Getting Harder to be a Woman
With the 2017 International Women’s Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Women and People of Progressive Faiths coming up this weekend (Feb.16-18) in Asilomar, CA, the release of a new study on the Global Gender Gap from the World Economic Forum provides a timely and sobering backdrop.
As Washington Post reporter Amanda Erickson wrote in her summary article this past week: “It’s getting harder to be a woman.”
The annual international report looks at women’s standing in 142 countries, and bases its conclusions on four indexes: educational attainment, health, political empowerment and economic participation. Overall, if these statuses continue at their current rate, the study authors say, it will take another 170 years to reach gender equity, with one “bright” exception: access to education. Currently, men and female-identified women are going to school at about the same rate. And women’s health outcomes in general parallel men’s.
But other critical measures like political and economic participation are lagging. While more women than ever are working, we are falling behind because the burden of household chores and caregiving still falls overwhelmingly on us. The study notes that the gap between paid and unpaid work starts early, with girls worldwide spending around 30 percent of their time doing uncompensated labor, reducing the time and ability to earn as much money as men.
“Female-driven fields,” the authors tell us, tend to pay less than work dominated by men.
While we are still almost two centuries away from global parity for women and men, the World Economic Forum report indicates that, in some parts of the world, the gender gap is shrinking much faster. South Asia is set to close the gap in 46 years and Europe in 61 years, and Latin America in 71 years. Central and North America are making the least progress in catching up. In terms of ranking, out of 142 countries the U.S. ranks 45th, with poor showings in our political positions and flattening of improvement in numbers of women in the workplace due to lack of accessible and available childcare and spotty family leave.
In Africa, Rwanda has sustained progress. It is the one country in the world where more women than men hold elected office.
The January 2017 special edition of National Geographic on “The Gender Revolution” focused on the shifting landscape of gender, and explored definitions of and stories about gender through the lenses of science and culture across a spectrum of gender identity. It looked at what determines the paths to womanhood and manhood in the 21st century in terms of social roles. The magazine also presented baseline statistics on education and protection of equal opportunities for the world’s 1.2 billion girls, using data from UNICEF, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and other sources. Again, the headline and the conclusion was that it is still difficult to be female. Suicide is the leading cause of death for girls 10-19 globally; 700 million women and girls are married as child brides before their 18th birthday, with significant risk of domestic violence and higher maternal mortality; 120 million girls worldwide are forced into intercourse and other sexual acts. Girls and women who have endured such abuse, the article notes, are at higher risk of exploitation in the sex trade.
As UU women gather in convocations or small groups or across the Internet, there is much left to do to make more urgent progress in rescuing girls and women from danger. And at the same time to recognize and celebrate gender fluidity and a future, as one writer put it, where gender is neither an advantage nor an impediment.