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Wait for Gender Equality Gets Longer as Women’s Share of Workforce, Politics Drops

MD Staff

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Stagnation in the proportion of women in the workplace and women’s declining representation in politics, coupled with greater inequality in access to health and education, offset improvements in wage equality and the number of women in professional positions, leaving the global gender gap only slightly reduced in 2018. This is according to the Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018, published today.

According to the report, the world has closed 68% of its gender gap, as measured across four key pillars: economic opportunity; political empowerment; educational attainment; and health and survival. While only a marginal improvement on 2017, the move is nonetheless welcome as 2017 was the first year since the report was first published in 2006 that the gap between men and women widened.

At the current rate of change, the data suggest that it will take 108 years to close the overall gender gap and 202 years to bring about parity in the workplace.

Within the global headline figures, it is possible to perceive a number of trends that are defining the gender gap in 2018. Of the four pillars measured, only one – economic opportunity – narrowed its gender gap. This is largely due to a narrower income gap between men and women, which stands at nearly 51% in 2018, and the number of women in leadership roles, which stands at 34% globally.

However, in the same economic pillar, data suggest that proportionately fewer women than men are participating in the workforce. There are a number of potential reasons for this. One is that automation is having a disproportionate impact on roles traditionally performed by women. At the same time, women are under-represented in growing areas of employment that require STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills and knowledge. Another potential reason is that the infrastructure needed to help women enter or re-enter the workforce – such as childcare and eldercare – is under-developed and unpaid work remains primarily the responsibility of women. The corollary is that the substantial investments made by many economies to close the education gap are failing to generate optimal returns in the form of growth.

The other three pillars – education, health and politics – saw their gender gaps widen in 2018. In terms of political empowerment, the year-on-year deterioration can be partly attributed to the lower tenure of women in head-of-state roles around the world. However, data also suggest that a regional divergence is taking place, with 22 Western economies witnessing an improvement in political empowerment for women as opposed to a widening in the rest of the world. When it comes to women in parliament, these Western economies – which collectively have closed 41% of the gap – saw progress reverse in 2018.

“The economies that will succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be those that are best able to harness all their available talent. Proactive measures that support gender parity and social inclusion and address historical imbalances are therefore essential for the health of the global economy as well as for the good of society as a whole,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

From STEM to AI: a new frontier in the global gender gap

While the gender gap in STEM is well chronicled, new analysis conducted in collaboration with LinkedIn points to a glaring gender gap that is developing among AI professionals, where women represent only 22% of the AI workforce. This gap is three times larger than in other industry talent pools. The analysis also suggests that, in addition to being outnumbered three to one, women in AI are less likely to be positioned in senior roles or signal expertise in high-profile, emerging AI skills. The LinkedIn data suggest that women with AI skills are more likely to be employed as data analysts, researchers, information managers and teachers, whereas men are more likely to be employed as software engineers, heads of engineering, heads of IT and chief executives – more lucrative and senior positions.

Given the depth of the talent gender gap in AI, there is a clear need for proactive measures to prevent a deepening of the gender gap in other industries where AI skills are in increasing demand. These include traditionally male-dominated industries such as manufacturing, hardware and networking as well as software and IT services, as well as traditionally female sectors such as non-profits, healthcare and education.

“Industries must proactively hardwire gender parity in the future of work through effective training, reskilling and upskilling interventions and tangible job transition pathways, which will be key to narrowing these emerging gender gaps and reversing the trends we are seeing today. It’s in their long-term interest because diverse businesses perform better,” said Saadia Zahidi, Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society and Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum.

“New forms of insights can help policymakers, employers and education institutions understand – and prepare for – the technological changes that are transforming the global economy. Shedding light on the persistent gender gaps in fast-growing fields like AI is a critical first step in creating policies and practices that can close those gaps and create new pathways to economic opportunity,” said Allen Blue, Co-Founder and Vice-President, Product Strategy, LinkedIn.

