Social inclusion is a challenge across groups racial groups, ethnic groups, linguistic groups. It’s a challenge across classes, especially when market forces and politics combine to widen the gap between the rich and the poor. And it is from time immemorial been a challenge, across the gender. Because from traditional societies until today in most parts of the world, women have faced massive barriers to their effective participation in the economy. To careers, to earning a living. To the right to own and inherit property, or to start businesses. Often this discrimination has been, legally imprinted, it’s in the books, in other words. Often it has been cultural barriers. Fortunately, this is changing and changing fast in many parts of the world. indeed, my own experience working in poor villages, in remote areas that are known to be traditional patriarchal communities where the men are in charge. Even in such places, one can observe dramatic social change before one’s eyes, where villages that, up until recent years, never contemplated that a young girl would complete a primary education and go on to secondary school are now actively pursuing, when given the opportunity, the education of their girls, not only through secondary school, but of young women into higher education, and then coming back as leaders of communities. And this in places with the reputation of being highly discriminatory in practice. So, we’re in an environment of flux, where age old practices of discrimination against girls and women are changing. Where ideas are changing, where economic demands are changing. And where economic possibilities for girls and women are changing in the right direction. Our purpose in sustainable development is to help that process to help insure that societies make all opportunities open to girls and, and to women and thereby dramatically to improve their economic performance. Often this is a key step out of poverty. Often it’s a key step to overall sustainable development because when girls are educated, when women are empowered, many very important and powerful and wonderful things happen in society. That help not only the economic development and social equality, but also the environmental sustainability. And of course, the quality of governance in society. All of the aspects of sustainable development. The Millennium development goals, took on gender equality in a quite strong and direct way, MDG3, says that the goal was to promote gender equality, and empower women. And the specific target attached to that is in the education sector. To eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015. And this should be measured by the enrollment rates and the completion rates of girls compared to boys, and primary secondary and higher ducation. Let me emphasize the many many gains that will be achieved by honoring and fulfilling MDG3. First, of course is human rights. This is a basic question of human rights. Back in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights. The rights of, girls and women are protected, absolutely as clearly and strongly as the, the rights of, boys and men. Gender equality is at the core of universal human rights from the very start. But the economic gains the practical implications of this, are enormously strong as well. And that’s why Jeremy Bentham, with his Utilitarian philosophy of the greatest good for the greatest number, would be the first champion of gender equality. Because, Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian calculation would be very very clear that, it can’t work for society, as a whole to try to operate on half its brain power, half its human potential, half its investments in skills, training, and know-how. So the returns to investing in girls and women from a, quote unquote human capital point on view, the productivity of women in any sector of the economy, whether they’re farmers or workers in industry or workers, workers in the service sector. Of course, is greatly enhanced, as it is for men by more education, better literacy, numeracy,and advanced skills. But when investing in women, there’s a, an added dimension that is extremely important. Women are biologically and socially the main caregivers of children in the family. Of course, that’s a, a bit of a social phenomenon, but it’s also a very real phenomenon naturally, because the health of the mother in pregnancy, for example, is absolutely pivotal for the well being throughout the lifetime of of, of the child. We’re learning how intrauterine development, what happens to the, the fetus during pregnancy, can create the conditions for health or ill health throughout the, the entire subsequent, life. So if a mother faces discrimination, if she’s not eating properly, if she is not literate and able to secure access to antenatal care for example, the consequences can be devastating for the child. Of course, the mother then by best health practice, will be the exclusive provider of nutrition for the newborn for the first 6 months in breast feeding. And will play an important role of breast feeding and a complementary feeding basis, for another year or year and a half after that. Say for, the period from 6 months to 2 years. And so the mother’s health, her well-being, her knowledge of how to take care of the child is absolutely essential to the well being of the next generation. Invest in a girl, you’re investing in a mother. Investing in a mother, you’re investing in a child’s wellbeing in the next generation. You are thereby having a fundamental role in intergenerational social mobility. And so that’s an added, decisive reason why gender equality is so essential, and why gender discrimination, discrimination against girls and women, has such a pernicious effect on societies, causing one of the most profound reasons why they may remain stuck in extreme poverty. We’ve also noted that, as the woman is empowered with more skills, as she is therefore enabled to enter the labor force, earn a decent income. It will be very much expected on a variety of reasons for the mother to have fewer children. To have a voluntary, rather quick reduction of the total fertility rate. One thing is that the woman herself will be empowered within the household. Sometimes, there’s a difference of opinion between the the, the mother and the father about how many children. The father says, as many as possible. The mother says, I’d rather have fewer, but in many traditional societies, the mother’s voice is very weak, in that negotiation if it even is a negotiation. But more importantly, both the husband and the wife very often agree completely, that if the mother is with skills, with education, especially, able to be in the labor force earning a decent income, then the opportunity cost of having more children is very, very high. The time taken out to raise the child may be very expensive in terms of lost income, and then it’s not a difference between the father and the mother, but rather an, an alliance of views that say, better to have fewer children, to invest more in the health, nutrition and education of that smaller family, and we’ve seen for so many reasons why that’s a better deal for the children themselves, and a better deal for the society in accelerating the end of extreme poverty. And in combining the economic development with the social inclusion in that next generation. We have new tools very good ones, and ever-improving tools to assess the state of gender inequality, and to make comparisons across societies in ways that can give good direction and impetus to societies to to do better.
