After 2 years of Slowing Progress, The Global Community Must Prioritize Gender Equality
Date: September 23, 2022
September 12. 2022 – In its 2022 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Report, the UN documents a discouraging picture of gender equality progress around the world. As one of its 17 SDGs, the goal of helping women achieve parity across all facets of societal life has slowed during the past two years. The global community, however, can take decisive action to accelerate equality everywhere. In measures large and small, everyone must work toward a day when women share the same rights and opportunities as men.
The pandemic unquestionably imposed a disproportionate toll on working women. In 2020, women lost $800 billion in income and 64 million jobs, according to Oxfam. While many of those jobs have since come back, in markets such as the U.S., nearly 830,000 jobs held by women are yet to be recovered. Beyond the economic pain, women’s progress on achieving parity in unpaid work, health and reproductive services, access to education, political representation and other human rights have faltered since the pandemic began.
The lack of gender equality is most glaring at the highest levels of government and business. As of last year, just 24 heads of state are women, and only 4.8% of the Fortune 500 have a female CEO. The recent appointment of Liz Truss in the U.K. as prime minister is encouraging, but much more progress elsewhere around the world is needed.
UN SDG 5 on promoting gender equality is one that can best help employers advance in their business. By leveraging labor market insights and data, as well as analytics from their own workforce practices, companies can identify gaps in the way they attract, hire, pay and promote women.
With the start of the 77th UN General Assembly, this is an opportunity to consider ways to accelerate gender equality through collaboration of stakeholders ranging from policymakers to business executives to academia. By assessing the current efforts of all parties and sharing lessons on what works and what doesn’t, the global community can move closer to the goals set for 2030. Here are three ways to effect positive change in a material way.
- Improve access to education for girls and women.
This is one of the most important ways for achieving equality on all fronts. The pandemic halted access for many, and UNESCO has estimated that as many as 11 million girls were affected by the disruption to schools. The nonprofit has found that for every additional year of education a girl receives, she can increase her earning potential by up to 20% when she becomes an adult. Furthermore, some countries lose more than $1 billion annually if they fail to educate girls to the same level as boys.
Adequate funding is just one way societies can ensure girls have access to schooling, but beyond this, every society should build educational systems that provide resources to female students. Infrastructure that leverages technology can broaden the reach of educators to those in rural and undeveloped regions.
Being able to attend schools that are free from violence and persecution seems like a basic right, but in many societies — including developed ones — this isn’t the case for girls and women. Furthermore, data is key to understanding the specific needs of female students and how to build supporting curriculum, so policymakers should assess how they collect and use such insights.
- Serve as advocates and mentors.
Everyone can add to the conversation by supporting the rights of fellow human beings. Where inequities exist, calling them out is one of the most effective ways to advance the rights of girls and women. This is especially important to battling violence and exploitation, which affect hundreds of millions around the world. By bringing attention to discriminatory and illegal practices and behaviors, and pointing out their devastating impact on communities, it’s a first step to rallying change.
Programs such as Randstad’s Hire Hope in the U.S. offer at-risk women — including survivors of homelessness, exploitation and trafficking — the support they need to build or rebuild their lives and develop professionally through training and coaching. Of 149 apprentices enrolled in the program, nearly half have found jobs within the organization and many others have joined other organizations in the Atlanta area. Companies should consider how they can develop similar programs to impact positive change for at-risk girls and women.
- Create transparency in the workplace.
Women around the world continue to suffer from significant pay disparity, with little progress achieved recently. According to the International Labour Organization, women make 20% less than men who do the same work. Even in advanced economies like the U.S., women make just 84% of what their male counterparts do, according to Pew Research. Measures such as pay transparency laws can help reduce the disparity, according to research. One study, in particular, found that such regulations can help close the gap by 20% to 40%.
Beyond compensation, greater workplace transparency can also provide more career mobility for women. How promotions are determined, what are the paths for advancement, clear policies on job flexibility and the availability of employee assistance programs can help women stay in the workforce. When their decisions are backed by clear and reasonable expectations at work, they can feel more confident in their career choices.
As the global community comes together during the 77th UN General Assembly, many priorities will compete for the attention of global leaders. A growing climate crisis, intensifying poverty, worsening famines and widening inequalities are just some of the challenges every member nation faces. Progress on gender equality, however, is an issue that has significantly slowed during the past two years, so reigniting its momentum should be a priority for the global community at this time.