The road to gender equality | Daily News

The road to gender equality

If men and women are truly treated equally at all levels in society, there would be no need to celebrate an International Women’s Day (IWD). But the stark reality is that in many countries, developed and developing, girls and women face an uphill battle for equality and empowerment. Hence the need for a day such as IWD to remind the world of the importance of recognizing the contribution made by women to our societies and stressing the need for their uplift. IWD is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of countries and communities.

Every year, the IWD is celebrated under a different theme. The 2019 theme, on the 110th anniversary of the IWD, “Think Equal, Build Smart and Innovate for Change” focuses on innovative ways in which the world can advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure. This is still closely tied to the achievement of the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals. This requires transformative shifts, integrated approaches and new solutions, particularly when it comes to advancing gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

As the United Nations notes, Innovation and technology provide unprecedented opportunities, yet trends indicate a growing gender digital divide and women are under-represented in STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and also design. It prevents them from developing and influencing gender-responsive innovations to achieve transformative gains for society. From mobile banking to artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, it is vital that women’s ideas and experiences equally influence the design and implementation of the innovations that shape our future societies.

The world should envisage a future in which innovation and technology creates unprecedented opportunities for women and girls to play an active role in building more inclusive systems, efficient services and sustainable infrastructure to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs and gender equality. The International Women's Day is also an opportunity to consider how to accelerate the UN’s 2030 Agenda: By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes; ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education; End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere; Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation; Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Thus there is a lot of work to be done in the sphere of women’s empowerment. As the World Bank found recently, just six economies give women and men equal legal rights in areas that affect their work. And if current trends continue, it will take 170 years to close the economic gender gap. In this report, the World Bank examined 35 indicators of legal equality in 187 countries, covering everything from property ownership and inheritance laws to job protections and pension policies, along with rules governing marriage, movement and travel, pay, and personal safety. It found that men and women are completely equal, legally speaking, only in Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg, and Sweden where women are provided with all of the same opportunities as men. The rest of the world has a lot of catching up to do indeed.

Sometimes, women are literally discriminated against from their birth itself. Many families and Governments in the developing world have a lackadaisical attitude towards Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) of women, from birth certificates to marriage certificates. Without access to these vital documents, they are denied basic rights and services such as school admission, medical facilities and travel/passports. CRVS should be a mandatory process and Sri Lanka is one of the few developing countries where it is universally practiced.

While Sri Lanka has not seen any discrimination against women and girls in CRVS, schooling and many other spheres, there is still a long way to go in terms of complete gender equality. For a country that produced the world’s first woman Prime Minister – Sirimavo Bandaranaike - nearly six decades ago, the number of women in politics and positions of power in business and many other fields is abysmally low. At the grassroots level, the percentage of women in politics was as low as 2 percent until recently, when attempts were made to bring it up to 25 percent. While this was not completely successful given the inherent flaws in our electoral system, we hope that political parties will give more nominations to professionally qualified women at the next elections.

As this year’s theme indicates, it is also vital for Sri Lanka to get more women involved the STEM sector. They have a unique perspective on our development, welfare and education needs and deserve to be heard loud and clear.


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