According to NASA’s astrobiology page, humans have existed for approximately half a million years. That’s a lot of years of, shall we say, gender gymnastics of females and males co-existing, learning, compromising and sharing resources on earth.
Practice makes perfect. Or does it?
Half a million years later, the issue of gender equality, as old as time, remains a dream especially in developing countries. For this reason, I’m always surprised when a woman blazing a trail for being the first female to do anything takes place in my time.
The first ever Women and the Economy Summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) took place last week and I was privileged to have been able to participate. Hundreds of private and public sector leaders from 21 economies convened to share ideas and best practices in order to create policies that will increase women’s economic participation in these countries.
Some of the notable speakers and panel moderators at the summit include: Christine Lagarde, the first woman to ever head the International Monetary Fund; Sheryl WuDunn, the first Asian-American to win a Pulitzer Prize; Tina Brown of The Daily Beast/Newsweek, the first woman to become editor of The New Yorker; Marissa Mayer, the first female engineer hired at Google; Sheryl Sandberg, often referred to as the first lady of Facebook; and Secretary Hillary Clinton, the powerhouse behind the summit and the first woman to ever come close to becoming the Democratic Presidential candidate.
Why are women not equal participants as men in APEC economies?
In a developed economy such as the U.S., women are fifty percent of the workforce but only three percent of CEOs. According to Sandberg, this may be due to an ambition gap, a factor she refers to as an internal barrier. Women lean back in their careers when they begin to think about their future as mothers, thus, making way for men on the same track to get ahead.
Yet in a developing country, there are actual external barriers that prevent a girl or woman to participate. Some countries lack compulsory education; making it harder for girls to receive the same education as boys. In countries such as Papua New Guinea, a man is allowed to have multiple wives and women are often considered as property, beaten and raped with no consequence whatsoever.
Following are figures worth noting:
- Women control 12 trillion dollars of global spending.
- The 21 APEC countries lose between $42 and $46 billion in GDP annually by not fully realizing women’s economic potential.
- Unlocking the potential of women by narrowing the gender gap could lead to a 14 percent rise in per capita incomes by 2020 in several APEC economies.
- Nearly a billion working-age women globally could be considered not prepared or not enabled to participate in the “mainstream economy”, according to the International Labor Organization.
- Walmart announced recently a plan to double the amount of goods it will buy from women-owned business worldwide to $20 billion by 2016, as well as invest $100 million to help women develop their job skills
Can we achieve economic equality between women and men?
The numbers seem to indicate that financial inclusion for women benefits all of us, therefore, we should.
But as we all know, should lives in a world that isn’t.
If we want to extend a win for all, if we can educate girls and boys properly and equally, if we can get men on board not just in rhetoric but also in action, then the answer is maybe.