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International Women’s Day reflections: Taking action beyond the celebration

Stories /09 March 2020

International Women’s Day is the perfect time to reflect on victories and milestones on the path to global gender equality. And while the uphill climb hasn’t been easy, there is still much to celebrate. At the very least, we can say that the need for a gender-equal society is now widely recognised, and laws and resolutions protecting the rights of women and men are in place in many countries around the world.

In the Philippines, the Magna Carta for Women promotes women’s empowerment and calls for equal opportunities and access to resources for both women and men.  In Vietnam, revisions to the New Labour Code have eliminated sexist and discriminatory provisions. In Australia, private sector companies are required by law to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on the progress of their organisational change journey towards workplace gender equality.

There has certainly been progress, but there is also lot of work that still needs to be done. Twenty-five years after the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted, not a single country in the world can claim to have achieved gender equality.

Women in many parts of the world still earn less than their male counterparts and find it difficult to attain leadership positions. Restrictive gender norms, biases and stereotypical views continue to tarnish perceptions of the capabilities of women and limit career options. Limited access to capital is still a problem for women entrepreneurs.

The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report shows that it will take 99.5 years to close the global gender gap. Given the lack of progress in closing the economic participation and opportunity gap, it may take even longer.

When women are excluded from economic opportunities, the global economy also loses opportunities to grow. According to a report by the World Bank, the global economic loss could be up to USD 160.2 trillion annually. A study by the McKinsey Global Institute forecasts that advancing gender equality could boost the Asia Pacific’s collective GDP by USD 4.5 trillion a year by 2025. Almost 70% of companies in the Asia Pacific surveyed by the International Labour Organisation agree that gender diversity initiatives improve business outcomes, with majority reporting 10% to 15% increase in profit.

These numbers tell us: Gender equality is essential for economies and communities to flourish. Empowering women economically is a fundamental aspect of gender equality that is necessary to enhance business competitiveness, fuel inclusive economic growth and build equitable societies. Companies, therefore, should make gender diversity and inclusion key components of their business strategy—not just a seasonal initiative.

For its part, Investing in Women is working with private sector companies, impact investors, and other partner organisations to shift gender norms, promote women’s economic empowerment and accelerate change in Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar.

Gender equality isn’t just a human rights issue; it is also an economic issue. IW is also working on having more gender-inclusive workplaces, propelling more women to well-deserved management positions, and giving women-led businesses access to capital and investment opportunities.

Investing in Women CEO Julia Newton-Howes echoes the above-mentioned views in her statement:

“2020 marks the 25th Anniversary of the historic women’s conference in Beijing which set out a clear vision towards global gender equality. Progress is too slow, and our societies and economies are suffering as a result. Investing in Women is working with leading private sector companies and impact investors in ASEAN, they understand the value of gender equality and are investing to achieve it.”

“It is time to recognise and address gender norms that limit women’s choices about work and careers. When only women are expected to take on caring roles or when some jobs are seen as suitable for only one sex, we are short-changing our economies, businesses and society.”

This year’s International Women’s Day campaign, #EachForEqual, is all about exerting individual efforts to “challenge stereotypes, fight gender bias, broaden perceptions and celebrate women’s achievements” so that we can all contribute to building a gender-equal world.

#EachForEqual is something all of us can commit to in our everyday lives, through our own words and our actions—at home, in the workplace, and in business. Advancing gender equality is a shared responsibility that requires collective action from the government, private sector and civil society.

Our views and behaviour can help shift gender norms and help drive positive impact on the perceptions of and outcomes for women. Our collective efforts can drive change. And until we can all honestly say that we live in a gender-equal world, such collective efforts must not stop.

Efforts must continue, long after we’re done celebrating International Women’s Day and cherishing our victories. Because it is only when we have truly achieved and embraced gender equality that we can say that we are no longer short-changing society and the economy, and no longer limiting our chances of having a stable future, for many generations to come.

Learn more about gender equality.

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