LETTERS: The Commonwealth Women's Affairs Ministers Meeting assembled in Nairobi, Kenya from Sept 19 to 20, 2019. It sought to take stock of the current status of gender equality among member countries, and to share their experience on how this important Commonwealth priority can be achieved more swiftly.
The past century has witnessed the greatest advances for gender equality in human history.
From New Zealand becoming the first self-governing country in 1893 to allow women to vote in parliamentary elections, to Sri Lanka electing the world’s first female prime minister in 1960, the gender gap has never narrowed so quickly, but there is still much ground to be gained.
In order to accelerate progress, efforts are now being made by organisations to measure progress against indicators linked to women’s empowerment. For instance, in the Commonwealth a girl is as likely to attend primary school as a boy. In the Parliaments of 13 Commonwealth countries, 30 per cent of members are women.
Women everywhere can now expect to outlive men. Yet against this progress, underlying systemic inequality remains widespread. In politics, only one in five parliamentarians is a woman. In education, of every 10 girls, only seven attend secondary school.
In the workplace, the law in 32 countries does not mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value. That is according to research undertaken by the Commonwealth Secretariat in preparation for the Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting in Kenya.
This research offers a snapshot of progress towards gender equality within and across the Commonwealth in four priority areas: Women in leadership, women’s economic empowerment, ending violence against women and girls, and gender and climate change.
Women in leadership
Commonwealth countries have declared that their ambition is to ensure 30 per cent of the political sphere is made up of women. In 13 Commonwealth member countries , 30 per cent of members of parliament are women.
10 Commonwealth countries have achieved the target of 30 per cent women ministers, and Canada leads with over 50 per cent.
Women’s economic empowerment
Although gender gaps in enrolment in education have narrowed, this has not yet translated into women’s equal participation in the labour force.
The pan-Commonwealth average for female labour force participation is 56.30 per cent, which means that only just over one in two women work in the formal sector.
Our analysis shows a disjunction in the transition from primary to secondary schools for girls, largely due to factors such as the cost of education, child marriage or labour, and violence against girls.
The highest female enrolment in secondary schools is in Canada with 100 per cent. Twenty of our member countries do not have legislation on sexual harassment in employment, while 23 do not have criminal penalties for sexual harassment in the workplace.
Ending violence against women and girls
Prevalence of violence against women and girls remains high throughout the world, despite advances in women’s economic status. Of our 53 Commonwealth member countries, 47 have laws against domestic violence; 20 have legislation that explicitly criminalises marital rape and 40 have legislation against sexual harassment.
Gender and climate change
Our Commonwealth studies show that a higher proportion of women are found in employment that is vulnerable to climate change, and that at least 80 per cent of green jobs globally are expected to be in the secondary sectors such as construction, manufacturing and energy production—industries where women are already underrepresented.
For gender equality to become a reality, action has to be mainstreamed across the political sphere, public and private sectors.
Commonwealth Secretary-General, London
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times.