Progress or platitudes? Women’s rights and gender equality 25 years after Beijing

5th March 2020

This International Women’s Day global institutions and governments are marking the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action – a defining framework for change to address gender inequalities and women’s rights. Gender researcher and activist, Dr Alyson Brody, looks at how much progress has really been made in the past quarter of a century?

The World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report does not provide cause for optimism, revealing that gender parity will not be attained for nearly 100 years if substantial changes are not made. Small gains have been made in some areas, contributing to an overall reduction in the gender gap in many countries.

Yet these conceal wide persistent disparities. For example, women’s political representation has increased but, at only 25% globally – falling to less than 10 seats in some countries – remains far below the Beijing Platform for Action target of at least 30%. The higher the decision-making posts the less likely they will be occupied by women – only 21% of ministerial posts are held by women and in the past 50 years only 85 states (of the 153 included in the index) have had female leaders.

Although the gender gap in education is rapidly closing, with parity in 40 countries and near parity in many more, this does not translate to economic empowerment. Globally, only 55% of women (aged 15-64) are engaged in the labour market as opposed to 78% of men. The burden of unpaid care-work and lack of provisions to offset this, such as subsidised child-care and flexible working hours, is a significant contributing factor.

Oxfam estimates that women spend an average of 12.5 billion hours a week providing care for free globally and that If this time was monetised it would amount to at least $10.8 trillion annually. Yet this enormous contribution to economies continues to go unnoticed, while many women’s personal and economic potential is unrealised and untapped.

Meanwhile, the rise in ultra-right-wing governments is resulting in a creeping global rollback on women’s rights, with key commitments to gender equality and protections in areas that include reproductive rights, domestic violence and women’s security in conflict situations increasingly under threat.

As external forces, coupled with media-fuelled panic, threaten to undermine this year’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York, we need to find new, more powerful ways to challenge these unacceptable realities. Governments must put money and actions behind their commitments and all those concerned about equality need to hold them to account, shouting louder than ever before to ensure that political platitudes on gender equality and women’s rights are replaced with real, lasting progress.

Dr Alyson Brody is Director of Gender Equality Innovations

Photo credit: DRC Gorilla Beans | CIAT/Neil Palmer | CC BY NC SA 2.0