The Gender Wage Gap in Iran and COVID-19 Vaccines
Today, the gender wage gap in Iran is so large that, on average, a woman can expect to make just 18% of what a man does. To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has widened the already severe gender wage gap in Iran. According to the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum, the pandemic has made a major impact on gender inequality, as “closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.” This shift disproportionately targets countries with large pre-existing gender wage gaps, such as Iran. As a result, gender wage gaps will only continue to persist and worsen until the end of the global pandemic. While the outlook for closing the gender wage gap in Iran is currently grim, the advent of the COVID-19 vaccine offers a ray of hope for restarting the movement towards gender equality.

Gender Inequality in Iran

Many consider the Islamic Republic of Iran to be an authoritarian state and it has notably restricted the rights of women since undergoing an Islam-oriented Cultural Revolution in 1980. As a result, Iranian society has since relegated women to domestic roles. Women’s political power in Iran has severe limitations. According to the World Economic Forum, the number of women in Parliament is a paltry 5.6%. Additionally, the number of women participating in the labor force stands at a mere 18.9% in 2021, compared to 39% in 2006.

With restricted rights and limited representation in politics, intervention is critical in reducing the massive gender inequality that is present. A paper that the United Nations published on the subject argues just that, saying, “remedial policy is required if Iran is to pursue socio-economic development and redistributive justice.”

One organization fighting for gender equality in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries is the Women’s Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE). This NGO fights against unjust interpretations of the Quran. This includes the idea that men should be above women in society and relationships in Islam. Through the promotion of a more just interpretation of the Quran, WISE helps nations create legislation that will open doors for women in the workforce, politics and society.

How the Gender Wage Gap in Iran has Changed Over Time

While the situation in Iran is far from ideal, some societal improvements lend hope for a better future. Particularly, the increases in education. Education lays the foundation for an elevation of the role of women in society. In the past 15 years, literacy rates for women have increased from 70% to 80.8%. This is due to increased educational resources for women in the country. Women have also increased their presence in parliament, which increased from 4% to 5.6%.

The movement towards gender equality is making modest headway in some regards, despite the widening gender wage gap in Iran in that same timeframe. However, the ongoing pandemic is stalling much of this progress. The World Economic Forum estimates that since 2018, Iran’s Gender Gap Index, a scale of one to seven showing how severe the gender gap in a country is, has fallen from .589 to .582. This is mostly due to the impact of COVID-19. It shows how the pandemic is turning the tides away from gender equality.

Despite some success in recent years, COVID-19 has undone much of this positive change. The impact of COVID-19 is especially harmful to women in the workforce. Solving the issues presented by the pandemic is key for closing the gender wage gap in Iran. Since the gap is actively widening, it is crucial to stop the spread of COVID-19 as soon as possible.

How COVID-19 Vaccines Can Help Close the Gender Wage Gap in Iran

It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing open the gender gap in Iran rather than closing it. The good news is that vaccines present a route out of the pandemic for the country. If Iran can vaccinate according to WHO’s critical mass figure of 80% of the population, the country can achieve herd immunity and return to functioning as normal.

In fact, the devastation of the pandemic has left a greater demand for labor. The roughly 34 million unemployed women in Iran could meet this demand. The sheer volume of unemployed women demonstrates the overwhelming disadvantage women are at in Iran’s workforce. However, the need for mass vaccinations to allow for more women to work is clear as well.

As of May 20, 2021, only 2.4% of the population has received a dose and only 0.4% of the population is fully vaccinated. Iran has a long way to go to vaccinate enough people to return to normal and increase the chances of women in the workforce. It is important for world leaders to prioritize the distribution of vaccines worldwide. This will not only help to end the pandemic but help stop the rising gender inequality that has stemmed from it.

Looking Ahead

Data from the World Economic Forum proves that the pandemic has created a devastating impact on the gender wage gap in Iran. The data shows why vaccinations must experience as much promotion as possible to stop the spread. Without swift action, the gap will only widen. Change in legislation can help bring gender equality in Iran. As of now, though, the next step in working toward that goal is to end the pandemic.

