Opinion
Gender Inequality

In a world beset by challenges, here's why I have hope for my baby girl's future

A mother reflects on recent news of the world and the potential for positive progress.

A mother reflects on recent news of the world and the potential for positive progress. Image: Fe Ngo / Unsplash

Kirsten Salyer
Head of Editorial Strategy and Thought Leadership, World Economic Forum LLC
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  • As a mother, it's been difficult to read the news the past few months.
  • The war in Ukraine continues, the climate change crisis looms, and the World Economic Forum's recent Gender Gap report shows that it will take 132 years to close the gender gap.
  • Here's what gives me hope that my daughter will inherit a more peaceful, sustainable, equitable world.

There’s nothing quite so soul crushing as the sound of an infant’s scream. Especially when that infant is your new-born daughter and it’s 3 a.m. and you’re sleep-deprived and you’re trying not to wake the two-year-old in the room next door.

And boy can my girl scream. People, the kind of people who sleep blissfully through the entire night and aren’t constantly covered in spit-up, have been sympathetic, albeit surprised that something that cute could make such bloodcurdling sounds. “It’s just a phase.” “All babies cry.” “Poor mama.”

But I’m not upset my daughter has a scream that could raise the dead. A little tired, sure, but not upset. Far from it. I’m proud. It just tells me she’s going to be someone who’s not afraid to speak out against what’s wrong and speak up for what she wants. And that’s exactly what our world needs.

Have you read?

The state of her world

There have been many times over the past few months when it’s been hard as a mother to read the news.

In the final stretch of my pregnancy, I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of the pregnant woman lying on a stretcher in front of the charred remains of the bombed maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, in March. She and her baby died. The war in Ukraine continues.

The conflict in Ukraine has been especially devastating for women. An estimated 265,000 Ukrainian women were pregnant when the conflict began, and many of them have been subjected to destroyed medical facilities and disrupted health services. Since the war began, women and girls have faced increased rates of sexual violence and exploitation. The more than 5 million women who have fled the country have too often been subject to trafficking and abuse. Even once they reach a place of refuge, many experience new burdens of finding decent work to care for themselves and their families.

How many more lives will be lost, abused or uprooted?

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The day before I went into labor in May, a gunman walked into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and killed 19 students and two teachers before he was apprehended. As I paced the hospital room, my phone chimed with alerts of the growing body count.

Guns are the leading cause of death of children in the US. This year alone there have been more than 113 incidents of gun-related violence on school grounds, resulting in more than 40 deaths and more than 80 injuries.

Why are we not doing more to protect our children from senseless violence?

A month after my daughter was born, the US Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending the national right to abortion and causing states across the country to enact restrictions and bans. Many women across the country now have limited choice about what happens to their bodies and their lives.

Already, more than one in three American women have lost access to abortion. In Texas, where I'm from originally, providing abortion is considered a first-degree felony, which could result in a life sentence. No exceptions are made for abortions in the event of rape or incest. The end of Roe v. Wade could also have a negative impact on maternal health, as state-level bans limit reproductive healthcare. One 2021 study predicted that an outright abortion ban could increase maternal deaths by as much as 20%.

Why are we moving backwards on women's rights?

Later this summer while I worked on the complex logistical and financial puzzle of lining up childcare for my return to the office this fall, the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report confirmed that gender parity remains elusive. According to the data, it will be another 132 years before the gender gap closes.

The pandemic was a major setback to women’s economic empowerment. Twice as many woman left the workforce in the face of COVID-19, as many of the industries that are the main employers for women, including hospitality and retail, faced lockdowns and caregiving demands rose. Women continue to carry more of the mental load and perform more invisible labor than men — the report found that women's share of time spent in unpaid work as a proportion spent in total work was 55% compared to 19% for men. As caregiving costs continue to rise, so does the demand for unpaid work, and mothers are too often left to pick up the pieces to the detriment of their careers.

What will it take for my daughter to see progress in her lifetime?

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At the same time, inequality is increasing, misinformation is on the rise, and social divisions and unrest are worsening. The relentless threat of climate change is having real, immediate effects as rising temperatures disrupt lives and livelihoods around the globe. Even though much of the world has opened borders and discarded masks, COVID-19 continues to take lives and cause long-term disruptions to the global economy.

It all makes me want to scream, too.

The hope for our children

But the world isn’t ending.

About 6 a.m. — just when I think it’s hopeless, when her little lips are quivering, and her cheeks are bright red, and I’ve tried everything — something magical happens: She smiles.

There’s a lot to smile about, too.

Though the toll on lives cannot be diminished, the worst of war has also brought out some of the best in people. The world has become more compassionate towards refugees since the start of the Ukraine war, according to Ipsos. Thousands from around the world went to Ukraine to volunteer. And many others, including the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community of young activists, organized efforts to support Ukraine’s people from afar.

In the US President Biden recently signed into law the most significant gun control legislation in 30 years to impose tougher background checks on young buyers and remove guns from people who could pose a threat.

In many parts of the world women’s entrepreneurship is growing, and 2022 saw a record number of women CEO’s at Fortune 500 companies (though still just 15% of the total). Many governments and business are taking steps to increase gender parity, including investing in the care economy, ensuring leadership opportunities and empowering young women across the world.

And every day new innovators and entrepreneurs are making a difference in their communities by taking on issues such as reducing plastic waste, planting trees, saving our oceans, improving cities, advancing justice and more.

I tell my daughter all this as I dry her tears and hold her close. She looks up at me and giggles, the challenges of the world forgotten for now.

Or maybe it was just a burp.

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Gender InequalityHealth and Healthcare
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