Everywhere, women are worse off than men –
simply because they are women. The reality for
women from minorities, older women, those
with disabilities and women migrants and refugees is even worse.
While we have seen enormous progress on
women’s rights over recent decades, from the
abolition of discriminatory laws to increased
numbers of girls in school, we now face a powerful pushback. Legal protections against rape
and domestic abuse are being diluted in some
countries while policies that penalise women,
from austerity to coercive reproduction, are
being introduced in others. Women’s sexual and
reproductive rights are under threat from all
All this is because gender equality is fundamentally a question of power. Centuries of discrimination and deep-rooted patriarchy have
created a yawning gender power gap in our
economies, our political systems and our corporations. The evidence is everywhere.
Women are still excluded from the top table,
from governments to corporate boards to prestigious award ceremonies. Women leaders and public figures face harassment,
threats and abuse online and off. The gender pay gap is just a
symptom of the gender power gap.
Even the supposedly neutral data that informs decision-making
from urban planning to drug-testing is often based on a “default
male”; men are seen as standard while women are an exception.
Women and girls also contend with centuries of misogyny and
the erasure of their achievements. They are ridiculed as hysterical or hormonal; they are routinely judged on their looks; they
are subjected to endless myths and taboos about their natural
bodily functions; they are confronted by everyday sexism, mansplaining and victim-blaming.
This profoundly affects us all, and is a barrier to solving many
of the challenges and threats we face.
Take inequality. Women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned
by men. The latest research by the World Economic Forum says
it will take 257 years to close this gap. Meanwhile women and
girls do some 12 billion hours of unpaid care work every day that
simply does not figure in economic decision-making. If we are to
achieve a fair globalisation that works for everyone, we need to
base our policies on statistics that take account of women’s true
Digital technology is another case in point. The lack of gender
balance in the universities, start-ups and Silicon Valleys of our
world is deeply worrying. These tech hubs are
shaping the societies and economies of the future; we cannot allow them to entrench and
exacerbate male dominance.
Or take the wars that are ravaging our world.
There is a straight line between violence against
women, civil oppression and conflict. How a
society treats the female half of its population is
a significant indicator of how it will treat others.
Even in peaceful societies, many women are in
deadly danger in their own homes.
There is even a gender gap in our response
to the climate crisis. Initiatives to reduce and
recycle are overwhelmingly marketed at women, while men are more likely to put their
faith in untested technological fixes. And women economists and parliamentarians are
more likely than men to support pro-environmental policies.
Finally, political representation is the clearest
evidence of the gender power gap. Women are
outnumbered by an average of three to one in parliaments around
the world, but their presence is strongly correlated with innovation and investment in health and education. It is no coincidence
that the governments that are redefining economic success to
include wellbeing and sustainability are led by women.
This is why one of my first priorities at the United Nations was
to bring more women into our leadership. We have now achieved
gender parity at the senior level, two years ahead of schedule, and
we have a roadmap for parity at all levels in the years to come.