5 Forces Driving Gender Balance Around the World

5 Forces Driving Gender Balance Around the World

Gender Balance: Every year on March 8, International Women’s Day serves as a celebration of everything women achieve and a call-to-action for advancing gender parity. This year’s theme, Balance for Better, calls on business, government and civil society to build a gender-balanced world—and it extends far beyond IWD, with programming and action planned throughout 2019.

As Street Business School celebrates IWD during the month of March and beyond, we’re taking a closer look at what it will take to truly realize gender balance at all levels of society, from classrooms to corner offices, in every region of the world.

1. Growing parity in education

Gender parity in education is growing steadily: On average, 65 percent of girls and 66 percent of boys have enrolled in secondary education globally, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Gender Equality Index. At this rate, the global education gap between girls and boys will reach parity in 14 years, far faster than other areas of disparity such as political and economic empowerment.

However, there are still 44 countries where more than 20 percent of women are illiterate, according to the Index. Girls with little or no education are more likely to marry as children, live in poverty, and confront domestic violence, a 2014 report from the World Bank revealed. They’re also less likely to have a say in household spending or even their own health care, according to the report.

The effects extend to their children, as well as their communities—which means accelerating equal access to education will not only lift women up, but also unlock the potential in future generations. “Enhanced agency—the ability to make decisions and act on them—is a key reason why children of better educated women are less likely to be stunted: Educated mothers have greater autonomy in making decisions and more power to act for their children’s benefit,” Jeni Klugman, director for gender and development at the World Bank, said in a statement.

2. Affordable childcare

Women spend, on average, twice as much time on childcare and other unpaid household activities than men, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Gender Equality Index, based on data from 29 countries.

“Most of the burdens of unpaid care work, whether childcare or eldercare, tends to fall upon women,” Saadia Zahidi, head of social and economic agendas for the WEF, told the China News Service. These unpaid tasks allow economies to function in both developed and developing markets, but they aren’t factored into the global GDP and can hold women back from obtaining an education, entering the workforce or advancing in their careers.

Research shows that providing access to low-cost child care services can break down barriers and improve economic opportunity for women around the world. Case in point: Economies that provide public or subsidized child care have more than twice the percentage of women wage earners, according to a 2017 report from the World Bank.

3. Equal access to healthcare  

The Millennium Development Goals, a global development agenda which ran from 2000 to 2015, made significant strides in improving healthcare outcomes for women. The success of the MDGs significantly lowered maternal mortality rates around the world, for example, but there is still much more to do. The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals—the successor to the MDGs—calls for expanded access to healthcare, particularly along gender lines, as women and girls around the world continue to face bias, discrimination and other barriers to obtaining the healthcare they need.

An estimated 214 million women worldwide would like to avoid pregnancy but do not have access to modern contraception. In 27 countries, married women still need their husband’s consent to access contraceptives, according to Global Health 50/50, an initiative devoted to achieving gender parity in healthcare. Though contraception and family planning are more readily accessible in developed markets, women in these countries are notoriously underrepresented in clinical trials, and experts note that gender bias often leads to poorer health outcomes.

Addressing these disparities in earnest can pay dividends—not only for women and girls, but also for the broader global economy: Every dollar spent on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (RMNCH) has an estimated US$20 return, for example, according to the World Health Organization’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

4. Breaking down gender roles at home

As with child and elder care, studies show that women and girls around the world spend more of their time on household chores than their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. A 2018 study from the U.N. estimates that women do 2.6 times more unpaid domestic work than men. Across Asia and Africa, girls as young as five are already doing more chores than the males in their household, according to a 2016 UNICEF report.

“Women, even full-time working women, spend fewer hours on average doing paid work than their husbands or partners do,” Kim Parker, the director of social trends research at the Pew Research Center, told MarketWatch. “That may be due in part to the fact that there’s this expectation or default arrangement where they are doing more of the child care or housework.”

Fortunately, a 2016 Oxford University study indicates that gaps in household labor are decreasing, based on data from Eastern and Western Europe, North America, Australia and Israel. However, this growth is slower in countries known for a more “machismo” culture, such as Spain, Italy, Poland, Yugoslavia and Slovenia, observes Taryn Hillin of Splinter News—indicating we have much more work to do to break down gender roles and advance women’s economic empowerment.

5. Rising women’s entrepreneurship

Women’s entrepreneurship is on the rise worldwide. Women—and women of color, in particular—represent the fastest growing entrepreneurial population in the United States, where women-owned businesses generate $1.8 trillion in annual revenue. Other countries with high rates of women’s entrepreneurship include Uganda, Bangladesh, China, Vietnam and Botswana, according to a 2017 MasterCard report. Ghana has the highest rate of women’s entrepreneurship in the world, with women representing more than 46 percent of all business owners.

Still, women own only about 30 percent of the world’s formally registered businesses, according to the World Bank, and women-owned businesses tend to be concentrated in low-growth sectors like retail and food service. Boosting women’s entrepreneurship—and encouraging women to enter more lucrative, typically male-dominated sectors—would be a boom for the entire global economy, experts say. “This is not a developing country issue—it is a global issue,” development financing expert  Nancy Lee told Devex. “There are only about 10 countries in the world where entrepreneurship is equal.”

Advancing women’s entrepreneurship is at the core of everything we do at Street Business School. We’re on a mission to lift 1 million women out of poverty through small business ownership by 2030. You can learn all about it here.