– Jeremy Long
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Cyprus
The Republic of Cyprus is located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. With a population of 1.2 million people, this country faces gender inequality in education, wages and poverty rates. However, its government is working to improve women’s rights in Cyprus through various policies and programs.

The Gender Gap

Cyprus ranks 21st on the European Union’s Gender Equality Index. The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) developed this measurement to see how different factors like age and disability have an impact on gender equality. Cyprus’ ranking emphasizes the need for improved gender equality, specifically women’s rights. Even though there are more women in education than men, in 2017, only 32% of women were secondary school graduates. However, this percentage went up to 38% only a year later.

Despite having more female graduates from secondary and tertiary education, men often receive more pay than women. In fact, women earn half of what men earn. A disproportionate number of women live in poverty in comparison to men. The AROPE (at-risk-of-poverty and social exclusion) measure, which measures poverty, exclusion from the labor market and material deprivation, found that 23.3% of women were in poverty in 2019 while men were at 21.2%. Three in 10 women were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2017.

Despite its low ranking in the Gender Equality Index, Cyprus is making faster progress than other countries when it comes to gender equality scores. One can credit this improvement to effective government initiatives.

Government Initiatives

The Constitution of Cyprus has a section on gender equality. Article 28 of the constitution focuses on the equal treatment of women and prohibits discrimination. Cyprus has implemented many government policies and programs to improve gender equality in the country. The government distributed its Strategic Plan on Equality between Women and Men 2014-2017 to different government departments, ministries and local authorities. This precedent has continued with its National Action Plan (NAP) on Gender Equality 2018-2021, increasing awareness for gender equality throughout different areas of the country.

The government of Cyprus has established six new committees to bridge this gender gap. Two committees specifically target violence against women and trafficking and economic empowerment. The government has also increased collaboration with different women’s organizations.

Cyprus Women’s Lobby and Cyprus Antipoverty Network

The Cyprus Women’s Lobby is a branch of the European Women’s Lobby, a nonprofit organization that works with European institutions and civil society organizations. The Cyprus Women’s Lobby is a network of 16 women’s organizations and nonprofit organizations. This group formed in 2008 to improve gender equality and women’s rights in Cyprus. The NAPN-Cyprus (National Anti-Poverty Network Cyprus) is a network of nonprofit organizations. This network focuses on eliminating poverty and social exclusion. NAPN-Cyprus helps alleviate the gender inequality in the country, specifically of women’s rights due to their higher levels of poverty.

Women face a disproportionate amount of inequality in Cyprus. However, their government and different nonprofit organizations are looking to bridge this gap in inequality.

– Mia Banuelos
Photo: Flickr

Gender Wage Gap in IndiaGender inequality is still a prevailing problem across the world today. India is one country among the many engaging in the fight for gender equality. One prominent issue within this gender struggle is the disparity in pay. The strive toward equality within the country requires a greater focus on the gender wage gap in India. This pay gap is perpetuated by multiple factors, which must be tackled from a variety of angles. Two key areas for improvement lie within the education system and job market. In order to diminish the pervasive gender wage gap in India, the country’s educational and occupational discrepancies between men and women need to be addressed.

Barriers to Equality

Indian women often receive an insufficient amount of education and preparation for the workforce. On top of this, the educational training they do obtain tends to be of poorer quality. The literacy rate for women in India is around 70% while the literacy rate for men in India is 84.7%. Due to lower quality in education, women are less likely to attain higher-paying jobs. In fact, the participation rate of Indian women in the labor force has declined over the past 20 years and is significantly less than the world’s average. A high percentage of women who do find work do so in vulnerable employment situations. Around 80% of employed women work in rural areas in the agricultural sector and very few women work in the paid labor market. Comparatively, unpaid work accounts for only a quarter of men’s time. As a result, the wage gap between men and women widens.

