understanding that indexes—despite their limitations—are tools to generate debate on key policy issues, to precipitate remedial actions, and to track progress. A well-designed composite indicator thus provides a useful frame of reference for evaluation, both between countries and overtime. The GEGI analyzes data from a variety of international organizations and valuable survey data to achieve a broad-based and comparative understanding of gender discrimination on a global scale, using five critical “pillars”:governance, education, work, entrepreneurship, violence.
By breaking scores down into pillars, the GEGI allows policymakers to pinpoint specific areas for improvement.
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Women’s suffrage has come relatively recently: the average time since women were granted the right to vote is a mere 67 years. Even where women have legally been granted the right to vote, they have encountered religious and cultural obstacles that discourage their participation in governance. As a result, women are still grossly underrepresented in political decision-making.
Gender equality will not be achieved by simply removing barriers to opportunity. We must evolve from an emphasis on equality of opportunity toward ensuring equality of outcome, since economic growth and social progress depends on the active engagement and influence of women in governance.
First, the GEGI analyzes the extent to which a country’s legal framework supports gender equality. For instance, a legal indicator of a country’s commitment to gender equality is its adherence to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Although 188 UN member states have ratified CEDAW, 59 retain reservations that block full implementation of its statuses.
Furthermore, the GEGI examines the proportion of women in key positions in each country. Only 72 countries in the GEGI have had a female president or prime minister for any length of time since 1945.
At present, female heads of state or government preside in only 22 countries of the world and only 10 countries have female central bank governors. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, only 25 percent of representatives in the combined houses of national parliaments globally were women as of December 2020.
Exclusion and discrimination remain pervasive, and women are still underrepresented at the apex of the judiciary in most countries.
More and more countries are using quotas for elected legislative bodies, with promising results. Where these laws exist, there is more government spending on social services and welfare and lower rates of corruption. Countries with quotas for women in parliament also show a higher degree of women participating in the labor force.
Efforts to address gender inequality through legislation, leadership and political reform are insufficient. When women and girls are denied access to education, patriarchy prevails, and human capital is wasted. Inequalities in education artificially reduces the pool of talent from which companies and governments can draw, and thus a direct way to boost economic growth is to expand educational opportunities for girls. With the right tools at their disposal, women and girls have proven themselves to be the source of innovative solutions to pressing global challenges.
Unequal levels of education reduce the quality of human capital on average across a population and can substantially retard economic growth.
The world has made significant strides in female education in the past decades. The World Bank reported in 2018 that girls’ primary, secondary, and tertiary school enrollment worldwide is closely approaching that of boys. While these strides are laudable, such figures mask dire situations in individual countries. The World Bank reports that in many countries, including Angola, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Mali, and Nepal, more than half of all women have not completed even a primary level of education. 500 million women in 2016 were illiterate – more than 60 percent of the total illiterate population.
Many academic studies have shown that large gender gaps in education, particularly in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East, significantly reduce annual economic growth rates. Devoting more resources to equal education can empower women both in the domestic sphere and in the workforce. Each additional year of education for girls is reflected in delays in the age of marriage and first pregnancies, reduction in sexually transmitted diseases, increased lifetime income, and improved health care within families. It is therefore no surprise that the world’s most competitive countries and economies, including those that produce and embrace new technologies, are marked by the highest opportunities for women’s equality in the classroom.
As in education, inequalities in employment are toxic to economic growth because they constrain the labor market, making it difficult for firms and businesses to scale up efficiently. Countries that have integrated women into the workforce more rapidly have improved their international competitiveness.
We observe a political or ideological aspect of discrimination against women contributing to the economy. In authoritarian and hybrid regimes, women face greater restrictions on
working than in full or even flawed
The GEGI tracks several variables that influence a woman’s choice to engage in salaried employment. Although female-friendly workplace practices are on the rise, women in most countries must choose between raising children and working for pay. In the absence of paid parental leave, tax-deductible childcare services, and guaranteed non-discrimination during the child-rearing years, these two choices become mutually exclusive. In 50 countries, paid leave of at least 14 weeks is not available to women. Only 43 countries provide for paid parental leave.
