How is the Global Status of Women Linked to Gender Inequality?
- Put simply, women comprise approximately half of the world’s population. All things being equal, they should experience both the good and the bad at a 50% rate. Yet, women are overrepresented in negative status indicators, and they are underrepresented in positive status indicators.
- Women’s lower status in society is a result of (and is reflected in) laws, practices, values, and attitudes that favor men over women in many realms.
- A cycle is at work. Women enjoy lower status because of the way the system works. The system works the way it does because women’s lower status limits their ability to change it.
- Feminism, often given a bad name, is not about flipping the equation and disadvantaging men. It is about creating equality and empowering women to be the agents of their own status.
Gender Equality is Both an End in Itself and a Means to an End
- As an end, gender equality is a human rights issue. Gender inequality and discrimination violate internationally-accepted human rights standards. That fully half of the world’s population experiences some abrogation of rights on the basis of gender is an issue of rights, not merely of “fairness.”
- Gender equality is also a means to critical ends – not only for women themselves, but for society as a whole. Women who are healthy, educated, economically empowered, and free from restrictions to exercise their full potential not only experience greater well-being, but they also are better parents, community members, leaders, and global problem solvers. With the variety of vexing issues facing the world today, it makes sense to bring the full array of the world’s talent to the table.
- The most research in gender equality has been done around anti-poverty efforts. Numerous studies show that investment in women pays off in a country’s overall economic development. Aid, finance, and trade policies that recognize this are seen as holding great promise for poverty eradication around the world.
- Some suggest that global security is another realm where women’s potential is largely untapped. If most wars are about resources and dignity, groups such as the Global Fund for Women believe that the world should start talking about security in terms of ensuring fundamental physical and social human needs, an area where women are most experienced.
Is Gender Discrimination Largely About Economics?
- There is no question that poor women and girls in poor countries fare the worst on nearly all gender equality measures – they have the hardest lives and the fewest options of anyone on the planet. Slightly better off are poor women and girls in wealthier countries.
- Addressing the myriad of issues facing these women requires economic empowerment, since poverty is associated with a wide range of awful outcomes. Contributing to their poverty, women currently hold title to only 2% of the world’s land, have access to only 10% of the world’s credit, and are more likely to hold poorly paid jobs with little job security.
- Discrimination is also about culture, religion, society, and politics. Unfortunately a microloan to a woman who is restricted by tradition, societal norms, poor health, and inaccessible education and business training is likewise restricted in the amount of good it can effectuate. Even if she enjoys better than average mobility, capacity, and capabilities, lack of infrastructure in her community to support her efforts is often crippling.
- Instead of simple economic aid, a holistic and comprehensive approach is required.
What About Women in the Developed World Who Do Not Live in Poverty or in Excessively Patriarchal Societies?
- Nearly all women, whether they realize it or not, even advantaged women living in wealthy countries, experience gender discrimination of some kind. It may be more subtle, often described as an “undertow.”
- Consider the case of the U.S. In terms of their health and safety, American women of every race and socioeconomic class are just as likely to be victims of gender violence as women anywhere in the world.
- In terms of power and decision-making, women in the U.S. are found in less than 15% of top corporate jobs and political offices. They earn 75 cents, or less, on every male dollar earned, often for the same job. The sticky floor and glass ceiling still apply in many professions despite laws that have sought to eradicate it. Gender stereotyping plays a role.
- Women everywhere do more caregiving and household chores than men, even when also fully employed outside the home.
How Has Globalization Been Good for Women?
- Globalization has had a significant effect in the creation of new jobs, especially in the developing world, as women have come to staff the manufacturing and service jobs of the “global supply chain.” This has allowed millions of women to enter the paid work force and has contributed to many escaping poverty.
- Enhanced interconnectivity has also been a plus, facilitating communication, advocacy, and activism.
How Has Globalization Been Bad for Women?
- Both of the above benefits contain downsides as well, and often end up leading to the exploitation of women. These new factory jobs can be dangerous and offer little hope for advancement. Intense international competition has led to a “race to the bottom” in many industries, negatively impacting both wages and working conditions. Enhanced interconnectivity in the form of porous borders means increased sex trafficking.
- Globalization has frayed the fabric of many societies. Migration has been disruptive to families and communities as people disperse throughout the world looking for employment that is often transitory. A focus on export and trade often means neglecting local needs. Women bear the burden in increased time spent in unpaid work (caregiving, basic provisioning) to compensate for these changes.
Is the News All Bad?
- No! A “tipping point” in our lifetimes is not inconceivable. As Shalini Nataraj of the Global Fund for Women has said, there was a time not too long ago when people could not conceive of the Berlin Wall coming down, or when smoking would be considered a social taboo. Consciousness raising is underway about gender inequality and work is being done on multiple levels, from grassroots endeavors to the UN. Critical mass is building.
- When trying to affect gender inequality in systems, values and attitudes, progress in one area builds on progress in the others – this can include conversations around the dinner table, combating exploitive images of women in the media, and passing laws and holding governments accountable.
- Progress is not always captured in statistics and indices. A lot of information, especially when it concerns people who tend to be marginalized in society, doesn’t make its way into data banks. There is a lot of qualitative information that suggests women are making progress in ways not conventionally measured. For example, the fact that many women in traditional, patriarchal cultures have a voice – such as speaking out about community affairs, talking about previously taboo subjects, or telling their own stories – is significant, but not reported.