This is if women can succeed in pushing against the social norm that women should stay at home and care for children. Oftentimes, women must take on the position of caretaker, which leaves less time for pursuing careers outside of the home. This societal standard has furthered educational and occupational inequalities. Investment in education is geared more toward men because women are labeled as future homemakers. Additionally, women face discrimination in the workforce due to the assumed idea of motherhood. Women are viewed as potential mothers who do not have time for the job and thus receive unfair pay. Accompanying the role of child caretaker, women in India generally hold a lower status than men. This leads to women being treated unfairly, one way being through smaller wages than men.

Commit2Change

The movement to decrease the gender wage gap in India is not without aid. NGOs are joining the fight for equality from all around the globe in numerous functions. One international NGO working specifically with young girls in India is Commit2Change. Its primary goal is to educate orphaned girls in India to transform their lives and provide a pathway to a bright future. Commit2Change believes educated women can help remedy gender inequality, especially in the job market.

Commit2Change works with young girls to instill academic knowledge, self-worth and the importance of community aid and involvement. Its educational programs help its participants to thrive holistically in all of these elements, especially educationally. Commit2Change has reached more than 4,000 girls, helping 98% of them to enroll in secondary school, 89% to pass exams and graduate and increase their interest in education by 82%. Commit2Change is undoubtedly fulfilling its goal of helping girls succeed through the power of education.

A Promising Shift Toward Gender Equality

The hurdles women must overcome in relation to education and job opportunities greatly influence the gender wage gap in India. To tackle these issues, Commit2Change along with similar organizations are paving the way for equality in the workforce. Commit2Change prepares young girls for a technologically advanced workforce, which can help them obtain high-paying jobs. It achieves this by providing quality education and adaptive life skills programming. As Commit2Change and other NGOs continue to educate and support women and young girls, the ultimate end to the gender wage gap in India may be an attainable goal.

Philip Tang
Photo: Flickr

The Benefits of Investing in Women
Gender equality, or rather a lack of gender equality, is not simply a historical problem. To this day, women all around the world face inequality. One of the most notable issues pertaining to gender inequality is the gender wage gap. Its impacts affect not only women but society as a whole. To end the gender wage gap and other inequalities, society must start to recognize the benefits of investing in women.

The Gender Wage Gap Explained

There are two types of gender wage gaps. The controlled wage gap refers to when a man and a woman have the same exact job in the same exact industry with the same exact qualifications. In this situation, as of 2021, women earn 98 cents per $1 that men earn. This seemingly small upfront difference builds up over time, and the pay discrepancy leads to very dissimilar outcomes for these two genders.

An uncontrolled wage gap is the second type. The uncontrolled wage gap refers to the overall difference between men’s and women’s wages. It does not matter what job it is, what industry one works in or if one works full- or part-time. The measurement takes into account how much each worker makes on average per hour each year. This gap is much more prominent—a woman makes 82 cents to a man’s $1 as of 2021.

Companies provide several “justifications” for why women receive less pay than men within the organizations, but actual reasons include employers’ implicit biases, a wage penalty that accompanies motherhood and a higher likelihood of women working part-time. This is based on if women have the opportunity to obtain higher-wage jobs within such companies. Often, women are unable to attend school to receive the qualifications necessary for high-skilled work.

These inequalities in labor compensation become more glaringly obvious when it comes to unpaid labor. Women are more than twice as likely as men to participate in unpaid work. Notably, the most frequent unpaid jobs women take on are domestic work and child care. In impoverished communities, women must sacrifice their education to fulfill the expectation to manage the household and raise children.

The Importance of Investing in Women

Beyond equality, investing in women provides a multitude of economic benefits. The unpaid labor women often take on can actually hinder the economy. Economists estimate that unpaid domestic workers—if paid—could constitute approximately 40% of a nation’s GDP. A lack of education for women also plays a role in stunting economies. When women receive education, economies tap into a whole new sector of individuals that bring new, innovative ideas to the table, which help economies grow. Further, studies show that for every 10% of girls enrolled in school in a developing country, the GDP increases long-term by 3%.

