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Why gender gap could take 100 years to close

BY ALEXANDER OPICHO

The largest gender disparity all over the world remains in the sphere of political empowerment, with the gap still standing at 77.1 per cent, says World Economic Forum report.

Present day economic and political socialisation is still a man’s world, as women are still denied equal opportunities. The 2018 World Economic Forum (WEF) report provides fresh evidence for that. 

The report titled 13th edition of the Global Gender Gap Index, showed that full equality between men and women will remain elusive for many more decades to come. The report also indicated that it is likely to take another one hundred years for the global gender gap to close.

In his reactive preface to the report, the executive chairman of WEF, Klaus Schwab wrote; “more than ever, societies cannot afford to lose out on the skills, ideas and perspectives of half of humanity to realise the promise of a more prosperous and human-centric future that well-governed innovation and technology can bring.”

WEF used 149 countries in the investigation that spanned across four themes; economic participation and opportunity, health and survival, education and political empowerment. The aim of the ranking is to create global awareness of the gender disparity challenges as well as to show the benefits of the world with reduced gender disparities. 

Sectoral gender disparity

The key findings of the WEF report on anticipated gender disparity pointed out that the largest gender disparity all over the world remains in the sphere of political empowerment, with the gap still standing at 77.1 per cent. The economic participation gap is the second-largest at 41.9 per cent. Education and health gaps stand at 4.4 and 4.6 percent respectively.

The report also revealed that although average progress on gender parity in education is relatively more advanced than in other aspects, there are still 44 out of the 149 countries where over 20 per cent of women are illiterate. Similarly, near-parity in higher education enrolment rates often masks low participation of both men and women. Globally, just 39 per cent of women and 34 per cent of men are in college or university today. Most striking is the gender gap in the sphere of artificial intelligence skill where only 23 per cent are women compared with 78 per cent men. This indicates that disparity in the skills of the future may widen in the years to come.

The available statistical report in the 2018 WEF report showed that Iceland has a gender parity level of 83.5 per cent, followed by Sweden and Finland, both at 82.2 per cent. More of a surprise is the fact that the top 10 features Nicaragua in 5th place, Rwanda 6th and Namibia 10th, the Philippines in 8th place and Germany is ranked 14th.

Classist Kenyan gender bill

One of the reasons why gender disparity will persist can be deciphered from the recent experience in Kenya’s parliament gender bill aimed at increasing women representation. The underway bill is intended to swell the number of women in electoral, corporate and political appointments. The yet-to-be-made law has attracted a lot of public attention given its coincidence with the active state of feminist politics at global stage. The agitators for the bill were from across the gender divide, urging party leaders to whip followers to rally behind the bill. However, not all women members of parliament were supportive; some were so deviant and skipped parliament to avoid giving numerical support to the bill. 

The bill was so timely in all political senses. However, it was also so parochial in scope, elitist, snobbish, classist and full of tokenism in the sense that it only wanted to give political opportunities to the middle-class women to signify social freedom for a woman in Kenya. 

Good gender bill overview 

A good gender-parity bill must respect the premise that the achievement of any social structure that offers social inclusivity to women should not start with putting well-to-do women in parliamentary positions. A gender-conscious legislative agenda is duty-bound to ensure good basic and technical education for the girl-child, need to establish minimum wage limit for domestic workers, give legal and medical protection to sex-workers and reduce the appalling gender pay-gap. 

The outcome of Kenya’s gender bill should enable a girl-child to afford self-sponsored university education, access to free genealogical medical services, enjoy government funded free sanitary pads provisions for school-girls as well as women living with disabilities/ in poverty.

Critical outlook avers that the current system of oppression of poor women in rural areas and poor urban areas is not only caused by political under-representation, but many entrenched oppressive cultures such as age-long vices like auto-sexism (women oppressing women), colourism, patriarchy, tribalism and female-circumcision among others.  

Expert view on gender disparity

Experts and researchers on women studies suggest systemic models of women liberation, which aims at supporting social and economic comfort of all women. Researchers say oppression is a class phenomenon; if a few women are made powerful, they will ultimately turn around to oppress the powerless women. The historical logic of gender-based oppression infers that women are oppressed by men because women are economically powerless, and not for being women. Hence, any powerful woman can similarly oppress a powerless woman.

Alexander Opicho is a freelance writer based in Lodwar, Kenya. Email: opichoalexander@gmail.com

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