The United Nations development program beginning in 2010, has began to construct a Gender Inequality Index, which is a, a very handy and useful tool, like its Human Development Index, the Gender Inequality Index combines several different dimensions on a weighted average basis to give a Quantified Assessment of gender inequality that can be compared across countries. In this index, there are 3 different categories that are included. First, reproductive health. If mothers face very adverse conditions in, reproduction, then this is scored as a high degree of gender inequality. Two sub-categories to reproductive health, one is the maternal mortality rate. That is the rate at which mothers die in child birth or pregnancy, more generally. And the second is the adolescent fertility rate. The rate at which adolescent girls are bearing children. An indication of girls being forced out of their education into early marriage, and early child bearing. The second big category in the gender inequality index is, empowerment. And this is measured 2 ways in the index. One is by the share of total parliamentary seats, held by women. And the second is by the enrollment rates of women in higher education. In the third big category, of the gender inequality index is the measure of inequality of labor market participation. In some societies till today, women are simply not allowed to work in many sectors of the economy. This is especially true in the Middle East. Where women even very educated women, can’t work with men alongside them, or, are not allowed to work at all in particular sectors of the economy. In other places, labor force participation by women is very, very high. Public Policy plays a role here, not only in barring or allowing women to participate in particular sectors, but also in facilitating that participation. In Scandinavian countries, for example, with the social democratic ethos and the social welfare state. Every woman is afforded the right to have access for their child, in a quality daycare, financed by the state. And that enables mothers, even poor mothers who might otherwise not be able to afford the child care, to leave the children with the high confidence in a, a very safe preschool environment, and often a preschool environment which does an excellent job of helping to prepare that young child for primary school education. Well, the result of putting together these 3 factors of reproductive health, of empowerment, and labor force participation, gives us a world map that you see in, in front of you. And the color code, as always, gives us an indication of the relative rankings of, of countries. What you can see is that, again, not surprisingly, because we’ve seen it again and again, northern Europe, and especially Scandinavia, Sweden, and Norway, Denmark, stand right at the top of, of the world league tables, in having the lowest gender inequality. A strong representation of women in parliament, very high labor force participation, excellent coverage of reproductive health services. Then you have many countries that are a bit in the middle of the pack, still high. But not as high as Scandinavia. My own country, the United States is an example of that where conditions are relatively good on a global basis, and this is after decades of improvements of the legal status and the social status of women in the society and in the labor force. And then there are countries that are clearly places where girls and women continue to face a tremendous amount of discrimination. And you see this in West Africa, where the index scores are low.
And you see it especially in the places where the inequality ranks the highest. This is in the Middle East and in West Asia. Typically societies, Islamic societies where women are not allowed to have an economic role where strict separation by gender is often enforced. As in many aspects of Saudi society. And where women’s participation in the political process is extremely low. so, this gender inequality index is rather vivid, in highlighting on a multidimensional basis, where progress has been high, and where progress is still very much needed if society is to reap the benefits of gender equality. We can see in more detailed way, the underlying factors in this index. Shown here is the participation rate by women in parliament. We know that in much of the world women are not well represented. This is true in a lot of Africa. It’s true in the Middle East. It’s true in large parts of Asia. At the other extreme, again, is the very high representation in northern Europe, and especially in Scandinavia. Remember that Rwanda is a remarkably exciting exception, to the general trends because there’s very very high women’s, representation in the parliament. More than 50%, the very highest in the world. And I think, causally a factor in Rwanda’s, large strides in social progress and social indicators in recent years. The next picture shows the labor force participation, differences across the world. The highest rates of labor force participation again are in the Scandinavian countries with all of the support of the social welfare system.
