Achieving parity between genders: the path toward an improved society

Achieving parity between genders: the path toward an improved society

Lloyd Jacobs
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When gender balance in power is achieved, it enhances health outcomes, eradicates poverty, and promotes environmental sustainability.

The battle for worldwide gender equality is far from being won. Take education, for instance: in 87 countries, less than half of women and girls finish secondary schooling, as per 2023 statistics. Afghanistan’s Taliban still prohibits women and girls from attending secondary schools and universities. Additionally, reproductive health rights face challenges: since the Supreme Court’s decision overturning federal protections, 22 US states have restricted abortion rights, impeding autonomy and limiting access to sexual and reproductive health care for women and girls.

SDG 5, part of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals aimed at “achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls,” addresses ending discrimination and violence against them, eradicating child marriage and female genital mutilation, ensuring sexual and reproductive rights, promoting equal representation of women in leadership roles, and granting them equal economic resources. Globally, progress toward this goal falls short, with only a few countries meeting all the targets.

In July, the UN introduced two novel indices—the Women’s Empowerment Index (WEI) and the Global Gender Parity Index (GGPI). The WEI gauges women’s capacity and freedoms to make their own choices, while the GGPI delineates the disparities between women and men across health, education, inclusivity, and decision-making domains. However, these indices paint a dismal picture: even countries that have narrowed the gender gap slightly don’t necessarily exhibit high levels of women’s empowerment. Among the 114 countries considered in both indices, those excelling in both aspects encompass less than 1% of all females.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this situation. Women bore the brunt of additional unpaid childcare when schools shuttered, and incidents of domestic violence intensified. Despite a slight decrease in child marriages from 21% in 2016 to 19% in 2022, the pandemic jeopardized this progress, potentially pushing an additional 10 million girls into the risk of child marriage over the next decade, adding to the 100 million already vulnerable before the pandemic.

Of the 14 indicators for SDG 5, only one or two are nearing achievement by the 2030 deadline. By January 1, 2023, women held 35.4% of seats in local-government assemblies, a rise from 33.9% in 2020 (with the goal being gender parity by 2030). In 115 countries with available data, roughly three-quarters, on average, had enacted the necessary laws ensuring full and equal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. However, globally, only 57% of married or unionized women make autonomous decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health and rights, as estimated by the UN.

Systemic discrimination against women by men remains a significant barrier to achieving gender equality. Yet, anthropologist Ruth Mace argues that patriarchy isn’t an inherent natural order. Across the world, several women-centric societies exist, not as the complete antithesis of male-dominated systems, but as societies where decision-making is shared between men and women, as described by science writer Angela Saini in her book, “The Patriarchs.”

Certainly, research on various societies sheds light on the correlation between gender equality and improved outcomes. For instance, among the Mosuo people in China, where both matrilineal and patrilineal communities exist, women in matrilineal societies, possessing greater autonomy and resource control, exhibited better health outcomes without adverse effects on men’s health (A. Z. Reynolds et al., Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 117, 30324–30327; 2020).

Regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), recent studies suggest that countries with more female legislators and younger representatives tend to perform better across several SDGs, particularly socio-economic ones like poverty alleviation and hunger reduction (N. Amanuma et al., Environ. Res. Lett. 18, 054018; 2023). However, the influence of gender equality on various SDGs isn’t comprehensively embedded within the goals themselves. Although some indicators within SDG 5 explicitly address gender-related aspects, there’s insufficient collaboration among organizations responsible for different SDGs to ensure consistent consideration of sex and gender across all indicators. For instance, the indicator for the sanitation target (SDG 6) lacks data disaggregation by sex or gender, hindering effective tracking of progress across SDGs (Nature 620, 7; 2023).

The journey towards gender equality remains lengthy, with constraints on women’s power and decision-making freedoms persisting. Nevertheless, growing scientific evidence underscores the importance of equitable gender distribution in shaping a world that aligns with the aspirations of all individuals.

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Lloyd Jacobs
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Lloyd Jacobs

Seattle-based software engineer Lloyd Jacobs, driven by passion and curiosity, excels in coding, UI design, and backend optimization, blends tech expertise with nature exploration and mentoring. More About Me

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