Hillary Clinton became the first woman to clinch the nomination for president of the United States last week. This prompts a brief reflection on the status of women and their participation in the political and economic spheres.
Debates about gender equality often flare up during stand out moments such as Clinton’s nomination but the successful exploits of one woman only scratch the surface of this fairly nuanced issue. During moments like these it is often useful to continue asking questions. For example, do women generally hold major political and economic positions? And what can we say categorically about the progress of gender equality on a larger scale?
In the House of Commons, the British parliament’s lower house, 192 out of 649 British MPs are female. In other words, women constitute 30% of this important democratic institution. In the House of Lords, the upper house, female representation is 26% with 205 out of the 798 Lords women. In addition, women make up one-sixth of all senior executives in British corporations and there were only five female CEOs out of the FTSE 100 companies in 2014.
These statistics are echoed internationally as well. Only Botswana and Rwanda have more than 50% women in their lower house of government. As of March 2015, there were 19 women occupying the highest position within their state i.e. that of president, prime minister or head of state. There are currently 193 United Nations member states.
The ability of women to attain high level positions will also be facilitated by systemic integration at an early age. For example, girls’ access to schools and universities will have a bearing later on as their careers progress. Work Bank Group research finds that whilst two-thirds of all countries have reached gender parity in primary school enrolment, 16 million girls aged 6-11 will never enter school compared with an absence of 8 million boys.
“All progress is welcome. But our data is uncompromising in its truth. We are a long way from where the world needs to be on gender equality and women’s political participation.” – IPU President Saber Chowdhury.
According to a report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), women’s participation in the workplace was 25.5% less than men’s in 2015. This represents a 0.6% improvement from 1995. The UN recently ratified a series of sustainable development goals which came into effect on January 1, 2016. Goal 5 centres around the issue of gender equality and seeks to advocate ”enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality…at all levels’’. It is too soon to forecast how successful this drive for legislative backing of women’s rights will be.
This time next year it is possible that Hillary Clinton, Theresa May and Angela Merkel will be attending UN conferences in Geneva. Were this to happen they would all do so as executives of the most powerful Western nations. This scenario would play out with particular poignancy due to the fact that women were not even allowed to vote in federal elections in Switzerland until 1971 (which, coincidentally, has also recently elected a female head of state).
For now, it is clear that women enjoy a marginally greater access to education, jobs and political representation than in previous years. This is increasingly visible at executive government level. However this trend will need to be vastly improved if a 50-50 target of gender equality across all industries is to be realised by 2030 in line with the UN’s vision.