In addition to paying women for labor and educating women, it is imperative to give women advancement opportunities. Women make up approximately half of the agricultural labor force but less than 13% of landholders globally. If women obtain the same amount of land, technology and capital as men, there could be an estimated 30% increase in food production. In this way, empowering women could help to substantially reduce world hunger. On the more industrial side, studies show that both efficiency and organization significantly increase when three or more women enter senior positions at companies.

A Better Society For All

Decreasing the wage gap begins in three main areas: women’s unpaid work, education and health. When women in developing countries receive aid and money, the aid does not stop at just the direct beneficiary. Women are likely to extend the benefits to those around them; women tend to invest their earned money into their children’s education and health as well as their own. Giving women financial tools has economic gain for all and promotes economic justice.

The best way to ensure a fair economy is to invest in women, particularly in developing countries. Women should have the opportunity to work the same jobs, receive the same qualifications and have the same economic opportunities as men. Society’s way forward is through taking advantage of the benefits of investing in women.

– Becca Blanke
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in the Central African Republic
The year 2020 was turbulent for the entire world. From high stake elections to a global pandemic, much change has occurred in a short amount of time. Yet, while many worry about COVID-19 and economic downfall, a shadow pandemic is raging across sub-Saharan Africa. Recent lockdowns and socioeconomic turmoil have resulted in a sharp uptick in sexual violence and femicide across several African states. Countries such as Liberia and Nigeria saw a 50% increase in rape and killings. Experts attributed a large number of said cases to mandatory curfews. However, limited women’s rights in the Central African Republic (CAR) is also a cause.

The Situation

The Central African Republic revealed a 27% increase in rape and a 69% increase in cases with violence dealt against women and children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women’s rights and safety have always been a longstanding issue for the Central African Republic. Besides having the rank of one of the least healthy and developed nations, the CAR ranks second highest for gender inequality globally. According to the U.N. Development Programme, COVID-19 presents a particular issue because “school and business closures, have meanwhile increased the domestic burdens borne by women and girls and sharply reduced their earnings, increasingly the existing vulnerabilities, confining them to homes they often share with their abusers and limiting access to support and health services.”

Since 2017, the CAR has reached out to donors and international organizations such as the U.N. and The International Development Association (IDA) to make longstanding changes. In that period, one can see progress in the fight for women’s rights in the Central African Republic.

Overview of Progress

While the CAR still struggles with women’s rights, generally, nonprofit organizations and international actors have taken action to help change the tide. Take, for instance, the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, which, since 2008, has provided local women’s activist information regarding the Rome Statute for Human Rights, resources to protect vulnerable women better and help in communicating with other women’s rights organizations. The organization has also promoted the training of lawyers and victims’ trust funds.

Another example of progress toward attaining better women’s rights in the CAR is the partnership with the Human Rights Council to host a series of hearings. These hearings focused on recent abuses and acts of extreme violence, especially those targeting women. The attendees were a series of international organizations such as U.N. Women and representatives from over 15 countries.

With the upcoming electoral season, the CAR has an even greater chance of radically transforming women’s rights in the country. The Secretary-General of the U.N., António Guterres, emphasized how, “All segments of the population of the Central African Republic, in particular women, young people, internally displaced persons and refugees, must be at the center of efforts to consolidate democracy and, consequently, of this electoral process.” Currently, the U.N. manages dialogue channels for opposing parties and interest groups to ensure the election is fair and peaceful. In essence, with the prospect of a new leader and parties coming to power, this could be the perfect opportunity to reform women’s rights.

Persisting Challenges

Although the U.N. and the CAR recently signed an agreement promising to tackle sexual violence by armed groups, the country still has a long way to go. For instance, rape victims in the CAR have little to no legal avenues to seek out reparations or any form of justice. Furthermore, medical aid for assault victims and women’s care, in general, is mostly underfunded and incredibly difficult to access.

