How do we get gender equality on a global scale?

gender equality, global,

What is the world-wide impact of gender inequality on economic growth? McKinsey partner Sandrine Devillard and expert Anu Madgavkar have looked at such issues and this short video  summarizes the key findings:

When I lived and worked in a senior management position in Saudi Arabia I used to tell colleagues and business associates who were surprised that a woman held such a position that in Sweden men and women are equal by law. Imagine my surprise when I moved back to Sweden and found that women are still paid less than men for doing the same job. Having said that I’m not implying that Saudi women have the same rights as women do in the West but that much hasn’t happened to further woman’s rights here since the 80s.

Culture bringing segregation

Am teaching asylum seekers in Sweden Swedish and basic political/social science. One day some of the women asked if they could leave a bit early because the Arab association was having a meeting for women. Was intrigued so I asked if men and women were segregated at those meetings and were told that was the case. Can not help wondering if we are doing those women a favor by allowing segregation to take place in Europe? It’s a cultural issue and has nothing to do with religion. The same applies to women having to cover themselves according to Muslim friends of mine who are Saudi, Kuwaiti and other nationalities. Niqab and abaya developed as a result of the culture on the Arabian Peninsula. Am hence not pleased when I see women that are completely covered in Europe because of the culture in a country most of them have never even visited. On top of it, quite a few of the women were housewives back home in the Middle East and their husbands do not want them to work. Should we really allow men to have that kind of control over women in the West?

Recently there has been a lot of coverage in the Swedish press about men from other cultures refusing to shake hands with women. Freedom of religion is sacred but is only a private legal entitlement. When you work in the public sector though, you are by law, obliged to treat all human beings the same way regardless of ethnicity, religion, and gender. As far as I’m concerned it’s essential that people from other cultures in the West adapt to Western culture and standards and treat women like equals no matter what their opinion is. It’s because of men who don’t that we have a problem with honor crimes, and even killings, in the West. Men who believe that the honor of the family is more important than the lives of female members of their family should have their residence permits revoked and be deported. The women, on the other hand, should be given help and protection.

Females getting more rights even in Saudi Arabia

The late King Abdullah gave Saudi women the right to vote. And vote they did this year and the Shoura Council hence has female members. Saudi women from the top echelons of society frequently attend university at home or in the West. And that’s how it started in the West, women from the establishment paved way for women of the lower classes. Many of my female Saudi friends hold high positions in business and public life. Sure it will take time for all women to have the same opportunities in the developing world not least because of men who don’t want women to have equal rights. But it will come.

Saudi Arabia also not long ago implemented a law that makes it illegal for a man to hit his wife which is a step in the right direction. When I explain Swedish law to asylum seekers I make it crystal clear that it is illegal to hit wives and children and it’s interesting to see their surprise and the smiles on the women’s faces. But when I ask the women what kind of work they plan to do in Sweden the ones that are married look a bit horrified and explain that they have never worked. Most of them have basic schooling but were married young and as a result, never had the opportunity to create a career for themselves. It’s however lamentable that there are countries that are moving from secular to religious education with the inevitable result of segregation and lower quality of education. No wonder students there are unhappy about that happening in a global world. How will they compete with students from countries with secular schools? How will this move to impact the country’s economy long term?

Global commitment

As we have concluded gender equality is generally speaking slowly improving in the developing world while in the West the authorities allow the patriarchy to continue. The latter is being done mainly because Westerners wrongly believe men behave like they do because of their religion. So the sooner the West wakes up and make sure women from the developing world get equal rights here the better. It’s frankly ludicrous that equality is increasing in developing countries and decreasing here. Governments worldwide have to cooperate and make sure equal rights are improved everywhere. The late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia stated about ten years ago that including Saudi women in the workforce would benefit their economy enormously. More and more women are working there but the pace of change is slow, unfortunately.

Educating everyone

It’s essential that not only all women, but all men, on a global scale are educated in order to get gender equality. The main obstacle is that some men feel better when they have power over their wife. So much so that they prefer that she stays at home even though it means the family has a lower income. So it’s essential that all human beings all over the world are educated to stop that kind of nonsense.

Western efforts necessary

What needs to be done in countries all over the world is described very well in the video. It’s, for instance, ridiculous that there are fewer women than men on boards in our part of the world. More women graduate from university and work in the boardroom frequently improves when women are present. And why should women get paid less for doing the same work? What’s even more amazing is how few Western countries have ever had a female president or prime minister. So we in the West also have to get our act together and not feel that we are doing fine just because we are doing better than countries where men are in charge of women. And we must stop men from behaving as patriarchs in our part of the world. Not only do we make the women in their families suffer we also allow them to deny the equality we have gained. Do we really want two kinds of women in our part of the world; some free and in charge of their lives and some owned by the male members of their family? If we don’t stop men behaving as they did in their culture back home it will take longer to get equality on a global scale and improve prosperity.

