The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) promotes the active participation of women in all its fields of operation: sustainable development, democratic governance, climate change and adaptation. Selim Jahan, Director of the Human Development Report Office and the lead author of the 2015 Human Development Report, marks the release of this document by taking stock of the situation and the action to be taken.
How do you assess the global persistence of gender equalities?
If we first look at the figures, they speak for themselves. Around the world, women only hold 21 percent to 25 percent of management positions in the private sector . The countries that do best in this respect are Russia, Botswana, the Philippines and Thailand, while we see that the countries lagging behind the most are Germany, India and Japan. Gender parity is making progress at varying paces, depending on the criteria that are analyzed: there are admittedly more and more girls in school around the world, but only 4.4 percent of the CEOs of the 500 largest listed companies are women. A third of all listed companies have no women in management positions. This shows the extent to which the famous “glass ceiling” remains all too real for women in the North and South alike.
What instruments does UNDP have to measure inequalities?
We have two specific indexes. The first, on gender inequalities, measures variables such as the maternal mortality rate, adolescent birth rates, the proportion of seats held by women in Parliament, the proportion of women who have had a secondary or higher education, and the activity rate by gender. In 2014, the ten countries with the lowest gender inequality indexes were Slovenia, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Norway. Conversely, the ten with the highest inequalities were Cameroon, Mauritania, Liberia, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Niger, Afghanistan, Chad and Yemen.
It takes into account the same variables as the Human Development Index, such as life expectancy at birth, the average length of schooling, the expected length of schooling and per capita income, but analyzes them by gender. In 2014, the top ranked countries were Slovakia, Argentina, Venezuela, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, the USA, Finland, Slovenia and Bulgaria. The lowest ranked were Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Central African Republic, Mali, Chad, Pakistan, Yemen, Niger and Afghanistan. On average, the Human Development Index for men remains higher everywhere. In some countries, the index for women is higher, partly because they have a longer life expectancy – this biological data can be seen all over the world. As soon as we analyze other variables, such as incomes or the number of years of study, the observation is unequivocal. Women continue to suffer serious deprivation.
What needs to be done?
Quotas are sometimes perceived as unfair measures, but strong decisions are required to rectify an unfair situation. For my part, I support this policy, as it brings about the most progress when binding decisions are made by the State within a legal framework.
In this respect, Bangladesh, my country, can be mentioned as an example: a quota of 50 seats in Parliament, i.e. one seventh of the total, has been set aside for women. It has now been exceeded, as there are 71 female Members of the Parliament, which accounts for 20 percent of the parliament. This level is closer to France (27 percent of women in the National Assembly and 25 percent in the Senate) than India (11percent of women in the Lower House). The Prime Minister of Bangladesh is a woman, as is the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliamentas well as the Speaker of the Parliament. Bangladesh has introduced a new quota of 10 percent of women managers in the civil service and diplomacy.
India has also made efforts at a local level. The 1950 Constitution was amended in 1992 to set aside a third of seats in municipal councils and village councils (panchayats) for women. Some of the 28 States of the Indian federation have raised this level to 50 percent of the seats to be filled during local elections. Today, 1 million local decision-makers are women in India. The country, which saw Indira Ghandi, a woman, become Prime Minister back in 1966, decided on a national policy to promote women in 2001.
What is the situation in Africa?
There is a very mixed picture, like in Asia, with sometimes remarkable progress, but inequalities do, nonetheless, continue to persist.
Africa has a woman president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia. No fewer than four African countries are among the nations with the largest number of women in Parliament. Rwanda ranks first, with a world record of 64 percent of women – double the quota of 30 percent provided for in its Constitution.
This list clearly shows that Southern countries can rival the major democracies in the North in terms of gender parity in political representation. We should also bear in mind the fact that in developing countries, economic growth provides real opportunities for women, who are becoming increasingly empowered in entrepreneurship. In any case, there continue to be glaring gender inequalities, both in salaries and in employment. The highest unemployment rates are among young people and women in Africa.
What are the prospects for African women?
Fertility remains high, with an average of 5.5 children per woman. This level will hold back the entrance of large numbers of women into the labor market. There is a lot of talk about the “demographic divided” in Africa’s economic development, with population growth expected to drive economic activity. In fact, nothing is mechanical. It is very likely that this dividend will be long in coming, due to the lack of investments in education and health. Young people in Africa, boys and girls alike, could become a burden more than an opportunity for their country if their prospects for the future remain limited.
Is it irritating for developing countries to be asked to respect gender equality whereas Northern countries do not do it themselves?
Everywhere in the world, countries are free to establish their own priorities and objectives. It is not possible to interfere in these choices. When we work in a particular country, we need to be clear about our role: we are there to support them and not to dictate their conduct. We need to strive to precisely and objectively monitor the way in which aid is used, but also what donors do in the field. There is a mutual responsibility. The level of ODA of rich countries falls short of the development targets. In these circumstances, it is difficult for them to say that Africa or Asia have not achieved a given objective!
The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.