Just a week before International Women’s Day, a new group of female leaders has voiced its fears that full gender equality may not be achieved - and that it’s actually being eroded.

The Group of Women Leaders for Change and Inclusion have written an open letter calling for “a redoubling of efforts” by leaders in governments, the private sector and civil society to “reinvest in policies and in legal and social frameworks that will achieve gender equality and inclusion”.

Signed by 26 women, including the former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, the letter said everyone in the world could suffer if women did not gain true equality.

“Above all, we seek to underscore that the risk posed by politics that seek to halt and erode gender equality is a risk not only to women, but also to all of humanity because half the population is prevented from contributing to its full potential.”

‘Political forces’

Helen Clark has voiced her concerns over the erosion of gender equality.
Image: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

The women, who also include former Irish president and UNHCR High Commissioner, Mary Robinson; former Argentinian foreign minister, Susana Malcorra; and former director general of the World Health Organisation, Margaret Chan, highlighted the importance of multilateralism to drive positive change.

But they also warned that “political forces today threaten to erode the progress we have made at both the national level and through global landmark agendas”.

Speaking to The Guardian, Malcorra went even further and said the rise of populism in some countries had led to “a macho-type strongman” leader who feel threatened by women gaining respect.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, on March 8, is #BalanceforBetter - promoting the message that a gender-balanced world is better for everyone.

Malcorra added that full gender equality was not zero sum but rather a win-win: “If men get paternity leave, for example, it’s not that they lose anything, they gain by having responsibility for the family, they gain by a closer relationship with the children.”

The Global Gender Gap

Still a way to go to close the gender gap
Image: The Global Gender Gap report 2018

The Group’s concerns echo the findings from the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Gender Gap report: progress on achieving gender equality is slowing down. The 2018 report found it will take eight years longer to close the gap than the 2017 estimate.

Since 2006, the overall gender gap has reduced by 3.6% - but in 2018, there was only a 0.03% reduction, revealing extremely slow progress.

The gender gap in the Political Empowerment sub-index requires another 107 years to be closed, with only 18% of female ministers in the 149 countries included in the report.

In its open letter - and through opinion pieces and essays they will write in the coming months - the Group hopes to reignite the effort to achieve gender equality.

Whether the political forces that threaten to erode progress on gender equality will triumph depends on “the women leaders and advocates of today and tomorrow”.