Regional and country highlights

Having closed more than 85.8% of its overall gender gap, Iceland holds the top spot in the Index for the 10th consecutive year. It has remained one of the fastest-improving countries in the world since 2006. Despite its top performance, the country has seen a slight regression on economic participation and opportunity after an increased gender gap in the number of women legislators, senior officials and managers.

Other economies in the top 10 include Nordic countries Norway (2nd, 83.5%), Sweden (3rd, 82.2%), and Finland (4th, 82.1%), as well as Nicaragua (5th, 80.9%), which rose one spot, overtaking Rwanda (6th, 80.4%), whose steady multi-year climb has come to a halt for the first time. The newest entrant to the top 10 is Namibia (10th, 78.9%), the second country from the sub-Saharan Africa region to do so.

Among the G20 group of countries, France once again leads in 12th place (77.9%), dropping one spot from last year, followed by Germany (14th, 77.6%), the United Kingdom (15th, 77.4%), Canada (16th, 75.5%) and South Africa (19th, 75.5%). The United States drops two places to 51st (72%) and six countries rank 100 or lower – China (103rd, 67.3%), India (108th, 66.5%), Japan (110th, 66.2%), Republic of Korea (115th, 65.7%) Turkey (130th, 62.8%) and Saudi Arabia (141st, 59%).

At 75.8%, Western Europe is, on average, the region with the highest level of gender parity. At current rates of progress, the overall gender gap in the region will be closed in 61 years. It is home to four of the top five performers in the index – Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Switzerland’s performance (20th, 75.5%) remains stable since last year, with progress on political empowerment counterbalanced by a widening gender gap on economic participation and opportunity.

Latin America and the Caribbean has an average remaining gender gap of 29.2%, making it the third-highest ranked region. Mexico (50th, 72.1%) climbs several ranks after showing improvements across all four subindexes, reaching its highest gender parity level to date. Chile (54th, 71.7%) follows closely behind with an increased share of women in parliament. Argentina (36th, 73.3%) and Colombia (40th, 72.9%), two of the region’s largest economies, move down several ranks this year, and Brazil (95th, 68.1%), sees a significant reversal in progress, with its overall gender gap standing at its widest point since 2011.

After making progress on closing its gender gap for six consecutive years, sub-Saharan Africa’s gender gap has started to widen again. Rwanda (6th, 80.4%) still leads in the region, despite moving down two ranks after reversal in progress on economic participation and opportunity. Namibia’s rise is partly due to an increased share of women in parliament. South Africa (19th, 75.5%) registers some progress on the political empowerment subindex but also a slight decline in wage equality.

With an average remaining gap of 29.3%, it will take Eastern Europe and Central Asia 153 years to close the gender gap. Latvia (17th, 75.8%), Czech Republic (82nd, 69.3%) and Slovak Republic (83rd, 69.3%) have fully closed their health and survival and educational attainment gender gaps. The Russian Federation (75th, 70.1%) fully closed its gender gap in secondary education this year and sees improvements in wage equality and women in leadership, yet other countries’ accelerated progress in the political empowerment dimension see the country moving down a few ranks from last year.

Home of two of the overall Index’s top 10 performers, and with an average remaining gender gap of 31.7%, East Asia and the Pacific scores in the middle of the range. While only four countries in the region have fully closed their education attainment gender gap, more than half of countries in this region have closed the gender gap for professional and technical workers, indicating a relatively successful integration of tertiary-educated, higher-skilled women into the labour force. Out of 18 countries in the region covered by the Index, 14 have increased their overall scores compared to last year.

With an average remaining gender gap of 27.5%, North America is one of the regions that has made the most progress overall. Canada (16th, 77.1%) maintains its top spot in the region as well as its position in the global top 20, with modest improvements across a range of gender parity indicators this year. The United States (51st, 72%), on the other hand, has moved down two spots since last year, with modest improvements in economic opportunity and participation offset by a decrease in gender parity in ministerial-level positions.

