Ananya Tiwari, undergraduate student at Warwick Business School and a passionate proponent of women’s rights, explores the different ways to establish gender equality in the world.
A Spanish uprising from close quarters
“Madrid será la tumba de machismo”
This resounding chant from women, men and non-binary people on the streets of Madrid on 8th March, proclaimed that Madrid would be the fall of patriarchy. I experienced a strange adrenaline rush as a strong sense of community surged into me on that fine morning commemorating International Women’s Day. It was the first time I was participating in an activist march, and I was pleasantly overwhelmed by the truly electric atmosphere and the spontaneous connection I felt with those around me. Madrid was buzzing with almost 400,000 people – young and old – all dressed in purple, the official colour of the 8M Huelga. My fellow sisters and brothers had taken to the streets of central Madrid with placards and witty slogans on the patriarchy in unanimous support of one cause – EQUALITY.
Personally, I’m privileged enough to have grown up surrounded by independent, kind and intelligent women as well as open-minded and respectful men. But this march really sparked a new fire within me. The words that one of my friends in Spain beautifully crafted on this Women’s Day march sum up my feelings succinctly:
“I have encountered far too many people in my life who find this fight for equality foolish, offensive and threatening. Or they conclude that feminism in our ‘developed Western world’ is unnecessary because ‘the law allows equal opportunity for everyone’. The truth is that usually these very people cannot comprehend the extent of oppression and discrimination women face in their day to day lives, as they have never lived through it or seen their loved ones suffer because of it –usually because the women they know have suffered alone, in secret.”
Has the West really achieved gender equality?
There is a shared belief harboured by many that equal rights are not needed in the developed western world. This dangerous assumption, simply put, is toxic. A World Bank report published in 2019 found that so far only six countries – Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden – have given women completely equal legal rights in areas of wage, asset management, access to pension and rights around marriage and children. Moving to the United States, it’s rather funny to note that in 2015, there were more CEOs named ‘John’ at the helm of companies than there were female CEOs.
Gender equality and feminism, however, do not simply refer to women’s legal rights, it refers to changing our unconscious bias and giving complete and fair equity to all genders. Equity refers to recognising that differences in abilities and the notion of fairness often requires treating people differently so that they can achieve the same outcome. Let’s take paternity rights as an example. According to UNICEF, almost two-thirds of the world’s infants under the age of one live in countries where their fathers are not entitled by law to a single day of paid paternity leave. That’s basically 90 million children growing up with an outlook that normalises men being at work and women being stationed at home, almost placing fathers on a pedestal as the main breadwinner of the family, regardless of whether or not they are spending enough quality time with their children. The lack of paternity rights might very well be a key factor in the root of the gender inequality problem. The other crucial factor is the statistically proven wage gap, which widens dramatically once men and women get married and start having children.
The correlation between equality and economic prosperity
I attempted to calculate correlation coefficients for indicators of economic prosperity against those of gender equality. This entailed calculating the correlations between GDP per capita growth and the Women, Business and Legal (WBL) index, women literacy, infant mortality and all other combinations in between. To my dismay, I found them all to be insignificant. But there’s one country which did confirm my hypothesis: Luxembourg! It received full marks on the WBL index and it also has the largest GDP per capita in the entire world. However, one of the major limitations of my brief macro statistical analysis is that it does not account for the differences in culture and key economic sectors in the different countries. Whilst we can accurately assume that gender equality can bring economic development, we cannot assert the opposite perspective that economic development brings about gender development.
A Harvard Business Review article tackled this issue and found that in the West, specifically, a 10% increase in Blau’s gender diversity index related to roughly 7% increase in market value in the telecommunications industry. However, in the energy sector in the Middle East, which has historically not been gender-inclusive, gender diversity in firms was unrelated to company performance. Interestingly, even in countries with strong and established legal structures, gender diversity does not directly equate to economic prosperity when the cultures are strongly male-dominant. Japan, for instance, has some of the most generous parental and homecare leave policies globally but it also suffers from stiffly-patriarchal work cultures. The article concluded that firms in countries like Japan do not benefit as much from gender diversity as do firms in Western Europe where cultural acceptance is higher.
In his article “Low Schooling for Girls, Slower Growth for All?” Professor S Klasen has analysed the effect of female education on the upcoming generations. He found a general trend across the globe that a negative impact of education on female fertility resulted in a negative impact on the creation of human capital, and, consequently on long-term economic growth. Therefore, statistically proven data clearly show us that there is a positive correlation between better female education, stronger legal structures and most importantly cultural shift in attitudes towards women and a stronger economy.
Women in politics – is that the answer?
The burning question today is how do we really achieve equality? One way to ensure wide-spanning results may be to elect more women in positions of power. A study conducted by García, Brio and Victorio calculated women’s involvement in political areas as a statistically significant variable to prove economic growth. Their analysis found education and politics to be the two variables which are most strongly positively correlated to economic growth.
Unfortunately, only 24% of all national parliamentarians were women as of November 2018, a slow increase from 11.3% in 1995. Women in political power would be able to address issues and prioritise bills concerning women’s rights. For example, the issue of lack of sanitation products for menstruating women in jails was highlighted only recently by a female state representative in Colorado. Personally, I’m immensely inspired by Emmeline Pankhurst who played a pivotal role in early 1900s to ensure suffrage for British women.
According to a 2015 International Peace Institute report, when women are included in peace processes, the chances that the agreement will last at least 15 years jump by 35%. Jacinda Ardern is a shining example of such leadership. Following the Christchurch terrorist attacks in New Zealand, Ardern not only addressed gun regulations promptly but also showed incredible levels of empathy for the victims by visiting their relatives.
Power to move mountains
The Women’s Day march in Madrid opened up many lines of conversation. As I spoke to my friends and fellow sisters, it became clearer than ever before that gender equality is not only about ensuring economic prosperity. As such, the measures to ensure equality also need to come from many different avenues, not just from a regulatory angle. For example, the media can include more non-gender conforming ideas, teachers can teach against the bias of gender and corporations can promote mentorship practices amongst men and women.
In my opinion, the education of girls will have a catalytic effect in all dimensions of economic development. Gender inequality in education reduces the average amount of human capital in a society and therefore, obstructs economic growth. The necessary overhaul can be championed by women in power who can positively influence relevant legislation. In the end, however, everyone has to buy into the value of diversity, not just hear some rules about it. Diversity can move mountains once we all start believing in its intrinsic value.
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