Women are far from achieving gender equality - Hindustan Times

Women are far from achieving gender equality

Mar 26, 2024 11:14 AM IST

Author - Mehdi Hussain, assistant professor (former), Department of Political Science, Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi

Gender equality continues to be one of the primary challenges to human rights. The continuous efforts against oppression, marginalisation and exploitation determine the status of women in society. Women and girls go through several societal, cultural, economic, and political challenges regarding their participation and leadership in the development process. Fighting for women’s rights in the 18th century to celebrating the first International Women’s Day on March 8, 1911 is a remarkable journey in the history of feminist movements. It builds on the vision of a world free of gender-based stereotypes, biases, and discrimination. Restoring autonomous individuality with a focus on self-identity and interests spearheads the demands for equal citizenship rights between men and women.

Gender equality(Representative photo) PREMIUM
Gender equality(Representative photo)

The world has promised a lot to women by establishing institutions and conventions dedicated to women's empowerment. For instance, the ECOSOC’s Commission on the Status of Women (1946), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), and the UN Women (2010). The World Plan of Action for 1975-1985 was formed to implement the objectives of the World Conference of the International Women’s Year held in 1975. It was proclaimed as the UN Decade for Women to establish intergovernmental cooperation to generate a global dialogue on gender equality. It established the ‘women in development’ approach to increase their participation in development. The question of women within the development framework was soon replaced with the ‘woman and development’ approach that focused on the interaction between women and development. In the 1980s, the ‘gender and development’ approach broadened the scope of the question and brought different aspects of gender discrimination and their impacts on the role of men and women in the development process. In 1979, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), regarded as the “Women’s Bill of Rights”, guiding country signatories to end all forms of discrimination against women mandatorily. In the 1990s, more conventions emerged to set global norms and standards for countries to implement, for instance, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993), the ICPD Programme of Action (1994), the Millennium Development Goals (2000), and the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) (2015).

The status of women has fared well in terms of the number of women and girls participating in public life and the efforts put an end to gender inequality. However, the timeline for achieving gender equality by 2030 seems challenging. The Gender Snapshot 2023 Report of the UN Women and UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs highlights the uphill task of financing gender equality measures with a $360 billion annual deficit to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment across key global goals such as ending poverty and hunger by 2030. The UN Women further states that the government allocates only 5% of its aid to tackle violence against women and girls and 0.2% to its prevention. In contrast, in 2022, global military expenditure reached $2.2 trillion, a 3.7% increase from last year, meaning less social spending.

Moreover, the conflicts and inflation may force 75% of countries to reduce public spending by 2025, affecting women. In 2022, 614 million women and girls live in areas affected by conflicts, which is 50% higher than in 2017. Wars and armed conflicts destroy infrastructure and hamper the quality of life, and women and girls face the worst impacts of wars. For instance, in Yemen, 76% of internally displaced people are women. UN Women called the war on Gaza, since October 7, also a war on women, killing about 9,000 women while nine in 10 women in Gaza find it harder to access food than men.

Ending gender-based discrimination is intertwined with challenges of poverty. At least 75 million people globally have been pushed into poverty since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and conflicts, according to the UN Women, according to the Gender Snapshot 2023. One in every ten women is living in extreme poverty. If the trends continue, 340 million women and girls will still live in extreme poverty by 2030. Achieving UN SDG 1 (Zero Poverty) by 2030, thus, needs 26 times faster progress on eradicating poverty. The Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war disrupted global food supply chains, resulting in food supply shortages and high food and fertiliser prices. The Russia-Ukraine war questions the stability of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, exacerbating global food insecurity.

Adding to the woes, India’s--a key global exporter of rice--ban on rice export beginning August 2022 has affected the country’s rice importers in African countries, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. It has worsened the international efforts to reduce the gender gap because one in four women and girls are likely to suffer moderately or severely from food insecurity by 2030. The discriminatory social practice perpetuates little or no pay work for women as family workers in agriculture, making them more vulnerable to hunger.

A mixed trend is observed in maternal mortality from progress in its reduction from 2000 to 2020, but also a halt in its progress since 2015. Women in sub-Saharan Africa and Central and South Asia are particularly vulnerable. Poor health services availability for women in sub-Saharan Africa constitutes a critical factor in exponentially raising their vulnerability. They are more likely to die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth compared to women in Europe and the United States.

The world is advancing poorly in achieving SDG 5 (Gender Equality) as none of the targets of its indicators/sub-indicators have been completed, according to the Gender Snapshot 2023. It means that the biases against women in terms of access to reproductive healthcare, political representation, economic parity, and legal protection are preventing progress. Addressing poverty, strengthening institutions, and gender financing constitute key measures to accelerate gender equality and empower women and girls. These are registered on the agenda in the 68th annual Commission on the Status of Women in March 2024. Gender equality is incomplete without consideration of the LGBTIQ+. Despite significant progress, discriminatory laws against LGBTIQ+ people exist in 41 countries that criminalise different aspects of gender identity and same-sex relations, leading to assaults and denial of essential services. SDG 5 is also affected by the gender gap in power, which is about 27% of seats in parliament for women globally.

Access to education for girls is rising. Their completion rates are even better than boys in primary and secondary levels. However, in 2023, about 120 million girls and young women were out of school. The trend is disturbing in conflict-ridden areas. For instance, 1.1 million girls above 12 in Afghanistan were out of school in 2021. Given the poor progress in this indicator, 110 million girls will be out of school by 2030.

Moreover, women and girls do not get enough chances to build skills. The gap in the school-to-work transition between young women and men is enormous. For young women of the 15-24 age group, it is about 32% compared to 15% for young men not in education, employment or training, as per the Report. The gap is even worrying for countries in Central and South Asia, with 49% compared to 15%.

Quality education is crucial to SDG 5, and it depends on inclusive policy measures that benefit targeted young girls/women by removing multifaced barriers, i.e., legal, social and economic barriers to education. Systemic discrimination at the workplace and lack of quality job opportunities is a major deterring factor for young women to career transition from schooling. It can be improved through scholarships, among other support measures, to pursue higher studies or career opportunities to build skills. For instance, Bangladesh’s girl stipend programme at the secondary level improved by 2.5 extra years of schooling.

The removal of discriminatory legislation, investing in women, ending poverty, expanding participation of women in decision-making, and gender-sensitive financing are some of the actions that need urgent attention.

This article is authored by Mehdi Hussain, assistant professor (former), Department of Political Science, Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi.

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