From the global HeForShe campaign launched three years ago by Harry Potter star Emma Watson to the countless rallies, conferences and Day Without a Women marches slated to take place today, International Women’s Day celebrations are gaining traction worldwide.
And there can be no denying that in the two decades since the holiday’s founding, women around the world have made vast and important strides toward gender equality.
But as Ana Güezmes García, representative of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in Mexico recently pointed out, there is still so much more to do before true parity between the sexes becomes a reality.
“The United Nations has said that it is going to take at least another 70 years for universal gender equality to take hold,” she said during a United Nations forum on public safety for women and girls organized in Mexico City last month.
“Sadly, as of today, not one single nation on Earth has achieved real gender equality.”
In order to reach that elusive goal, Güezmes García said that a concerted effort by both men and women from all sectors of society must be undertaken, and that endeavor must represent more than just the courtesies of lip service to feminist issues.
“We are talking about a lot more than just equal pay,” she added.
“And we have to consider not only where women need to get, but also how they are going to get there. That will require planning, infrastructure, urban development, job opportunities and access to healthcare, education and political participation.”
In order to help speed up the process, the United Nations has defined three key areas where gender equality efforts should be focused.
The first objective is to reduce the incidence of violence against women and girls.
A UN study has found that 63 percent of women will suffer sexual or physical abuse during their lifetime.
The study also found that gender-based marginalization and inequality against women and girls often begins at conception, especially in parts of South Asia, where giving birth to a girl instead of a boy is considered a social stigma for the mother.
In these regions, girls are often perceived as a financial burden for the family due to small income contributions and costly dowry demands.
In India, for example, the study found that pre-natal sex selection and infanticide accounted for the perinatal termination and death of half a million girls per year over the last 20 years.
In Korea, 30 percent of pregnancies identified as female fetuses were terminated. Conversely, over 90 percent of pregnancies identified as male fetuses resulted in normal birth.
And according to China’s 2000 census, the ratio of newborn girls to boys was 100 to 119. The biological standard is 100 to 103.
The study also found that the incidence of adult feminicide has significantly escalated over the last few years.
Dowry murders, so-called honor killings and selective infanticide account for thousands of female deaths each year in Asia and the Middle East.
Here in Mexico, the high murder and disappearance rate of young women in Ciudad Juárez has received international attention for the last 10 years, with an alarming recent resurgence. (In fact, Mexico, ranks sixth place worldwide in per capita number of female murders according to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report).
In Guatemala, the number of feminicides has also increased steadily from 303 in 2001 to more than 1,000 last year, with the majority of the victims between ages 16 and 30.
The UN report also found that feminicides are inadequately investigated in Guatemala.
In many cases, inadequate record-keeping of domestic violence and the victim’s relationship to the murderer results in a problem of underreporting of gender-based deaths.
In 2003, Mexico established the Special Commission to Monitor Investigations of Feminicide, which is working to raise awareness of the severity of violence against women among legislators in Mexico.
The commission is also broadening this dialogue by hosting workshops for legislators from Guatemala, Spain and Mexico to discuss the existence, implications and solutions for violence against women in Latin America.
The second objective of the UN charter in defense of women focuses on the issue of gender equality in the workforce and economic equality.
In 1970, women made up about 16 percent of the global workforce. Today, the comparable figure is 44 percent.
Notwithstanding, in most countries, women earn on average only 60 to 75 percent of men’s wages.
Not only are women paid less, they do not have equal representation at the commercial leadership.
Only 6 percent of the companies currently listed on the Mexican Stock Exchange have female CEOs.
And according to a 2016 report from the National Institute of Women (Inmujeres), more than 86 percent of company directors nationawide are male.
That type of economic and financial discrimination not only hurts women, but also society as a whole.
It is a simple fact of economics: When more women work, economies grow, and an increase in female labor force participation — or a reduction in the gap between women’s and men’s labor force participation — results in faster economic growth.
In addition to the “glass ceiling” in the business workplace, it is important to consider the “domestic ground floor,” where women are often the main providers of household and family responsibilities.
Not only do women not earn the same pay as men, but women do the lion’s share of unpaid labor, such as tending for the home, raising children and caring for elderly members of the family.
A recent study by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) found that the average women in Mexico spends about 50 hours a week on such unpaid chores, while the average Mexican man only spends 28 hours a week.
The INEGI report also stated that the contribution of women through this unpaid labor represents a staggering 20 percent of the nation’s GDP.
The third pillar of the UN charter in defense of gender equality deals with equal representation of women in politics and society.
Currently in Mexico, there is only one female governor and three female cabinet secretaries.
On the state and municipal levels, the percentage of women in political positions is even lower.
Less than 15 percent of the country’s mayors are female.
Three years ago, Mexico passed a new law that requires political equal legislative representation aimed at encouraging a better balance of gender equality.
But there is always a lag in implementation.
It’s great that International Women’s Day has become a major global event, but if gender equality is ever to become a reality, it will require a year-round commitment.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected].