Today is International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the world. While it’s always important to take a minute and celebrate the many successes that women have achieved this year, as well as to reflect upon how far we have come, this year International Women’s Day has a little less sparkle than it could, than it should.
At this time last year, the World Economic Forum estimated that women would not achieve gender parity until 2095 – a date that seems very far away. In fact, just yesterday my children, who are ages 6 and 10, were wondering aloud if they would still be alive at the turn of the next century. I told them I hoped they would, and we enjoyed a lively conversation about healthy habits to help them both become centurions. Regardless of any healthy choices I make, I certainly won’t be here to celebrate gender parity; so I can only hope and pray that perhaps my daughter will see it in her lifetime.
Unfortunately, this year, the report was updated and now the World Economic Forum does not project gender parity until 2133! One hundred and thirty eight years after the initial estimate! Yes, instead of women gaining ground, they are losing it. How terribly sad. I guess my daughter won’t realize gender parity in her lifetime either.
Unless, of course, something drastic changes. And it should. Because not only is economic opportunity crucial for women, it is crucial for the entire global economy.
Women are uniquely positioned to meet so many of the challenges that face our global economy. In fact, women have been referred to as the “ultimate economic accelerator.”
In all but 18 of 173 countries surveyed by a World Bank study women faced some kind of legal discrimination – from the inability to confer citizenship on their children, to a prohibition on property ownership, to needing to obtain a man’s permission to open a bank account or even obtain identification.
Another area in which women continually lag behind is in salaries. Even in countries which recognize the legal rights of women, countries like the U.S., women still experience significant discrimination when it comes to pay. According to the UN Women’s Flagship report published in 2015, women throughout the world earn 25% less than men for the exact same work. Furthermore, women perform more than 75% of the non-paid work in world (i.e.: child care, homemaking, cooking, cleaning, caring for the elderly, etc….), and spend over 90% of their incomes on their families, supporting their children and investing in their educations to hopefully, finally break the cycle of poverty.
Increasing economic opportunities for women will have a rippling effect throughout the community and throughout the world. And this isn’t just my opinion, there is data to support that treating women fairly yields positive results. (Although the fact that I even have to write that makes me a little bit sick). Companies that have a strong track record of gender equality are more likely to have higher earnings than their peers. And among Fortune 500 companies, those with the highest representation of women on their boards have significant performance improvement. Click here for more information. And there is evidence that improving the plight of women throughout the world will have similar effects. According to one study done by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, economies all over the world with greater participation by women in the job market enjoy greater resilience in the economy and fewer slowdowns and dips. And the 2012 Global Gender Gap report by the World Economic Forum shared that closing the gender gap can give a developing country’s GDP a significant boost—up to 16%.
Women today are more highly educated, healthier and hungrier for success than every before. We don’t need studies to convince us that women who work and are financially independence are happier and have more control over their own lives and that of their families (although they exist by the boatload). But even more interesting is that once women realize control over their lives, they then seek to make positive economic and political contributions not only to their families, but also to their communities and beyond.
And while we can lament the status of women here in the U.S., and in many instances should – I am in no way trivializing the plight of the poverty-stricken, uneducated, un/underemployed women stuck in abusive relationships here in the U.S. – I recognize that their daily existence is marred by hardship and pain and this article is written in support of them as well as all women – the global situation is horrific, especially in developing countries. Sometimes, it is so easy to fall into that well of self-pity and lament all the things that are going wrong in our own lives. I myself do this – just last night I was working myself into a tizzy about all the detritus of daily life that my children had left lying around my house. My big, beautiful, warm, comfortable 3500+ square foot house in a safe community. Yup – it was cluttered with hair brushes, iPads, multiple pairs of designer sneakers, earrings and all the stainless steel containers I send their healthy lunches to school in each day. And I was upset because of the clutter. Yeah, about that . . .
Over 900 million people throughout the worlds are living on less than $2 a day and they and their families are stuck in an endless cycle of poverty. From generation to generation nothing changes. They lack adequate shelter, food, clean water. They struggle just to obtain basic human necessities. And according to the U.N., women (and girls) account for 60% of world’s poorest and 66% of the world’s illiterate people. Between the poverty, lack of education and corresponding lack of opportunity, women are highly vulnerable and often find themselves victims of violence and force labor (think sex trade and drug smuggling).
But there is good news! It’s not knowledge, skills, and abilities that women lack. In fact, women want to learn, they make excellent students and are highly motivated to succeed. Women are uniquely creative and gifted at developing flexible business thats that work well for themselves, their families and their communities. They have, by necessity, become resilient and adaptable – excellent traits for entrepreneurs. And when provided with capital or access to training women can and do develop the competence and self-confidence to be highly effective and successful business owners. And when women’s businesses succeed,they employ workers, thereby increasing economic opportunities for other women. So, no, it’s not intellect, talent or commitment that these women lack – rather it is the opportunity to launch or grow businesses that can support themselves, their families and their communities.
And this is why this story isn’t entirely depressing. We can change the status quo. And if we work together we can do so before 2133. But it’s going to take concerted effort. In order to enjoy the many benefits that gender parity will provide not only to women, but also to the entire economic community, we need a rule of law that respects and protects all people, regardless of sex; we need a commitment and an investment by businesses in the private sector to hire women and pay them fairly; and we need a cultural shift that values the many contributions that women make equally to those made by men.
And you can help! cabi will donate $1 for every social media post tagged with#PledgeForParity and #WEarecabi to fund one-for-one small business loans during the month of March. Just post a photo with a caption explaining a small (or big!) action you’ll take to help combat gender parity. I can’t wait to see what you share!