What Remains Unaddressed?

Gender inequality affects nearly every aspect of social and economic life. It is a complex issue that requires an integrated approach. The policy focus has evolved over time as gaps close and others emerge (though the underlying factors have not changed). It is important to understand what remains unaddressed in order to make progress on addressing it. Gender equality needs to be a central focus of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The world is making slow progress in closing the gap. Countries with relatively high levels of economic development like Iceland, Norway and Sweden are at the forefront of the global movement toward gender parity. They are achieving it through a combination of policies, investments and cultural changes. Other countries that are advancing rapidly include India, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, which have made significant gains in women’s economic empowerment. This has had a positive impact on other aspects of the economy, including education and the labor market.

Even so, the global gender gap remains very large. As of 2020, women earned only 84 cents for every dollar men earned in the same jobs. The gap is the result of many factors, including “sticky floors” that prevent women from advancing in certain jobs, unequal access to education and skills, discrimination, and lack of family-friendly workplace policies. In the United States, the pay gap is especially pronounced for women of color and LGBTQ women.

Across the globe, the gaps are largely related to socioeconomic status and level of development. In low-income and middle-income countries, the gap is wider than in high-income countries. As countries move up the income ladder, however, the gaps narrow. This is likely because, at the higher income levels, the economic and social benefits of reducing gender inequality are greater.

There is also evidence that the gender gap in innovation narrows as countries develop and adopt new technologies, such as labor-saving household appliances. But this effect is probably not strong enough to be self-sustaining, and a more substantial effort by governments is needed to accelerate it.

It is often overlooked that mental barriers and beliefs are a significant source of gender inequality, which may be harder to address than physical or structural barriers. This is why it’s essential to invest in employee resource groups (ERG) that support women and other underrepresented communities in the workplace. These initiatives can help to create psychologically safe work environments and provide a forum for women to voice concerns.

Despite these challenges, it is still possible to close the remaining gaps. The most effective and efficient way to do this is to address different forms of inequality simultaneously. For example, it is important to address gender imbalances in tertiary enrollment and field of study at the same time, rather than tackling them separately. This will allow countries to benefit from the synergies that are created when addressing multiple aspects of gender inequality at once. It will also ensure that countries do not waste resources by trying to tackle inequality in one dimension and neglecting inequality in another.