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Are Women & Men Really Equal?

By Tiffani Razavi, TIE Staff Writer
Are Women & Men Really Equal?

International Women’s Day, first marked more than a century ago (in 1911) just came and went. Wikipedia tells me it is “a public holiday in some countries and largely ignored elsewhere.” Teachers sometimes seize the opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of women. That’s good. But at the end of the day, we are left with the ordinary reality of gender parity in 2019. As educators, we need to know this:
Only six countries give men and women equal rights.
Are you surprised?
I have shared this news with a few people recently, and while there is sometimes a raised eyebrow, usually the reaction is not one of shock. Scandinavia gets mentioned, and that’s consistent with the findings. Six nations—Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg, and Sweden—scored full marks of 100 in the World Bank study “Women, Business and the Law 2019.”
The study focuses on how women must navigate discriminatory laws and regulations at every point in their careers, limiting equality of opportunity. Kristalina Georgieva, Interim President of the World Bank Group, explains that the study explores “the economic decisions women make as they go through their working lives. From a 25-year-old getting her first job or a mother balancing work with caring for her children, to a woman on the brink of retirement.”
Eight indicators were used (Going Places, Starting a Job, Getting Paid, Getting Married, Having Children, Running a Business, Managing Assets, and Getting a Pension) and each was addressed through a number of questions. Can a woman apply for a passport in the same way as a man? Does the law mandate nondiscrimination in employment based on gender? Can women work the same night hours as men? Does the law establish explicit pension credits for periods of childcare?
By region, reaching gender parity is predicted to take:
61 years in Western Europe
70 years in South Asia
74 years in Latin America & the Caribbean
124 years in Eastern Europe & Central Asia
135 years in Sub-Saharan Africa
153 years in the Middle East & North Africa
165 years in North America
171 years in East Asia & the Pacific
The six countries that scored 100 give women and men equal legal rights in the measured areas. A decade ago, not one of these scored 100; all have since instituted reforms. The most significant change among these six took place in France, which scored a 91.88 ten years back, and this due to the implementation of a domestic violence law, the provision of criminal penalties for workplace sexual harassment, and the introduction of paid parental leave.
The average global score is just under 75. In other words, a typical economy gives women three quarters of the legal rights of men. Scores in the Middle East and North Africa are below 50, giving women in that region less than half the legal rights of men. The U.K. and Canada both scored 97.5, Australia 96.88, and the U.S. 83.75.
In the ten years covered by the study, the average global score has increased by about 5 points. It is promising to note that 131 economies have made 274 reforms to laws and regulations, increasing gender equality in the areas measured. Sub-Saharan Africa had the most reforms promoting gender equality, while South Asia had the greatest overall improvement in average regional score, followed by East Asia and the Pacific. Countries that showed improvements in this report also tended to experience greater increases in the percentage of women working overall, and in the percentage of women working relative to men, aligning with other studies that highlight strong correlations between gender parity and economic performance.
“We know that gender equality requires more than just changes to laws,” says Kristalina Georgieva. “The laws need to be meaningfully implemented, and this requires sustained political will, leadership from women and men across societies, and changes to ingrained cultural norms and attitudes.”
The World Economic Forum has been tracking gender-based disparities since 2006, benchmarking countries on their progress towards gender parity across four thematic dimensions. Commenting on these areas in the most recent report, Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, notes that “globally, although many countries have achieved important milestones towards gender parity across education, health, economic, and political systems, there remains much to be done.”
The report projects that the overall global gender gap will close in 108 years. Gaps in economic and political empowerment are farthest from closing, while the education gap is predicted to close within the next 14 years, and the health gap is almost closed already.
These are big numbers, but they don’t have to be. With increased effort across all dimensions, the predictions could shift. More people could experience the benefits of equality sooner. In Schwab’s words, “The equal contribution of women and men in this process of deep economic and societal transformation is critical. More than ever, societies cannot afford to lose out on the skills, ideas, and perspectives of half of humanity to realize the promise of a more prosperous and humancentric future.”

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