• 109 years after the first International Women’s Day there is still much to be done.
  • A UN report has found more than 80% of both men and women hold gender-biased views against women.

This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) will be held on 8 March with a global programme of events to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and to inspire action that will help accelerate gender parity.

The 2020 event is built around the theme #EachforEqual, focusing on the efforts being made worldwide to close the equality gap, to fight bias and to counteract stereotypes.

Since IWD began in 1911, great strides have been made in empowering women and in offering them the same opportunities as men.

Women have become world leaders – with former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike the first to mark that milestone – and taken leading roles in major companies, including Carly Fiorina at computer giant Hewlett-Packard.

And women have won prestigious awards in the sciences and arts. For instance, physicist Marie Curie won her second Nobel peace prize the year IWD was launched, whilie Kathryn Bigelow became the only female to win the Best Director Oscar almost a century later.

Taking a stand

Change has been a long time coming, as this timeline shows:

  • 1893 – New Zealand becomes the first nation to enshrine full female suffrage, though women are not allowed to stand for election until 1919.
  • 1897 – The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies is formed in the UK, later to be led by Millicent Fawcett.
  • 1894 – The UK permits single women to vote in local elections, a key stage in the eventual granting of equal suffrage rights in 1928.
  • 1920 – The US amends its constitution to allow women to vote across the country, after Utah set the ball rolling in 1896 for individual states to enact their own laws.
  • 1986 – Switzerland permits women to vote in nationwide polls.
  • 2015 – Saudi Arabian women vote for the first time, in local elections.

And yet still much more needs to be done, as this year’s edition of the World Economic Forum Global Global Gender Gap Report highlights.

The headline statistic illustrates the uphill struggle women face: despite improvements made since the survey’s inception 14 years ago, it will still take almost a century before women can expect to achieve equality with men.

That means almost no woman alive today will experience gender parity.

international womens day un united nations world economic forum gap report women men female male girls boys teenagers teens development gender gap parity equality diversity progress change feminine masculine woman man sex biology roles dynamic balance bias androgynous politics democracy capitalism socialism fairness economics government govern administration system power voting votes elections electing faith trust electorate legislature house of commons house of lords congress senate house of representative prime minister government cabinet president executive legislative democrats republicans labour conservatives left wing right win us Australia united states new Zealand Switzerland EU European union Norway Finland Sweden united kingdom uk
The global gender gap index 2020.
Image: WEF

Political power

The figure is an average taken from four measurements of attainment – Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment.

In educational attainment, for instance, parity will be reached within 12 years if rates of improvement seen since 2014 continue. At the other end of the scale, equality in political representation will take 257 years.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in ten countries across three regions. Accelerators are established in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Panama in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

All Country Accelerators, along with Knowledge Partner countries demonstrating global leadership in closing gender gaps, are part of a wider ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, that facilitates exchange of insights and experiences through the Forum’s platform.

In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

“Overall, the quest towards gender parity has improved, ducking back under a century and registering a marked improvement on the 108 years in the 2018 index,” says the report.

“Greater political representation for women has contributed to this, but overall the political arena remains the worst-performing dimension.”

Widespread bias

Gender bias against women is still widespread - on both sides of the gender divide.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, a landmark event that established guidelines for creating equal societies, the United Nations has published a Tackling Social Norms report.

It found 91% of men and 86% of women show at least one clear bias against gender equality in areas such as politics, economic, education, intimate partner violence and women’s reproductive rights.

About 50% of men and women interviewed across 75 countries say they think men make better political leaders than women, while more than 40% felt that men made better business executives.

And perhaps more concerning, the gender bias against women has actually increased in the last decade.

As the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, says: "We don't have an equal world at the moment and we are radically impatient for that change to come."

"We are radically impatient, we are not giving up"

—Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.