By Katja Iversen | The Telegraph | 31 May 2019
Imagine a world where we elected as many women as men into office, where women had control and choice over their own bodies, and where we weren’t leaving trillions of dollars on the table by keeping half the population from fully participating in national economies.
Those of us advocating daily for gender equality often focus on what’s holding women back.
Instead, let’s focus on the world we can move towards. If – or rather when – our work is done, what would a gender equal world look like?
The answer is that women would not be the only ones to benefit; a gender equal world would be wealthier, healthier, more peaceful and more equitable.
If women participated in economies identically to men, it would add as much as $28 trillion to the global economy, while peace agreements which involve women in their creation and execution are 35 per cent more likely to last.
And, if we meet the need for modern contraception and provide all pregnant women and newborns with quality care, maternal deaths would decrease by 73 per cent and newborn deaths would decrease by 80 per cent.
But to realise the vision and reap the benefits of a gender equal world, we need to redefine power on every level – politically, economically, collectively, and individually.
Governments hold a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to shifting power in favour of gender equality, and some are already moving in the right direction.
Western and Northern European countries once again top the rankings of both the OECD’s social institutions and gender index and the World Economic Forum’s gender gap report. That’s because they’re investing – politically, programmatically, and financially – in gender equality.
For example, Iceland has made the gender pay gap illegal – helping to deliver a gender wage gap of just 5.7 per cent in 2017. In Norway, there’s paid mandatory parental leave, while France is a global leader in educational attainment.
But Europe doesn’t have a monopoly on shifting power dynamics – 12 governments around the world currently have gender equal cabinets.
In Rwanda, gender equality is enshrined into the constitution and there is a commitment to gender-based budgeting in the government. The country boasts the best record in the world for female representation in parliament, with nearly two thirds of its seats currently held by women.
Research from the OECD shows that countries with a greater proportion of women among top decision-makers in legislatures have lower levels of income inequality, lower levels of corruption, and greater investments and better outcomes in health, education and other social indicators.
And as gender equality increases, tolerance for gender-based violence decreases. As one indicator, over the past five years, 15 more countries enacted legislation criminalising domestic violence.
But let’s not sugar coat it: every country in the world still has a way to go to achieve gender equality and fully realise these benefits.
Politicians alone can’t solve the problem – the private sector must contribute.
A 2018 McKinsey report shows that gender equality in business is not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. Companies with strong female leadership have boasted a 35 per cent higher annual return on equity than companies without.
It’s a trend that is catching on. Just last month, L’Oreal Paris produced a series of ads labelled “this is for men” espousing the economic benefits of companies putting more women in leadership positions.
In February, Proctor & Gamble co-hosted its inaugural #WeSeeEqual summit, where the company announced a series of measures to improve gender equality globally, including investments in women-led companies and efforts to educate women on puberty and hygiene in India, Africa, and the Middle East.
National and international campaigns levering our collective voice is also vital.
We are seeing powerful movements force taboo topics into the limelight and demand change. MeToo and Ni Una Menos turned previously personal and hushed conversations into national and global debates.
The MenCare campaign pushed fathers in 45 countries to be more active and more equal partners in child care and unpaid work in the home.
And Girls Who Code introduced a love of STEM to a new generation of girls.
We as individuals also have the power to change the world.
We have the evidence and research that shows the return on investment of gender equality. And we know that we need to tear down certain barriers – legal, political, economic, cultural, and societal – that still stand in our way.
This will only happen if the world invests programmatically, politically, and financially in girls and women – their equality, health and their rights.
Katja Iversen is the President/CEO of Women Deliver, a leading global advocate that champions gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women. Women Deliver is hosting the world's largest conference on gender equality in Vancouver next week