March seems to be the month that the world dedicates to women. International Women’s Day (IWD) falls on the 8th, Sisterhood Day on the 19th, and indeed the whole month is actually Women’s History Month. It is our delegated time to collectively think about the “social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women,” whilst also acknowledging the remaining challenges ahead on the road to gender equality.
Given that gender inequality costs the world a hefty premium (economically and socially) year-round, relegating the issues to a day, or even a month, seems woefully inadequate. We must not forget that gender inequality is a simple label for a complex and troubling phenomenon. It encompasses everything from pay disparity and a lack of women in the boardroom to domestic and sexual violence, slavery, maternal mortality and a host of other unacceptably perpetual problems.
The IWD theme this year goes some way towards addressing the need for more comprehensive action, calling for Pledges For Parity to encourage ongoing commitments that will accelerate the realisation of gender equality (which the World Economic Forum puts 117 years away at present pace). IWD is calling for a move from talk (of which there is plenty – everyone from Kofi Annan to Emma Watson have voiced the need for gender equality) to tangible, purposeful action that will help to convert gender equality from a goal into a reality.
At SHE, as an organisation committed to women’s economic empowerment, every month is women’s month around here. Nevertheless, we decided to get involved in IWD 2016 and make a pledge on SHE’s behalf as a reminder of what the organisation is working towards.
SHE’s pledge is to “continue fighting for a world where investment in women is seen as opportunity, not charity.”
Gender parity is an opportunity. Actually, it is an opportunity that the development community has been aware of for some time. Gender equality is the subject of countless studies and figures (although far more data and research is needed). It is both an economic opportunity and a chance for the world to take on poverty; studies suggest gender parity could make the world significantly richer (statistics vary but one study puts the number at $24.8 trillion). It is an opportunity for pursuing and achieving peace; there is a direct correlation between state security and women’s security. It is an opportunity to engage more individuals in environmental management and come up with improved, more inclusive strategies for tackling climate change. It is an opportunity to extend education and healthcare to future generations in which empowered women will be able to prioritise this for their children.
To be clear, working towards gender equality presents a chance for the global community to make a serious impact on issues related to poverty, security and conflict, the environment, education and health.
If women can be freed from the limitations of violence and discrimination, if they have the chance to achieve their full potential free from the restraints of gender disparity, then we will all benefit. We know this and yet gender equality remains a distant dream. We know that investment in women is smart policy, and yet it remains talk, remains hype, remains an illusive ideal. We pay lip service to the idea but we are failing to implement it. Thus, a women’s day, or even a women’s month, is not enough.
This is not a matter of charity and women’s empowerment is not just a moral imperative. It’s strategic, it’s smart, and as long as it’s not happening, it’s costing all of us. As Sheryl Sandberg commented at Davos this year – “men still run the world; I’m not so sure it’s going so well.” The time for gender parity isn’t 117 years away. It’s now.