Do you think it’s possible to get gender equality on a global scale? How long will it take? Should we in the West allow women to be treated as possessions? Is it essential that the world cooperates on furthering equality? What’s the best way to make sure all women get, at least, basic education? What other ideas do you have to further gender equality on a global scale? 

Video: McKinsey & Co. – Picture: Catarina Alexon

26 thoughts on “How do we get gender equality on a global scale?

  1. Catarina — gender equality is an uphill battle. Just today there was a story in the Wall Street Journal that disclosed Facebook is running ads for companies where only men are to apply. That's against the law in the US but Facebook's algorithms obviously don't take that into account and the social network doesn't seemed to have cared to fix the problem before. I'm glad there is a class action suit against Facebook for this discriminatory behavior.

  2. Yes, I believe it is possible but whether it will happen in my lifetime is another story. Inequality exists in so many spheres. The reason others have much is because there are those who have very little. Women across the world should have the right to an education, a career, social life. However as you stated culture plays a big part in particular groups of women being suppressed.

  3. Gender discrimination continues to be an enormous problem within Indian society. Be it city or rural we can find the discrimination. We have few who are taking a stand and working out towards getting gender equality let's see how long it takes and try and support the same. Thanks for sharing! Will further share it!

    1. Doesn't surprise me at all. Have noticed how Indian men in the UAE behaved. On the subcontinent you have half the world's poor and it is in such conditions that men feel the need to have power over women.

      1. I when working have happened to meet such people too, who work and deal with my company but after our meetings never shake hands with me. It's time to change and hope we can bring in soon!

        1. Good luck! It's mainly a class thing all over the world, even in the West. Men from the lower classes feel good when they have power over women. And this thing of not shaking hands with women. Believe me, Muslim men from the elite don't behave like that.

  4. Unfortunately I don't see gender equality in the United states any time soon, much less worldwide. We don't even have equal pay for women yet, and have yet to have a female President, not to mention so many other ways inequality here rears it's ugly head. I know we fall behind other countries in some of these areas. But overall I think education is one of the most important components of moving the ball on this issue.

  5. Interesting post, Catarina, and very timely. I was shocked that even in Canada (where I live) there is still much work to be done, as I believe that 90% of women are still earning less than their male counterparts in the same jobs. I found that so shocking! We think we've come such a long way, but the stats prove that we still have a VERY long way to go toward gender equality.
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    1. Yes unfortunately that's the case, Doreen. Sad that so many men even in the West still thrive on having power over women. An American wrote a comment on this article in a Linkdin group saying he believes it's not true women are paid less.

  6. Programs are needed to continually address the disparities between gender equality. As the video shows, research shows the direction that needs to be taken to bridge the gap, but then I think of the election about to take place in the states, and it just may very turn out that the leader of the free world might be a huge chauvinist. Ugh.

  7. Great video. If every country makes gender equality a priority, I definitely think it is possible to transform the world. It would be great if there was a gender equality agreement similar to the environment agreements they are drawing up. Hope it happens soon.

  8. It is encouraging to hear that some progress is being made in Saudi Arabia. But, as is the case with most of the Middle East, passing laws don't create gender equality in a society with a tradition of treating women as property. How do we achieve gender equality when major religions allow and encourage discrimination against women. McKinsey's appeal to businesses to work for this is commendable but for me the human reason for gender equality come before economic issues.

    1. The main reason for women being discriminated against is that it makes men from the lower classes feel good nto have power over their women. If it was up to the elite in Saudi Arabia the Wahhabis would lose control of Islam in the kingsom and women would be equal.

  9. Equality across the world will only happen when men and women are enlightened. Education would play a part in this but it would need to be embraced by the majority.

    How do you "undo" the mindsets of people when it goes back hundreds of years?

    1. Don't you think keeping women down are about power? It's mainly men from the lower classes that are against equal rights. That's the reason those problems have been exported to the West.

  10. The problem with any type of progressive movement, is there will always be a community of resistance toward it. We saw this with the civil rights in the United States, to the point of riots. This may also happen with equal rights for woman around the world. However, eventually the rights of others will prevail.

    1. Having lived and worked in countries where women are discriminated against I have noticed that it's mainly men of the lower classes that are against equal rights for women. Men from the elite used to ask me what university in the West I suggested their daughters should study.

  11. Catarina, this was a very enlightening post. Here in Canada there has been a lot of controversy about women having their faces covered during the Citizenship ceremony. Many people here wrongly believe that this is part of their religion and therefore they should be allowed to be covered. As you know, I am an immigrant and I strongly believe in freedom of religion but just as strongly believe that immigrants (and those seeking asylum) should adopt the customs and social mores of their adopted country.

  12. I have to believe it is possible to achieve gender equality on a global scale. Otherwise, what is the point in trying to make a change? Unfortunately I don’t know how long it will take. I know there has been progress in the western world over the past 40 years, but I am also dismayed that there is still as much inequality as there is. Education is part of the answer, building respect for all people. Women who may have been conditioned to believe otherwise need to know they are capable and worthy of respect. Men need to understand that making someone else subservient isn’t what makes them strong and powerful.

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