Aria Bendix is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic, and a former editorial fellow at CityLab. Her work has appeared on Bustle and The Harvard Crimson.
A new report from the World Economic Forum explains why.
In yet another reminder of how slowly the fight for women’s rights has progressed, the World Economic Forum just announced that it will take another 118 years to close the global pay gap. That means that women will have to wait until the year 2133 to finally achieve wage equality with men—a milestone that, sadly, most of us won’t be around to celebrate.
This data comes from the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap report, which looks at the health, education, economic participation, and political empowerment of men and women in more than 100 countries. The report finds that women around the world are making the same amount that men did in 2006—even as the global female workforce has gained a quarter of a billion women since then. Over the past decade, the gender wage gap has only closed by a meager 4 percent according to the report, with “labor force parity stalling markedly since 2009/2010.”
Some countries have progressed more than others. Nordic nations like Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden have some of the highest levels of equality in the world, thanks in part to generous maternity leave and childcare policies. Surprisingly, Rwanda also fares well in terms of gender equality. Following the genocide in 1994, which killed over 450,000 men and left nearly 50,000 female survivors widowed, more and more women began to enter the political sphere. Now Rwanda is one of only four countries that employs more women than men—a distribution that has manifested in more progressive, female-friendly legislation.
Rwanda is just one example of the way in which women in politics have helped to narrow the global gender gap. According to the report, half of the countries studied have had a female head of state at one point or another. This can partly be attributed to the rise of voluntary political party quotas, which the report applauds as a long-term solution to achieving gender parity.
But in other sectors, such as the professional and technical workforce, women are still underrepresented. Although more women than men are enrolling in universities in 97 different countries, women only represent the majority of skilled workers in 68 nations. Women also hold the majority of senior roles in just a small handful of countries. And when it comes to health and survival, 39 percent of the nations studied had wider gender gaps than they did 10 years ago.
Still, most countries are headed in the right direction. Only six countries have seen their gender gaps widen over the past decade, and 87 percent of nations have successfully narrowed their economic gender gaps.
The problem, then, is not whether gender inequality is being addressed, but the glacial pace at which nations are moving to bridge these divides. To expedite the process, countries cannot rely on ideology alone. As Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, writes in the report, “the closure or continuation of these gaps is intrinsically connected to the framework of national policies in place.”