Realising women’s rights towards gender equality, why is progress so slow?

Realising women’s rights towards gender equality, why is progress so slow?

Societies in which the gap between rich and poor is much lower are those in which women are treated more as equals. (Oxfam report Public Good or Private Wealth)

According to the Global Gender Gap report 2018, which benchmarks 149 countries on their progress towards gender parity on a scale from 0 (disparity) to 1 (parity) across four thematic dimensions—the sub-indexes Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. If current rates were to be maintained in the future, the overall global gender gap will close in 61 years in Western Europe, 70 years in South Asia, 74 years in Latin America and the Caribbean, 135 years in Sub-Saharan Africa, 124 years in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 153 years in the Middle East and North Africa, 165 years in North America, and 171 years in East Asia and the Pacific.

Vietnam ranks, in overall score, 77 in 2018 ahead of Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, China but behind Philippines, Laos, Bangladesh and Thailand. Vietnam has also regressed of eight points as compared to its ranking in 2017, women fare best in economic participation (rank 33) but in political empowerment (99), educational attainment (101), health survival (143), Vietnam performs well below average, and nearly at the bottom for health survival.

This seems like a very long time for the world and Vietnam in particular to achieve parity, so what happened, why such slow progress, and what can we do to make transformational leap?

Oxfam report ‘Public Good or Private Wealth’[1]pointed out that 16.4 billion hours of unpaid care work will be done, the majority by women in poverty. Policies and practices need to radically change to make freeing up women’s time a key objective of government spending, and women must have a say in budget decisions. All essential services should be designed in a way that works for those with little time to spare.

Inequality is sexist, economically unequal countries are countries where women and men are more unequal too, societies in which the gap between rich and poor is much lower are those in which women are treated more as equals. There is an urgent need to re-think the current economic model that primes economic growth above all, cutting public services, cut to taxes, and race to the bottom.

Social norms and attitudes keep women subordinate and unable them to take advantage of educational, political and economic opportunities. In a research commissioned by Oxfam entitled Gender stereotypes against female leaders[2], revealed that barriers constraining women’s ability to obtain leadership positions are many. One of those is voters’ stereotypical attitude toward female leadership, which may have resulted in the low percentages of women in elected bodies including the National Assembly and the People’s Councils.  Voters use double standards when deciding whether or not to select a female candidate, expecting a good female leader to first fulfil her role as a mother and a wife before taking on her work responsibilities; or how successful woman should look like in the contemporary Vietnamese society, that is: only those female leaders who can handle their dual roles and responsibilities both in families as traditional women and in the workplace as modern women are considered ideal.

Corporate attitudes have improved in a number of places, but a lot more needs to be done particularly more dedicated resources need to be committed in companies to develop comprehensive gender policies within their organisations as well as in business operations[3]. Oxfam has carried out numerous researches (and quantification) that demonstrate time and time again that the world economic prosperity is dependent on the huge but unrecognised contribution made by women through unpaid care work, if all the unpaid care work done by women across the globe was carried out by a single company it would have an annual turnover of USD10 trillion, 43 times that of Apple.

Vietnam is a case for international donors choice and decision on where and how they can maximise their continuous support to achieving gender equality. For decades, gender work in Vietnam has been largely externally funded bringing external expertise as well as investing in local capacities, Vietnam has made great advance both in gender policies and practices – Vietnam gender equality law of 2005 is one of the most progressive gender law in Asia. But this trend has been weakening with end or reduce funding and other support, or investment only in economic empowerment, this has gone hand in hand with an overall regression of the progress made, gender development practitioners and specialists fear that the gains made are being lost.

In final words, a call for the youth of today, who will be tomorrow policy makers, entrepreneurs, economists, journalists and so on, to rise as active and responsible citizens, taking concrete actions, to achieving social justice by achieving gender equality.