South Asia is the second-lowest-scoring region, with a remaining gender gap of 34.2%, ahead of the Middle East and North Africa, and behind sub-Saharan Africa. Bangladesh (48th, 72.1%) is the region’s top performer and breaks into the global top five on political empowerment, despite a widening gap in labour force participation. India (108th, 66.5%) records improvements in wage equality for similar work and fully closed its tertiary education gap for the first time, but progress lags on health and survival, remaining the world’s least improved country on this subindex over the past decade.

Despite continued progress in the Middle East and North Africa, the region continues to rank last globally on the overall index (60.2% gap closed so far), with about 153 years to close the gender gap at the current rate of change. The United Arab Emirates (121st, 64.2%) sees improvements in gender parity in the legislators, senior officials and managers and healthy life expectancy indicators, but a widening and counterbalancing gap in wage equality. Saudi Arabia (141st, 59%) shows modest progress, but marks improvement on wage equality and women’s labour force participation, as well as a smaller gender gap in secondary and tertiary education.

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New Social Compact

Herat, the fire’s bride

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The olive eyes of Shaista peep between the bandages covering her burnt body, for she, like so many other Afghan women from the city of Herat, decided to escape her life by way of fire.

Shaista arrived at the hospital burning between wisps of hair and fabric, and her 19-year-old body is now a landscape of lava.

Tears seep between the gauze and the passageways of her blistered skin. Compassion is the closest thing to love that she will experience, and the hands of the man who changed her bandages are amongst the few that didn’t strike her.

She set herself on fire for a crime she didn’t commit, one that doesn’t exist, or one that everyone else appears to see except her. Her crime was being born a woman.

According to Oxfam, 8 out of every 10 Afghan women suffer either physical, sexual or psychological violence.

In 2015, the Independent Afghan Commission for Human Rights registered 5,132 gender crimes and between April and June 2016 the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported 600, but many go unreported.

The women who go to the police are at risk of being raped before being returned to their families. Those who escape for more than 48 hours face accusations of adultery, the punishment for which is either facial mutilation or death. Passed between relatives, offered to others to pay debts or settle disputes, raped and subjected to acid attacks in the streets; these women lose their mental stability and take their own lives in the most brutal way.

They usually come from lower social groups and as they don’t have access to guns or money to buy barbiturates, they drink rat poison, hang themselves, jump into rivers or set themselves on fire.

Although the families declare a ‘domestic accident’, it is easy to identify a suicide, as the majority are aged between 14-21 years old and are soaked in kerosene, when in fact most people use firewood or gas to do the cooking at home.

85% of Afghan women are unable to read or write and thus out of ignorance believe that they will die quickly. But instead they suffer for days before dying. Many pour boiling oil over themselves or drizzle it over their abdomen in order to raise attention to their plight, but sometimes the flames envelop them.

One of the most influential thinkers and leading Afghan practitioners in the field, Dr. Djawed Sangdel says: “Education is a key. This country needs a thorough horizontalisation of education for all.”

80% of those who arrive in hospital perish because of a lack of means to treat them, and if they do survive, they suffer lifelong consequences, for it is difficult to follow a course of treatment whilst carrying water and looking after numerous children.

Almost 40 years of war brought with it misery, poor health and lack of governance, under which the patriarchal system flourished; a system which made Afghanistan an open-air prison for women, causing them irreparable psychological damage.

The country’s laws tolerate tribal codes and 60% of girls under the age of 15 are forced to marry men double their age, according to the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan.

Studies from the UN Fund for the Development of Women reveal that the majority of widows sell their bodies or turn to begging in order to survive, and 65% of them see suicide as the only solution to their misery.

Herat, once known as the Pearl of Khorasan, is today a ghost town, with a horizon dotted with adobe houses, obsolete war munitions and faces hidden from the world behind the grille of a burka.

After a week in hospital, Shaista’s mother-in-law escaped with her to hide her at home, as her son simply didn’t deserve the shame of a suicidal wife.

