11. How can the changing status of women help improve the human condition?
Closing thegap between rhetoric and reality of how women are treated by men around theworld is not yet a top priority. Although many of the norms on gender relationshave found official endorsement in the Convention on the Elimination of AllForms of Discrimination Against Women and the Beijing Plan of Action, manycountries still have laws and cultures that make women second-class citizensand expose them to violence. Progress on women getting good jobs in politicsand business and equal salaries has been slow. Women in legislatures haveincreased from 13.8% in 2000 to 18% in 2008. Women account for over 40% of theworld’s work-force but earn only 25% of the income. It is well documented thatcountries with smaller gender gaps tend to have better economies, healthierchildren, and superior welfare in general. The Scandinavian countries top bothgender parity ratings and general quality of life indicators. Improving thepolitical, economic, and educational status of women is one of the mostcost-effective ways to address the other challenges in this chapter. Evenpeacebuilders in the field agree that women find common ground for peacefulresolutions more easily than men.
Women arecutting through cultural hierarchies via Internet access to information abouthealth, finance, S&T, and education programs. Even Web sites likeiknowpolitics.org help improve women’s political skills. Girls’ secondaryschool enrollments are now about 90% of boys’ enrollments. If current trendscontinue, however, UNICEF estimates that by 2015 over 50 countries will notachieve universal primary education and more than 90 countries will not reachgender parity in primary and secondary education.
The largestwar on earth today as measured by death and casualties is men attacking women,especially during armed conflicts. Establishing truth and reconciliationcommissions on violence against women in armed conflict would help end this.WHO reports that after diseases and hunger, violence against women is thegreatest cause of death among women; one in five women will be a victim of rapeor attempted rape in her lifetime. Elementary and secondary school systemsshould consider teaching martial arts and other forms of self-defense inphysical education classes for girls.
Since thereare more women than men in universities in many countries that limit women’sprofessional work, the “female brain drain” could become an issue in countriesas diverse as Saudi Arabia and Japan.
Accordingto Plan International, childhood malnutrition has stunted development of anestimated 450 million women; unsafe abortions and birth complications are theleading causes of death for girls 15 to19 in developing countries studied; and over 100 million girls, some as youngas 12, are expected to marry over the next decade even though internationaltreaties outlaw early marriages. About 80% of the 600,000–800,000 individualstrafficked each year are female, in the “largest slave trade in history.”
Womenshould use their role in the family to more assertively nurture mutual respectbetween men and women. A global gender gap integrated index should be createdto show trends of the whole picture as well as trends disaggregated by age,education, political and economic participation, and health. Mechanisms areneeded to monitor violence against females and recommend interventions. Legalrights of women (such as access to credit, land, technology, training, healthcare, child care, and judicial systems accessible to victims of sexualviolence) are also needed, including educating men to fully respect women andworking with the media to change harmful gender stereotypes that influence thechoice of education, training or employment, participation in domestic andfamily duties, and representation in decisionmaking.
Challenge11 will be addressed seriously when there is gender parity in schoolenrollment, literacy, and access to capital, when discriminatory laws are gone,and when there are essentially equal numbers of men and women in parliamentsand cabinets.
Africa: Thepercent of women in sub-Saharan African parliaments is 17.5%. One in 22 womenin sub-Saharan Africa is likely to die as a consequence of pregnancy, comparedwith 1 in 7,300 in industrial countries. The dropout rate for adolescent girlsin Africa is very high, as are systematic rape during armed conflicts andfemale genital mutilation. Major cultural changes will have to be made tosystematically change the prospects for the average woman in Africa. Ugandaeliminated school fees to help close the educational gender gap.
Asia andOceania: Some 17.3% of Asian national legislators are women and 15.4% inOceania. At least 60 million girls are “missing” in Asia due to the abortion offemale fetuses, female infanticide, and deliberate neglect and starvation ofbaby girls. China funds pension plans for parents with daughters to countermale-only child preferences. Intimate partner violence in Thailand is theleading cause of death for females between the ages of 15 and 24. Millions ofyoung girls have been sold as sex slaves in Asia. Most Muslim-majoritycountries scored among the lowest in the Global Gender Gap Index. Women inAustralia hold 7% of top corporate positions and are paid half as much as theirmale equivalents.
Europe:While women represent 59% of university graduates in Europe, their employmentrate is only 57.2%, they earn on average 15% less than men for every hourworked, and they represent 32% of managers, 10% of board members, and only 3%of CEOs of large companies. Work/life balance is still deficient, and womenwant improved support that allows them to continue their professional careers,yet they worry about reduced quality time for family life. About 500,000 womenfrom Central and Eastern Europe are working in the sex trade in Western Europe.The European Nordic countries top the Gender Gap Index, and the EU pledged tofight discrimination and domestic violence against women and to promote women’sparticipation in political life. Norway requires that the boards of allcompanies registered at its stock market consist of at least 40% of each sex.
LatinAmerica: Although women’s participation in Latin American parliaments increasedto 22%, women are still threatened by poverty, rising food and fuel prices,inequity, unemployment, lack of access to health services, and violence due to“machismo” attitudes, institutional weaknesses, and a patriarchal culture.Nevertheless, education is improving, with women 15–24 years old in urban areasreaching 9.7 years of education and women in rural areas reaching 7 years. Governmentsshould change laws about rape, sexual harassment, and equal pay for women.
North America: Women account for 16.8% of legislative bodiesin the U.S. and 21.3% in Canada. Women executives in the top 500 companiesrepresent 13.6% in the U.S. and 12% in Canada. Nevertheless, at least 86.4% ofthe U.S. companies had boards with at least one woman member, versus 48.2% inCanada. In Quebec, Canada, state corporate boards by law will have to be 50%female by 2012.
Figure 9.Women in national parliaments (percentage)
Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union