Beyond incentives, there are many countries where legal barriers and social norms explicitly restrict women’s participation in the workforce. 100 countries impose restrictions or prohibitions on the kinds of jobs women can hold. The sectors where women make up the vast majority of the workforce, such as care work and the service sector, tend to be lower-paying and with less opportunities for advancement. Even in these women-dominated sectors, men hold the majority of managerial and supervisory roles. Finally, in about half of countries covered in the GEGI, the law does not mandate equal renumeration. As a result, women earn less than men for comparable work, a form of discrimination which greatly contributes to the feminization of poverty.
Women’s lack of access to financial accounts and services is most acute in low income countries, where only 32 percent of women, on average, have a financial account.
Women entrepreneurs have greater difficulty securing credit than men. The International Finance Corporation has found that women entrepreneurs face a global financing deficit of $1.5 trillion. Women’s lack of access to financial accounts and services is most acute in low income countries, where only 32 percent of women, on average, have a financial account. Furthermore, because women tend to earn less and have fewer property rights than men, they have a harder time providing collateral to secure a loan.
Society has much to gain from closing the gender gap in entrepreneurship. On average, women invest 90 percent of their earnings back into their communities — compared to just 35 percent for men. Economists have identified economic benefits associated with increased earnings for women, including higher savings, more productive investments, and more reliable repayment of credit. Potential strategies to increase women entrepreneurship include creating incentives for investment in women-owned companies, developing mentorship programs to train young women entrepreneurs, and expanding new sources of capital like crowdfunding and microloans.
Women are most vulnerable to violence in cultures where long-held customs and fundamental prejudices place the blame for violence on the women themselves. The WHO reports that one-third of all women will experience violence at some point, and one-fourth will experience domestic abuse. Nearly 60 percent of all women killed intentionally in 2017 were murdered by intimate partners or family members. Women and girls make up 72 percent of all sex trafficking victims.
Every full democracy has legislation
protecting women from domestic violence and sexual harassment and around 90 percent of flawed democracies can say the same. By contrast, only 54 percent of authoritarian regimes have domestic violence legislation, and only 65 percent have legislation addressing sexual harassment in employment.
For centuries, guilt and shame have been tools to convince women that they are complicit in the crimes committed against them. As a result, most violence against women goes unacknowledged, unreported, and unaddressed. It is estimated that only one-fourth of physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of the stalkings that take place in the United States are reported to the police. Fewer than one-third of women experiencing domestic violence globally will ever say anything about it publicly. This makes it particularly difficult to measure with any accuracy or to devise effective solutions.
The GEGI assesses a number of factors in an attempt to capture the full picture of violence against women, both de jure and de facto. These include lifetime risk of maternal death, women’s self-assessments of safety, danger of intimate partner violence, legislation on domestic violence and sexual harassment, and the prevalence of “son preference.”
Imagine a world where all countries score high on each of the five pillars of the Global Equality and Governance Index. This would be a world where women enjoy equal opportunityunder the law, the right to use their full talents as leaders and participants in political systems, and freedom and respect in their families and communities. A world where girls and young women receive a quality education that empowers them to be good citizens and productive contributors to the national prosperity. A world where women are fully welcomed into the labor market, can pursue any profession, and receive equitable rewards for their service. A world where women are encouraged to start their own enterprises and have full access to the capital, markets, and institutional support needed to grow these businesses. And a world where women are free from the terror and tragedy of gender-based violence, and where female infants are valued, cherished, nurtured, and given the chance to thrive as much as their male counterparts.
This would not be a uniform or stagnant world. Each country would still address the challenges to gender equality and female empowerment through the prism of their unique cultural, historical and religious environments. But by all accounts, it would be more peaceful, prosperous, just, resilient, freer from corruption, and dedicated to personal freedom and opportunity than the world we now know or envision. It would be a world where political, economic and social systems better meet the needs and encourage the aspirations of all its citizens, and where individual achievement is bounded only by the limits by each person’s skills, initiative, ambitions and imagination.
The Gender Equality and Governance Index provides a scientifically based, objectively verifiable initiative that can help guide these efforts. We can no longer delay.