SEATTLE, Washington — This year the World Economic Forum published an updated report regarding current circumstances on the gender gap. It presented a sobering, hard-to-swallow truth; gender equality is nearly 100 years away. However, while the Gender Gap Report of 2020 estimated gender parity to be unobtainable for several generations, it also exposed the ways in which equity has improved in response to governmental efforts across the globe. Most notable is how economies have benefitted from such reforms. The intrinsic connection between gender reform and economic development sheds light on a new perspective when it comes to global poverty.
The benefits of gender reform are evident with estimates indicating that closing the gap could potentially boost global GDP by an average of 35%. Essentially, by removing oppressive restrictions and providing women with sufficient resources to engage themselves within the market, countries are enabling a big portion of their population to accrue wealth. This leads to economic growth and more sustainable infrastructure. It shows that global poverty largely links to discriminatory law, with impoverished communities predominantly including women unable to gain financial independence.
In 1979, the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women emerged. However, years later, oppressive laws remain in governments throughout the world. More than 2.5 billion women live in countries with patriarchal law. Among many things, these statutes place limitations on a woman’s right to participate in the labor force and access to fair payment. Furthermore, women often experience restrictions in regard to financial services and the management of funds. This not only makes earning an income challenging but also makes it nearly impossible for women to build assets. Yet, the work women do, often unpaid care or low-wage domestic work, is essential to sustaining families and local economies.
Challenges for Women and Girls
Fundamentally, gender parity has an impact on the growth of impoverished societies. Patriarchal law puts a strain on systemic resources and makes economic development unsustainable. One can see this in how countries that rank highest in gender parity have strong economies and countries that rank very low are more likely to struggle with poverty. The world’s poor disproportionately includes women, who consistently confront multiple roadblocks of inequality that restrictive laws enforce.
From a very young age, girls frequently cannot access the resources that could enable them any financial independence in their future, with families in impoverished communities often deciding to spend money only on their son’s education. Furthermore, child marriage is not uncommon internationally, with rates reaching as high as 35% in sub-Saharan Africa.
Period Poverty is also a major factor for women in terms of access to education and work. Globally, a lack of sanitary resources and information regarding menstruation exists, forcing women to stay home from work or school during their period for an extended time every month. In many countries, others even ostracize women during menstruation.
The financial disparity between men and women actively works against economic development in all societies. As a result, gender reform and economic development go hand in hand. The instability of female livelihood causes key economic sectors to be unsustainable, dragging a huge portion of the population into poverty.
Consider how, on average, women make up nearly 50% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, in many of these countries, they represent less than 5% of land holdings and face intense discrimination within the market. This prevents women from purchasing agricultural resources to improve their farming, inhibiting them from a sustainable livelihood and enabling the cycle of poverty. Discriminatory restrictions actively prevent people within impoverished communities from finding a sustainable income and limit any further financial development. This is why many countries that rank low in gender parity struggle economically.
Gender Parity in Iceland
The world cannot accomplish gender parity naturally, as it requires deliberate action and the consistent implementation of human rights legislation. A great example is Iceland, a country that has consistently ranked high in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for over a decade. One can attribute its success to the tireless solidarity of human rights defenders against gender inequality and women being enabled to act within positions of power.
For years, Iceland has developed the notion of a capable woman, with women being enabled cultural autonomy and religious authority very early on during the commonwealth period. Within the country, women have consistently fought for equality, acquiring the right to become Protestant priests, the right to vote and the right to run as political candidates as early as 1914. Iceland was not immediately a progressive country, but the efforts of academic feminists in the 1960s coupled with years of political organizing by women within parliament enabled the development of societal resources and the establishment of the Women’s Alliance in 1982.
Years of collective women’s action and solidarity gradually influenced other political parties to include women’s issues within their agendas. Women have since garnered positions of political power, with 48% of elected officials in parliament being women in 2016. Although Iceland has not achieved full equality, women in power have been able to enforce legislation enabling gender equity. A notable policy is the Equal Pay Standard, a law on equal pay certification, which could quash the adjusted gender pay gap, promoting gender reform and economic development.
Gender inequality and global poverty are two hurdles that countries across the globe need to overcome in order for the world to be a better place. Both require incessant action and solidarity. However, understanding the ways in which these issues interconnect enables more effective aid. Supporting women in impoverished communities also takes aim against global poverty and ensures a brighter future.
Now, more than ever, women across the globe are in need of aid. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many women are experiencing an increase of domestic violence within their homes, a strain on their access to education or work, with an increased need for life-saving services against exploitation. Join in support of the U.N.’s Generation Equality campaign to ensure a better future for gender equity.
– Ida Simone Casmier