David Neff examines the importance of gender equality. There remain huge gaps worldwide and yet many of the problems we’re faced with today could be solved through equality.
Within the last century, the world has seen huge advancements in the fields of science, medicine, and technology, which have led to a great improvement to quality of life. However, one aspect of daily life that has continued to lag woefully behind is that of gender equality (and in less specific terms, basic human rights). While conditions have slowly improved in many first-world countries where democracy and equal opportunity are valued, men are still more equal than others (women, trans individuals, any non-cisgendered people). Unfortunately, the situation is even grimmer for women in second- and third-world countries.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently published the Global Gender Gap Report on the current status of equality worldwide. Somewhat predictably, many of the top-ranked countries were in Western Europe, but there were some interesting outliers such as Rwanda and a few former U.S.S.R. countries. The United States ranked at a feeble number 28 out of 145 evaluated countries. The lowest-ranked countries were nearly all located in the Middle East and Northern Africa.
The Gender Gap Report results conveyed one overwhelming problem though: worldwide, women are consistently given less control over their bodies, careers, and the decisions that impact their daily lives. One amazing argument for policy change is that through gender equality, women would be empowered to solve poverty, social issues, and become leaders in their communities. Regrettably, the opponents of human rights continue to use violence and outdated, draconian laws to maintain their specter of fear over the populace.
In the WEF report, countries were evaluated based on education, politics, economics, and health. Western countries tended to have excellent health and education ratings for women, but had up to a 25% pay differential between men and women. Countries where women participated in higher education tended to have better ratings, but there were still exceptions. For instance, the United States had a ratio of 1.37 women for every one man in tertiary education, but women only made about 90% the income of men. This continued disparity is symptomatic of a cultural system that still places emphasis on the supposedly higher value of men.
The ramifications for such shortsighted and ignorant behavior cannot be understated. In countries where women deal with child marriage, genital mutilation, little education, and no control over their own bodies, there are pronounced increases in pregnancy, maternal mortality, food insecurity, and human rights abuses. The World Bank Group published a 2015 report that highlighted the inadequate conditions to which women in Africa have been subjected. Throughout much of the continent, there is little protection for the human rights of women and girls, a high rate of food insecurity, no access to health services, and a great deal of illiteracy. When these factors compound upon one another, women have very little hope of improving their quality of life, unless there is a radical paradigm shift.
One of the first positive advancements that could be made would be equal access to education and resources. In first-world countries, this would require changes that opponents will inevitably rail against. Women must be given equal access to healthcare, family planning, income, and leadership roles. The fact that women are still subject to laws that dictate how they may take care of their bodies is asinine. By empowering all citizens to lead a life of their choosing, there will be a reduction in poverty, a surge of innovation, and an increase in quality of life.
Throughout second- and third-world countries, the adjustments will be slower, but no less important. Proper education of women is a massive factor in the elimination of poverty and should not be underestimated. When given access to secondary education, women are able to pursue career paths and lifestyles that transcend marriage at a young age, while being forced to raise a large family. Educated women are often able to assume leadership positions in their communities, which can lead to enactment of regulations that benefit other women and girls. This in turn creates the possibility for increased access to education, healthcare, and job opportunities.
Women in Africa have historically been involved in agrarian lifestyles, making up almost half the farming workforce. The World Bank study found that women in agricultural positions were 25% less productive than men, while working more hours per day. This is mostly due to the fact that women are not given equal access to resources such as training, fertilizers, and quality seeds. It is estimated that if women were able to take advantage of the same assets, 100-150 million fewer people would go hungry each day. The results of the study can be used as an analogy to describe the impact that empowerment of women has on all of society. When there is equal access to education, healthcare, and proper resources, there is an overall improvement in quality of life.
There is no simple way to solve gender inequality. Depending on the region, particular disparities are more pronounced. Regardless of the country, there are women who struggle on a daily basis for equal rights. Pragmatically speaking, the empowerment of all individuals is the most sensible option. Even if one is able to look past the case for human rights, there is still an economic and social advantage to encouraging innovation and prosperity. By providing equal access to resources for women, there will be an increase to the quality of life that all people are able to pursue and enjoy.