Almost a month after the fire, she returned with wounds all over her body and without any feeling in her arms due to large necrotic areas. She did, however, survive – one of life’s cruel jokes.

Now with the same fears as before, scars from the fire on her skin and with only one arm to carry her daughter, Shaista is back in the place that she so wanted to flee.

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The Modern Tragedy of Child Marriage

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Authors: Pooja Shah & Russell Whitehouse

“And just like that, my mother was married to the village chaiwala when she was 14!” I distinctly recall my grandmother saying as we sat together on the front porch, warmed by the mid-summer breeze.“14? She’s a child!” I gasped out of horror. “How can she be married? Her parents allowed it?” I ignorantly continued.

It was July 2011. I was visiting my now-late grandmother in Ahmedabad, Gujarat after a two-month writing excursion through Mussoorie. The first few days of my stay were filled with pleasantries and questions about school and life in “Amreeka”, quickly followed by the incessant questioning of when I would get married and if I found a suitable companion yet… Of course, to a 19-year old college sophomore student barely at the cusp of adulthood, marriage felt like an intangible figment of my imagination, as it did for most of my peers back home who were too occupied by finalizing our majors and what party to attend next weekend. However, as my grandmother spoke, summoning stories of her own mother, it became dauntingly obvious that not only marriage was the traditional norm, but marrying early was the expectation in the era she grew up in.

12% of girls in the developing world will be married off before the age of 15; in many of the world’s poorest countries, like Bangladesh, over half of girls will be married off before the age of 18.  According to the IWWC, over 400M women aged under 50 years old are survivors of child marriage. .Western countries aren’t exempt from this scourge: over 200k girls have been married in this current century in the US.

Although theoretically child marriage is outlawed in India, in many rural areas, impoverished families will often “give away” their children in exchange for fleeting economic security. Rooted deeply in religious, traditional and cultural norms, and often motivated by economic factors, many families view child marriages as a means to end their economic suffering.

My grandmother confided in me that her mother, a child herself, gave birth at the age of 16 with a husband who was nine years her senior. Dadi dismissed my shocking reaction and confirmed, once again, that this was not atypical. I began to realize over the course of our conversation the very limited rights and personal choices these children, particularly young girls, have. Their lives are a mere transaction: exchanging their livelihood and existence for a few rupees on their families behalf, all while being forced to forego their educations, childhood, hobbies, and sense of independence.

This commodification of the lives of girls reinforces a culture of deep misogyny. Being married off while school-age tends to end a girl’s education; less than half of child brides have completed primary (let alone higher) education.  This can create economic shackles for a girl in a marriage; without even a basic education, a girl or young woman is unlikely to find a job that can create any level of financial freedom.  Being saddled with a child from a young age also impedes a girl’s ability to leave the house to find work.  With this reality in mind, it’s no shock that child brides are 9% more likely to experience physical or sexual abuse (generally by a husband or parent in-law) than women.  A young lady with little education is less likely to be aware of legal options to end this suffering, like filing a domestic abuse complaint with the police or filing for divorce. 

Such a culture is likely to continue other degrading practices, like female genital mutilation and widow ostracizing, as well as create whole generations of traumatized girls and young women.  The systemic rape of young girls inevitably moves the social Overton window, making the rape of women, men and boys seem less important or even noteworthy.  Growing up in a household featuring such disparate power dynamics is liable to create a twisted sense of self-esteem and justice among children of child brides.  Mothers are one of the primary sources of the pedagogy of a child.  Thus, girls who were taken from their schools to get married would be less well equipped to contribute to their children’s education.  This would be especially apparent in terms of sexual education; a culture of child brides is intrinsically less able to teach its children about health topics like STDs and birth control, to say nothing of ethical issues like consent.

