Common Errors in Tackling Gender Inequality

Women and girls make up half the world’s population, yet they remain marginalised in every country, region and aspect of life. The root causes of this inequality are complex and varied. They range from differences in biology and psychology to discriminatory laws, attitudes and social norms. Inequality based on gender is a major impediment to human progress and sustainable development. It also hampers efforts to achieve the Global Goals by 2030.

For example, the global pay gap is often attributed to differences in education between men and women. But over the last decades, the educational gaps have been narrowing – and in many countries, reversing. Other factors – such as discrimination, the characteristics of jobs and labour markets – continue to be important drivers of wage inequality.

In most countries, women are more likely to be employed in lower paying occupations and spend three times as much time doing unpaid work as men do. This has a direct impact on their quality of life and their economic potential. This is a fundamentally unfair situation and it needs to be addressed.

But tackling inequality is not as simple as it might seem. It’s essential to have a robust evidence base and understand the inherently intersectional nature of gender inequalities. Too often, initiatives are launched with the best of intentions, but fail to address the core drivers of inequality – and may even be counterproductive.

One common mistake is to treat women as a monolithic, homogenous group, which results in a ‘one size fits all’ approach to interventions and change. But within this group, experiences are highly diverse and determined by other intersecting identities. This is especially true in the case of women from marginalised backgrounds.

A second error is to assume that identifying and addressing gender inequalities will lead to universal solutions. Gender equality will not automatically improve health, employment or economic outcomes. Gender inequality is a systemic problem with multiple drivers, and the solution will have to be a combination of policies and initiatives.

This includes implementing a rights-based approach to policymaking, including the recognition that gender inequalities are driven by discrimination embedded in all of society’s institutions – from laws and norms to family and community structures. It also requires identifying and supporting the leaders who are committed to advancing equality for all.

The benefits of addressing gender inequality are enormous. When women are empowered to lead their own lives and determine their own futures, they contribute more to the economy and help build stable societies that everyone can thrive in. In addition, investing in girls’ education helps them stay in school longer, marry later and have fewer children – all of which improves their lifetime earning power and reduces poverty and vulnerability.

Gender inequality not only harms women and girls – it also damages our communities and the planet. We can make a difference by ensuring that all people have equal access to the basic necessities of life, and by promoting equality for women at the heart of every decision.