The Global Challenge of Gender Inequality
Gender inequality is one of the most persistent and pernicious global challenges we face. It robs women and girls of their right to equal opportunities, rights and duties in every area of life and hinders sustainable development and social progress.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by all forms of inequality. While important advances have been made in some areas – like declining child marriage and female genital mutilation, or the fact that more women than men now hold public office – a world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality remains a long-term goal.
In the workplace, gender inequality takes on a range of shapes and sizes. It could be pay gaps, a lack of flexible working arrangements or even incidents of sexual harassment. However, leaders can also play a significant role in eliminating workplace discrimination and encouraging women to take on leadership roles, by putting policies in place and setting the tone from the top down.
Outside the workplace, gender inequality takes on a more nuanced form. For instance, there’s the sex bias embedded in educational institutions that prevents girls and women from taking up certain professions, such as medicine. A shocking example of this is the 2018 discovery that Tokyo Medical University lowered the scores of female medical students in order to ensure more men would become doctors, reflecting continuing societal assumptions and biologically essentialist notions of gender.
Another key factor in determining the quality of healthcare is whether or not you have access to it, and this is linked to your economic status. Women are more likely to be in poverty, and therefore less able to afford good healthcare. As a result, many women are unable to access contraception and receive lower-quality treatment than men, which can lead to serious health consequences including autoimmune disorders and chronic pain conditions.
Aside from the economic, there are a wide range of other issues that contribute to gender inequality, including sexual violence and exploitation, unequal division of unpaid care and domestic work, and discrimination in legal and social spheres. All of these are amplified by climate change and disasters, which disproportionately affect women and girls. When extreme weather hits a community, women’s and girls’ rights to education, housing, work and protection against violence are often violated.
Achieving gender equality will require political leadership, investments and comprehensive policy reforms. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we need to focus on the needs of women and girls by tackling the root causes of inequality: gender bias and stereotypes, preferences and comparative advantage between men and women, as well as a lack of culturally accepted practices that support equality. This is how we will get closer to the vision of a world where women and men enjoy equal opportunities, rights and duties in all aspects of life. Let’s make it happen together.