Gender Inequality

Can we achieve gender equality by 2030?

Ban Ki-moon
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Gender Inequality

In 1995, 47,000 people streamed into Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women. They had a single purpose in mind: gender equality and the empowerment of all women, everywhere.

The conference was a ground-breaking event. It gave birth to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights. It recognized a simple yet powerful principle: women’s rights are human rights – and it set out a very clear case for full equality and a very clear path for getting there.

This Sunday, people around the world will mark a special anniversary – the 20th International Women’s Day since the landmark agreement.

The Day is an opportunity to celebrate the progress we have seen over the last 20 years. Many more girls are now in school. Many more women are now educated. Many more mothers now survive pregnancy and childbirth. These are encouraging steps forward.

Yet this International Women’s Day is also a wake-up call – because we are very far from reaching the vision set out by the thousands who gathered in Beijing twenty years ago.

For most women in most parts of the world, but especially in the least-developed countries, little has changed. Life remains as difficult for many women today as it was for their mothers or grandmothers. They are afforded few opportunities to create a better life for themselves and their children. They are disproportionately affected by poverty, exploitation and violence.

In recent years we have seen rising wave of violent extremism directly targeting women’s rights, invariably placing limits on women’s access to education and health services, restricting their participation in economic and political life, and seeking to control their bodies and lives.

Women face several obstacles to participating in political life, including discriminatory laws in some countries. Despite their proven abilities as leaders and their right to participate equally in democratic governance, women are underrepresented in leading positions and as voters. While the percentage of women parliamentarians has nearly doubled over the last 20 years, this only translates to a global average of 22 percent of women in parliament today.

Discrimination remains a thick glass ceiling.

Women still earn less than men for doing the same work. In the majority of countries, women’s wages represent between 70 and 90 per cent of men’s. Women are also more likely than men to be in vulnerable employment with low pay, poor working conditions, little job security, and no health or pension benefits, and are often unprotected by labour laws.

In the corporate sector, the lack of women in leadership positions is stark. One global survey of companies found that only 18.3 per cent had a top-level female manager.

Yet the research is clear: closing the gender gap makes businesses more competitive and companies with more women leaders perform better. An analysis of Fortune 500 companies, for instance, found that those with the greatest representation of women in management positions delivered a total return to shareholders that was 34 per cent higher than for companies with the lowest representation.

We know that empowering women and girls brings advantages to businesses, communities and countries alike. Our aim now, 20 years after the Beijing conference, is to achieve gender equality by 2030.

This is an attainable goal, but only if we take immediate action and call on the progress already made to show the way forward.

We need governments to step up and implement the Beijing Platform for Action. We need the private sector to tackle gender inequality head on by addressing unconscious bias and stereotypes, developing family-friendly policies for men and women workers, getting women into non-traditional jobs, and expanding opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

As the business case for gender equality grows stronger, more and more companies are turning to the UN’s Women’s Empowerment Principles for practical guidance developed for the private sector to harness women’s full potential in the workplace, marketplace and community. Through the Principles, a joint initiative of the UN Global Compact and UN Women, business has rightly been brought to the table as a partner.

More than 865 business leaders around the world have demonstrated leadership on gender equality by publicly signing a CEO Statement of Support for the Principles. I strongly encourage others to sign on and to take all measures to ensure that women are given the opportunities they deserve.

As the UN celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, there is no better time to move forward together once and for all for gender equality. It’s in our common interest. Equality for women benefits us all.

This article is published in collaboration with LinkedIn. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Ban Ki-moon has been secretary-general of the United Nations since 2007, prior to which he was South Korea’s foreign minister.

Image: Thailand’s Prime Minister-elect Yingluck Shinawatra meets with her economic team at the Puea Thai Party’s headquarters in Bangkok. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang.

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