By Grace Essen
LAST week, we joined the rest of the world to mark this year’s International Women’s Day, though we still grapple with fears, pains and disappointments that in the 21st century, women and girls are still abused, maltreated and dehumanised in our communities in the name of marriage traditions and customs. The same also exists in the school and work environment.
International Women’s Day is a day set aside globally to celebrate the economic, political, social and cultural achievements of women. It has been observed since the early 1900’s. This year, the theme was: ‘Pledge For Parity’ with a call for action towards accelerating gender parity.
Events were held all over the world on March 8. Women, including political, community, and business leaders, as well as leading educators, inventors, entrepreneurs, celebrities and television personalities, spoke at various seminars, conferences, luncheons, dinners or breakfasts, talk shows and marches. Even students in schools and other educational settings participated in special lessons, debates or presentations on the role of women in society, their influence and issues that affect them.
In as much as we do have much to celebrate, one thing is clear – the progress towards gender parity has slowed in many places. Globally, 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age are out of school, with sub-Saharan Africa having the lowest proportion of countries with gender parity in education.
The World Health Organization’s global prevalence figures show that about one in three (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Also, violence against women in the home is a horrifyingly common occurrence in Nigeria and around the world.
Even the representation of women in government in Nigeria has dropped compared to the previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan. In 2014, the World Economic Forum in its Global Gender Gap Report predicted that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then, one year later in 2015, it said that with the slowdown in the pace of progress, the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.
That means it will take until 117 years to achieve global gender parity in the workplace. 117 years until companies and governments are equally led by men and women.117 more years for women to be given equal opportunity to be involved in decision making even regarding issues that affect them. 117 more years for young girls everywhere to have equal opportunity to education, and probably get to choose when and to whom they will be married.
Must we wait that long? There is a new survey from Longitude Research, showing that accelerating women’s advancement in the workplace and creating gender-balanced teams produce better outcomes and create prosperity. This means that half of the overall talent in the world would become fully engaged and utilized, while investing money back into the economy, families and savings. Here are some of the highlights of recent research:
More equality leads to higher GDP; More equality leads to more productivity; Better gender balance on boards equals better share price and financial performance; More gender-balanced leadership achieves better all-around performance; while more women political leaders will create more prosperity.
Certainly, it will take time for the full potentiald of women to be embraced in the workforce, in government, even in the society. But if it is to be, we must make it happen, it won’t come on a platter. Let’s ask ourselves what we will do to accelerate women’s progress in the workplace and in the society. 117 years is far too long to wait to achieve gender parity and enjoy the benefits it will offer us all.
We can help accelerate gender parity first by women working together to help, support and mentor fellow women and build their capacity to fit into leadership roles – manage businesses, head organisations and government positions when opportunities present themselves. Also, we can reinvent gender roles, reset norms and provide equal opportunities for all. Gender parity is not in any way a call for women to stand head-to-head with men. It is a cry to give women and girls equal opportunities and access to education, jobs, positions, wages, health and other necessities.
In spite of challenges and limitations, women have continued to contribute immensely to national development. We have women in business, politics and academia doing amazingly well. However, we need more women in similar positions. We all will be better for it.
Every one of us – men and women, can do something to help achieve gender parity more quickly – whether to help women and girls achieve their goals and ambitions, call for gender-balanced leadership, respect and value difference, develop more inclusive and flexible cultures or root out workplace bias. Each of us can take the lead within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic steps to accelerate gender parity.
With individuals and groups around the world pledging to move from talk to purposeful action, we can collectively help women realise the limitless potential they can offer economies the world over. The question is how can you help accelerate gender parity?
.Essen, the founder of Mum To Mum Support Initiative, writes from Lagos.