By Emma Batha
VANCOUVER, June 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – World leaders are failing 1.4 billion girls and women on promises of a fairer future, according to a global index launched at the world’s biggest gender equality conference.
The research shows the world is way off track to meet a 2030 deadline for achieving gender equality, with not one country having reached the “last mile”.
Some 8,000 delegates from 165+ countries – from world leaders to grassroots activists – are attending the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver.
Speakers include the founder of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, a Nigerian woman kidnapped by Boko Haram jihadists and a Pakistani squash champion who evaded the Taliban by living as a boy.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who describes himself as a feminist, will open the event on Monday, launching four days of debates on everything from climate change and gender to women’s political empowerment.
Where women stand today
- Around the world women earn about half as much as men, said the World Economic Forum which reported an income gap between men and women of nearly 51% in 2018. At the current rate of progress, it will take 108 years for the global gender gap to close and 202 years until economic gender parity.
- According to Fortune’s list of the 500 highest-grossing U.S. companies, fewer than 7% have female chief executive officers.
- Only 17 heads of state in 2018 were women, according to the World Economic Forum. Women held 18 percent of the world’s ministerial positions and 24 percent of its parliamentary roles.
- Globally one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence, usually by an intimate partner, according to UN Women. One in two women killed worldwide is killed by a partner or family member. That compares to one in 20 of men killed.
- Some 87,000 women were victims of femicide – defined as the intentional murder of women because they are women – in 2017, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Women are at the greatest risk in Africa and at least risk in Europe of being killed by a family member or partner.
- In the European Union, 45 to 55 percent of women experienced sexual harassment since age 15, according to a survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.
- Seven in 10 trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls, and more than three out of four of them are trafficked for sexual exploitation, according to the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons by the U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime.
- At least 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries where data is available, according to UNICEF, the U.N.’s children’s agency. UNICEF said the practice is “almost universal” in Somalia, Guinea and Djibouti, where levels among girls and women are higher than 90%.
- According to the World Bank, child marriage is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, where 3.4 million girls marry as children each year. Globally, the number of girls marrying as children peaked at about 13 million around 2005 and declined to fewer than 11 million in 2017.
- Women have the same access to financial services as men in 60 percent of the world’s countries and the same access to land ownership in 42 percent of countries, according to the World Economic Forum.
Abortion rights will also be a hot issue amid concern over new restrictions imposed by a wave of U.S. states.
Katja Iversen, president of Women Deliver, said the world had reached a “tipping point” on gender equality.
“(There are) conservative winds – sometimes it feels like a storm – blowing against women’s rights,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
But she also saw a “super momentum” on gender equality and urged everyone to “dream big”.
In 2015, world leaders did just that when they placed girls and women at the heart of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), promising sweeping transformations by 2030.
The new index ranks 129 countries on dozens of SDG targets related to women, be it health, education, violence or work.
Denmark, Finland and Sweden topped the list, while Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Chad came bottom.
Nearly 40% of girls and women – 1.4 billion – live in countries graded “very poor”; another 1.4 billion in countries graded “poor”.
Only 8% of girls and women live in countries ranked “good”. No country achieved an “excellent” score, while the global average was “poor”.
Philanthropist Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a conference speaker, described the report as “a wake-up call to the world”.
But Equal Measures 2030 (EM2030), the partnership behind the index, also noted some surprising success stories.
Senegal has a greater proportion of women in parliament (42%) than Denmark (37%), while three in four Kenyan women use digital banking – higher than many wealthier countries.
“Many countries with the most limited resources are making huge strides in removing the barriers for girls and women … demonstrating that when it comes to gender equality, governments shouldn’t have excuses for inaction,” Gates said.
Researchers said richer countries did not always live up to their promise.
Georgia, Malawi and Vietnam had higher scores than expected based on their GDP per head – a gross domestic product measures the value of a country’s goods and services – while the opposite was true of the United States, Switzerland and South Korea.
EM2030 said the index, which will be regularly updated until 2030, would help advocates to identify gaps and drive change.
Another key report to be launched at the conference will look at the future of work and the implications for women of increasing automation, while a third study will examine how to get men to share the burden of unpaid care work.
Iversen said investing in women created a ripple effect that also buoyed families, communities, countries and economies.
“We have dug deep into the evidence and it really shows that a gender equal world is healthier, wealthier, more productive, and more peaceful,” she said.
“If we had gender equality in the work place we could add 26% to GDP – that’s a lot of money,” she added, citing a study by McKinsey Global Institute.
Iversen said she was encouraged to see increasing numbers of countries with gender-equal cabinets and more multinationals putting women in leadership positions.
But Iversen said it was not about power battles.
“Gender equality is also good for men and boys. It’s not women against men, girls against boys. It really is a win-win.”