Mind the Gap!
Gender Equality as a Distant Dream
Written by Annemiek van Vliet, Administrative Assistant of LYMEC
“Women Belong in All Places Where Decisions Are Being Made” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Women make up half of the world’s population, but their full potential is far from being used. Across societies and sectors, women are being marginalised, forgotten and insufficiently supported. The COVID-19 crisis is further threatening the limited progress that has been made towards gender equality. Potential is lost in all parts of society, from ‘female’ occupations being undervalued, to women not being considered for ‘male’ occupations. From a lack of women in high positions and an overrepresentation in unpaid work, to limited participation in peace processes and development. One would think that by the year 2021, we would have experienced complete equality between women and men, but currently no country in the world has achieved this goal.
According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), complete gender equality is still a concept of the distant future. In the EU, it will take at least an average of 60 years to reach complete equality between women and men. At the current speed, it will even take up to 99.5 years to achieve gender equality worldwide, which makes it unlikely any of us will witness a world in which men and women have equal rights and opportunities. The COVID-19 pandemic has also been posing serious threats to gender equality. With only half of the talent the world has to offer being developed and deployed, competitiveness, growth and resilience of economies and societies are severely affected.
In the past year, the world has moved slightly in the right direction, including when it comes to women being represented in politics. However, the political domain is still performing very poorly on gender equality. In 2019, women worldwide held only 25.5% of parliamentary seats and 21.2% of ministerial positions. Over the past 50 years, there have been 85 states in the world that never had a female head of state, including EU countries like the Netherlands and Italy.
Another area that shows a worrying picture is economic participation and opportunity. Only 55% of women worldwide participate in the labour market. Progress has even regressed in this area: forecasts suggest that it will take up to 257 years to achieve world gender parity in terms of economic participation. According to the World Economic Forum, there are several reasons for this trend, including that many jobs traditionally held by women are being automated. In many roles with a high potential for automation, women are disproportionately represented, including clerical support and service worker roles. Other causes that are mentioned are the insufficient number of women being represented in jobs with significant wage increases, including technology, and the challenges that remain regarding care infrastructures and access to capital. Women across the globe spend significantly more time on unpaid work than men and there are 72 countries where women cannot obtain credit or open a bank account.
The EIGE report highlights that segregation in education and work, meaning that in certain jobs or fields either women or men are being overrepresented, is one of the biggest challenges for gender equality. This segregation has increased, even when initiatives have been taken to encourage women and girls to study ICT, engineering or science. Eight out of ten ICT jobs in the EU are held by men, while in the care sector men only make up 15% of the workforce. Women are underrepresented in the “jobs of the future”, like high technology products, digital start-ups and artificial intelligence. In the EU, the development of new technologies is clearly dominated by men. The Institute also underlines that women have a disadvantage when it comes to their jobs being replaced by digital technology. The increased use of digital platforms for work purposes is further said to reproduce traditional gender inequalities and roles. Current times show the importance of the digital world, and this is only expected to increase in the future. These challenges must therefore be addressed as a matter of urgency.
These facts and figures highlight what the focus of policy-makers should be. Gender gaps offer significant opportunities, if action is taken to mitigate them. Political representation, or any representation for that matter, is a very important part of the solution. Improved political empowerment of women generally has a positive effect on wages and leadership positions on the labour market, the so-called ‘role model effect’. The EIGE report states that the main driver of progress for gender equality in the EU is the improvement of equality in decision-making, from economics and politics, to research, media and sports. This domain of power can make a big difference, but for now, it is still the lowest scoring domain in the EIGE study. If half of the world’s population is not represented in politics, this will thus also influence progress on gender equality in other areas of societies and economies. Additionally, if societal and cultural approaches and legislation are not changed, women will remain stuck in unpaid domestic care and work, burdening them more than men and undermining their career opportunities.
As stated, younger generations of women should also be better equipped to work in the “jobs of the future”. The past years have seen a lot of progress in the area of gender equality in education, but it also matters what skills both genders learn within their studies. Workforce strategies should be adapted to ensure women have the skills required for the jobs of the future, including jobs in the technology sector. Women and girls need to be encouraged to take their space in this field and support its growth. Companies also have to focus on diverse hiring and inclusive work cultures.
Lastly, it is important to remember to take an intersectional approach towards gender equality. This means that if we talk about women, we should take into account and include ALL women, no matter their place in the world, colour, age, disabilities or (migrant) status.
Policy-makers need to learn from these trends and create inclusive solutions, promoting gender equality in our societies and all areas of life. This is even more dire considering the effects of the current pandemic. It is of crucial importance that gender gaps are addressed now, or gender equality will always remain a distant dream. Let us not wait another 100 years, as it is long overdue for policy-makers, and anyone else that has a voice, to take action to achieve gender equality.
About the Author:
Annemiek van Vliet, is currently LYMEC’s Administrative Assistant. She is from the Netherlands and has been an active member of Dutch liberal party D66. Annemiek has a background in international relations and human rights law. She is passionate about migration, the rule of law and women’s rights.
- European Commission, Gender Equality Strategy in 2020-2025
- European Institute for Gender Equality, Gender Equality Index
- World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report 2020
- UN Women
- European Parliament, FEMM Committee
- UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, The World’s Women 2020
- McKinsey Global Institute, The Future of Women at Work: Transitions in the Age of Automation