The lowest rates are in the Middle East and North Africa, and Western Asia.and, and in South Asia as well, where women are not in the labor force, either for legal or for cultural reasons that anywhere close to the rates in other countries. These are tremendous lost opportunities. I’ve worked in a number of countries in this region. Often households are quite poor. The woman is quite skilled, maybe even with a college education, but not in the labor force, because of the prevailing ideas within the family, that it’s not right for the woman to be out of the house, for example. And I find it a bit frustrating, to see the family and the children suffering poverty, even when the opportunities are there, the skills are there.
And with both the legal and social empowerment, the women would definitely find opportunities and a very gainful employment. Even in the high income countries where labor force participation has remained higher or has become higher, I should say, because it’s reflected a lot of social change over the last half century, there are still some significant gaps in the earnings of men and women. Women may take time out from the labor market, during child bearing and raising young children and this can cause them to suffer a strong loss of earnings, companies may discriminate saying we’re not going to invest in, in the skills or the promotion of women because we think they’re going to leave to raise families or simply because of social norms. And I’ve been shocked, I have to say, by sometimes what I’ve heard from CEOs in some parts of the world who just assume, them being, they being men, that women do not have a place in top management. But there is progress, and it’s important progress.
In education, and, I think, with the good impetus of the Millennium Development Goals, there has been a narrowing of the gap at the primary level, the gap has nearly been closed, or has been closed in most parts of the world. Girls in primary school age are in school, they are completing school, they have comparable enrollments to boys. In some parts of the world, the girls have overtaken boys at secondary and tertiary level. This is an exciting development. Sometimes I’m wondering what’s happening to those young men, because they’re dropping out, the girls are staying in university. Latin America, which had a tradition and, and a reputation as a Makismos Society male-oriented is a place where girls have really done very, very well at secondary and tertiary education. And the gaps have been narrowed or fully closed or more, more than cloth closed, in recent years. And this is a, a very exciting development.
What can be done? What should be done when gender inequality is high and society is bearing the heavy cost of that? It’s clear that as always, a multidimensional process needs to be deployed because some of these barriers are legal, some are cultural, some are a matter of tradition and inertia.
Legal reform is often remaining a very important factor. Can women run businesses? Can they own property? Can they inherit property? Shockingly, the answer is often no, still today in the 21st Century.
Women’s representation in politics. Sometimes it’s a matter of women running for office and this becoming a normal practice. Some societies have, added quotas, that say that certain proportion of the votes on a proportional representation list of a party, must be taken by women. And this can have a very powerful effect of changing ideas, changing norms, and changing policies when the women are represented.
Government financial support for families, for maternity leave, for child care, play a huge practical role in the places that have had most success, especially in the Scandinavian context. The rest to the world needs to learn from that example. Early childhood development activities where government ensures childcare, preschool, health and nutrition programs for young children, obviously for boys as well as girls, is a big help for gender equality, because otherwise, the mothers are the caregivers, the mothers that don’t then have the opportunities either to provide the care that their young children need, or to be able to rejoin the labor market.
And finally it bears emphasizing that around the world till today, women face a terrible, terrible unspoken burden of violence. Whether it’s rape and and the kind of violence that once in a while gets reported, or it’s husbands beating wives and we know that this is a part of the real world around the world, UNICEF and other UN agencies have undertaken heroic efforts to bring this kind of violence against women and girls to light. To help advocate and press for changes of laws, and when the laws are on the books but the enforcement is not, to press for proper enforcement, and public leadership so that these laws are taken seriously, and they are enforced. In many traditional societies women were the property of their husbands and the property to beat if that’s how they saw fit. This inhuman approach that is a most fundamental denial of human rights has got to come to an end. It is a core part of gender equality. It is a continuing reality that must be brought to a close.