Accelerating Change Against Gender Inequality

The goal of gender equality is to give every person equal access to the resources and opportunities that they need for a life of dignity. However, across the globe, gender inequality continues to undermine this goal in many ways. Inequality exists in all countries and sectors of society, including in education, employment, income and leadership. It harms women and men equally, but it also limits the potential of entire societies. Thankfully, the momentum is building to break down these barriers.

Gender discrimination begins in childhood and is right now limiting the lives of children around the world, particularly girls. They are more likely to be denied their rights, kept out of school and forced into marriage – and to face violence if they do speak out. This assault on childhood deprives nations of the talent and energy they need to progress.

In a global economy, the most basic indicator of inequality is the pay gap – the difference between male and female wages based on equal work – which is sometimes called the gender wage gap. But the gap actually reflects a wider set of inequalities, including differences in worker characteristics (education, experience and occupation) and the fact that women are more likely to hold lower-level jobs than men. A more meaningful metric is the gender inequality index, which takes into account these factors and others.

Women and girls are also less likely to have control over household income. As a result, they are more likely to live in poverty, and to experience food insecurity, malnutrition, and poor health. This is true in low-income and middle-income countries, as well as in richer ones. It is also true in sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty rates are highest, and the region suffers from a disproportionately high incidence of HIV/AIDS.

While progress has been made, we must accelerate the pace of change to ensure that we reach all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. This includes making sure that women’s rights and choices are reflected in all policies, budgets and institutions. It means ensuring that all women have the opportunity to complete secondary and higher education, to participate in the labor market, to be paid the same as their male counterparts, and to assume senior positions in business and government.

Achieving these goals will require new mindsets and a generational shift in attitudes, but the benefits of doing so will be felt by all. The road to a gender-equal world is long, but the evidence is clear: societies where women have more power and freedom to make their own choices are stronger and more prosperous. It is time to shape a new culture that celebrates the contributions of women and recognizes that men and women are equal.