No gender equality found on Women’s Day

Ann M. Simmons
Los Angeles Times

It’s been 107 years since the world began observing International Women’s Day, and yet no country has achieved full gender equality.

“It’s very sobering to realize that it’s 2016 and we don’t have that yet,” said Daniela Ligiero, vice president of Girls and Women Strategy at the United Nations Foundation.

Of 145 nations, Iceland has come closest in the realms of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment, according to 2015 data from the World Economic Forum.

But in Yemen, the country that ranks lowest by the same data, women are considered only half a witness in court cases and are forbidden to leave the house without their husbands’ permission. In Tanzania and Lesotho, women cannot inherit land. All around the world, 1 in 3 women will experience some kind of sexual violence or intimate partner violence in her lifetime, Ligiero said.

As several countries around the globe were marking International Women’s Day on Tuesday, here are a few key indicators depicting the status of women, and some of the challenges that remain.

Education

About two-thirds of countries in the developing world have achieved gender equality in primary education, according to U.N. data, but the progress is less substantial at the secondary school level. In Africa and South Asia, boys remain 1.55 times more likely to complete secondary education than girls, according to the World Bank.

Even when girls make it into the classroom, they “continue to face particular risk in chaotic conflict settings,” said Nisha Varia, advocacy director for the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch.

In Pakistan, for example, the Taliban frequently attacks educational institutions. In 2012, Pakistani Taliban gunmen shot education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Employment

The obstacles to women’s upward mobility do not subside if women manage to attain academic qualifications.

“They don’t translate into greater equality in the labor market,” said Sarah Gammage, director of gender, economic empowerment and livelihoods at the International Center for Research on Women.

Women disproportionately bear the responsibility of caring for family members, raising children, and doing household chores, Gammage said — work for which they are not paid. Globally, they perform three times more unpaid work than men, according to the U.N.’s 2015 Human Development Report.

The absence of women in the paid labor market is hurting the world economy, development experts say. If women were to play an identical role in labor markets to that of men, as much as $28 trillion, or 26 percent, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025, according to a September 2015 study by McKinsey Global Institute.

Social, cultural restrictions

Social and cultural norms also continue to stifle women’s progress, and the restrictions can be both dangerous and debilitating.

In Saudi Arabia, women are not permitted to drive and cannot open bank accounts without their husbands’ permission. In Iran, a prominent politician recently called for donkeys, monkeys and women to be kept out of parliament. Uganda forbids women to gain permanent custody of children after a divorce. Vatican City remains the only country in the world where women cannot vote.

Honor killings, the traditional practice that allows the slaying of a family member who is believed to have brought dishonor on a family, claim thousands of women’s lives every year in South and Central Asia. Pakistani human rights NGOs estimate that there are about 1,000 honor killings every year, according to Human Rights Watch.

More than 700 million women alive today were married before they were 18.

In Pakistan and Afghanistan women can be forced to marry to settle a feud, while in Morocco they can be forced to marry their rapists.