Treat women as equal partners

EVERY time the International Women’s Day is celebrated, as it was yesterday, we are reminded that gender equality remains an elusive target.

The United Nations says March 8 is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

That is indeed the least we can do, but just doing the minimum will not get us far. And we do have a long journey ahead of us.

Through its annual Global Gender Gap report, the Switzerland-based World Economic Forum has been keeping track of gender-based disparities in over 100 countries for about a decade. What it has recorded so far forms a picture of inadequacy and inertia.

In the past 10 years, the gap between men and women in health, education, economy and politics has narrowed by only 4%.

The disparity in economic opportunity is particularly troubling. The latest Global Gender Gap report reckons that if things do not improve much, we will have to wait until 2133 to see women having the same career prospects as men.

“No country in the world has closed its gender gap. Even as female leaders steer multinationals and major economies, the reality in 2016 is a working world which still excludes, underpays, overlooks and exploits half of its available talent,” says the World Economic Forum.

In a message to mark the International Women’s Day, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon spoke about the world body’s track record in “empowering women as agents of change” since his election more than nine years ago.

“We have shattered so many glass ceilings we created a carpet of shards. Now we are sweeping away the assumptions and bias of the past so women can advance across new frontiers,” he said.

That may be the case with the UN, but elsewhere, the gap closes at a glacial pace.

Although major breakthroughs have happened many years ago, the subsequent improvements have been disappointingly slow.

Way back in September 1893, New Zealand became the first country to give women the right to vote in the election of members of Parliament.

And yet, when it comes to political empowerment, there remains a sizeable global gap between men and women.

Although the United States outlawed wage discrimination in 1963, the world is likely to take well over another century to fully close the economic gap.

And where does Malaysia stand? Not too well. We are ranked 111th among the 145 countries in the Gender Gap Index 2015 compiled by the World Economic Forum.

Last September, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak were among the dozens of global leaders who met in New York to discuss gender equality and the empowerment of women.

He said this at the event: “We aim to achieve high-income nation status by 2020.

“But we cannot do this without women being equal partners, and we need them to be drivers of growth – growth that will bring prosperity to all our citizens.”

These are words that we have to bear in mind and put into practice every day, and not just on March 8.

Source : The Star