The Cost of Failing to Reduce Gender Inequality

Gender inequality is the persistent prejudicial treatment of people based on their gender, and it affects women and men differently. Although it may seem a narrow topic, its consequences are profound and extend well beyond the lives of the victims themselves. The global economy is stronger when everyone has the opportunity to thrive, and tackling gender inequality is crucial to achieving that objective.

But despite progress in some areas, global gender gaps have remained largely stagnant or even increased over the last decade. This is mainly due to faster population growth in high-inequality countries, which can boost inequality by slowing the decline in inequality within nations and thus increasing the relative size of the unequal groups.

The good news is that addressing these gaps will require bold leadership, investments and comprehensive policy reforms, especially in high-inequality countries. This will help to remove barriers that hinder progress, such as the lack of access to education or health services for girls, and cultural prejudices that lead to the denial of women’s rights, such as early marriage and harmful practices like female genital mutilation (FGM).

Failing to tackle these challenges will stall the progress that has been made in improving gender equality, leaving many people behind. The benefits of reducing gender inequality are considerable, and the cost of failing to do so is high.

In 1995, world leaders endorsed the Beijing Platform for Action, a progressive blueprint for advancing women’s and girl’s rights. This plan set ambitious goals for achieving gender equality, including the goal of promoting quality education for all girls and the elimination of barriers that prevent them from attaining it. However, a range of obstacles continue to hamper education for girls, including child marriage and inadequate facilities for menstrual hygiene; lack of money to pay for school fees; cultural notions that girls should be married off young and not attend school; and the recruitment of girls into armed groups.

This is not just a problem for developing economies. Even in advanced economies, where a high proportion of women work, barriers to full participation remain. They include not only economic disadvantages, such as discriminatory wage gap and a lack of flexible working arrangements, but also social costs, including the deterioration of relationships and the erosion of family ties and community solidarity.

Gender inequality is not just a woman’s issue; it is everyone’s issue. Addressing it will require a shift in thinking, including the recognition that there are advantages and costs to men accruing from patterns of gender inequality, and the need for policies that recognize this. These could include promoting gender-neutral language in policy and programs, ensuring that schools are equipped to provide quality care for boys, as well as girls; and addressing the social norms that fuel child labour and gang violence against men. The goal is to build inclusive societies that are free from bias based on sex and open to the talents and abilities of all. This will improve the lives of all.