My dadi also revealed how her own mother suffered multiple miscarriages throughout her youth, as her body was not fully equipped to bear pregnancy. This is unsurprising; young girls aren’t biologically ready to go through the physical traumas of pregnancy and giving birth.  Pregnant girls under 15 have quintuple the maternal mortality rate of women; 88% of them suffer obstetric fistulae, which often lead to permanent disability.  Girls are also disproportionately likely to receive cervical lacerations during intercourse, which can lead to cervical cancer down the line.  The children resulting from these underage marriages suffer similar hazards.  Babies born to child brides are 28% more likely to die within their first 5 years of life than babies born to women.

When confronted by my bachelorette status (as I often was when I visited India), I remember I would always counter with “I have to finish school first”, acknowledging the privilege I had to control my education and career aspirations. When it comes to these child brides, often times marrying at a young age will likely mean an end to their education, and in turn, will hinder their ability to obtain the skills and knowledge that is vital for income-generating employment.

That day I was enraged by the fact that child marriage continues to exist in the 21st century, as well as my personal lack of awareness on the issue. It has been over eight years since that enlightening conversation, and thankfully due to the tireless efforts of activists, legislators, and advocates there has been movement towards ending child marriage. In fact, UNICEF and Indian Wedding Buzz joined forces earlier this year on Valentines’ Day to #EndChildMarriage, demonstrating that one of the most crucial steps in eradicating this humans right issue is to stand against it. By utilizing their global social media platform and influential magazine, the #EndChildMarriage initiative was aimed at raising awareness of the implications of child marriage and more importantly, how we, collectively, can help put a stop to it. The campaign further empowered young girls in many South Asian and African countries (i.e. Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, among nine others) with the information and resources to understand the implications of what they are being forced into. Furthermore, the program continued to develop national strategies with the efforts of government investments, religious leaders, and of course our community. This social media sensation, backed by Indian Wedding Buzz, demonstrated their respective commitment to being part of the change, so that we as South Asians, as Americans and as humans can follow suit to be part of this revolutionary movement. After all, there is strength in numbers.

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Marcia Andrade Braga: A ‘stellar example’ of why more women are needed in UN peacekeeping

MD Staff

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Brazilian peacekeeper Lieutenant Commander Marcia Andrade Braga serves in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Photo: MINUSCA

Training gender advisors and focal points in the Central African Republic (CAR) has earned a Brazilian United Nations peacekeeper a special gender advocate award, it was announced on Tuesday.

Secretary-General António Guterres will bestow naval officer, Lieutenant Commander Marcia Andrade Braga, with the UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award during the 2019 Peacekeeping Ministerial conference due to be held at UN Headquarters in New York this Friday.

“UN Missions need more women peacekeepers so local women can talk more freely about the issues that affect their lives”, said Lt. Cdr. Braga.

“I am so proud to be selected”, she said, upon receiving news of her award, also expressing gratitude to her colleagues in the UN Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

Serving as the Military Gender Advisor at MINUSCA Headquarters since April 2018, Lt. Cdr. Braga has helped to build a network of trained gender advisors and focal points among the Mission’s military units and promoted mixed teams of men and women to conduct community-based patrols around the country.

These “Engagement Teams” were able to gather critical information to help the Mission understand the unique protection needs of men, women, boys and girls, which in turn helped develop community projects to support vulnerable communities.

Projects include the installation of water pumps close to villages, solar-powered lighting and the development of community gardens to cut down the distances women have to travel, to tend their crops.

Lt. Cdr. Braga is also a driving force behind MINUSCA leadership’s engagement with local women leaders, making sure that the voice of Central African women is heard throughout the ongoing peace process.

Moreover, as a former teacher she has also helped train and raise awareness among her peers on gender dynamics within the Mission.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who heads the UN Department of Peace Operations, spelled out: “Marcia Andrade Braga is a stellar example of why we need more women in peacekeeping: Peacekeeping works effectively when women play meaningful roles and when women in the host communities are directly engaged”.

Created in 2016, the UN award recognizes the dedication and effort of an individual peacekeeper in promoting the principles of UN Security Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace and security, which underscores the “3 Ps”, to prevent conflict; protect women and their rights during and after conflict; and to increase the numbers of women participating in all mechanisms, to prevent and resolve conflict.

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