Moreover, as the military conflict continues to destabilize the country, more and more women and young girls become victims of sex slavery and weaponized rape. Women in rural villages are primarily targeted, as rape is a psychological tactic in violent conflict. Many experts have argued that a specialized court dealing with said sexual crimes against women would be extremely effective at delivering justice.

Future Policy Recommendations

Aside from creating a network of specialized courts dealing with women’s rights and sexual violence, the CAR can still implement many policies and initiatives to promote women’s rights better. For instance, whistleblowing procedures should be put in place to protect aid workers who report sexual assault cases and violence amongst vulnerable populations. SOFEPADI, a Congolese NGO, has argued that development agencies need to better coordinate with each other to assist women caught in conflict and appoint women to positions of power within their organizations.

By reforming the way aid workers conduct with women in the CAR and funding more women lead organizations, the CAR and international actors can significantly improve the fight for women’s rights. However, another reform that the Central African Republic should consider is creating more economic development zones for marginalized peoples, such as women.

At a recent U.N. general assembly meeting, several African leaders advocated creating fiscal spaces to invest in social needs, especially in regard to women. Reforms such as this can significantly improve women’s livelihood, educate young girls and grant women in the CAR significant socio-economic autonomy. The CAR may not rank the best in women’s rights, but as time passes and international actors continue their efforts, hope exists for change.

– Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Inequality in ChileChile is one of the fastest-growing and most prosperous countries in South America. Chile successfully reduced its poverty rate from 7.4% of people living on less than $3.20 a day in 2006 to 1.8% in 2017. Some of Chile’s development growth comes from its free-market economy, which has also been a source of protests due to the inequality that has followed. Chile’s economic growth and poverty reduction made it an “economic miracle.” However, the success of economic growth covered up the growing inequalities in Chile. The Borgen Project spoke with Dr. Paul Kubik from DePaul University in Chicago for insight on the growing threat of inequality in Chile.

Problems in Chile’s Growing Economy

The Chilean transition to a free-market economy raised the quality of life for many of its citizens and increased foreign investment into the nation’s businesses but made life harder for Chileans living under the poverty line. Tackling poverty and inequality in a country usually occurs in tandem but the Chilean government has historically focused on reducing poverty while overlooking the inequality issues that come soon after.

In 2019, the Chilean government raised subway fare prices that sparked protests. Why would protests occur due to a small change in subway fare when Chile has a high GDP of $282.3 million? Dr. Kubik states that a high GDP is not the sole indicator of economic development. Long-running inequality in Chile has influenced the rise in protests. Dr. Kubik states further that “It is important to recognize as well that protests over inequality are about more than the economics of the day. Inequality has social dimensions as well, that when considered, help to explain events.”

Gender Inequality in Chile

Besides income inequality, Chile is experiencing gender and quality of life discrepancies based on the types of jobs available to different genders working in the lower class. It is no secret that quality of life diminishes with poverty but women in Chile are experiencing gender-based violence with severe income disparities as they hold one of the lowest unemployment rates in South America.

Legislation exists that prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace but there are no criminal implications for perpetrators and no remedies for victims. Furthermore, the legal system does not require equal pay for equal work. It also does not forbid gender discrimination in credit access. Another challenge Chilean women fact is that the default marital property regime automatically makes the husband the head of the house, giving him control of the marital property.

It is possible to have rising rates of inequality in Chile with decreasing poverty rates because experts measure these two rates differently. They measure inequality by the extent to which an economy deviates from an equal distribution of resources, and they look at a variety of marginalized social groups.

Combating Inequality in Santiago and Beyond

Inequality in Chile has reached such an extent that the city of Santiago possesses “high and low class” parks. Public spaces that people can only access due to their income is directly discriminatory against impoverished Chileans.

“Santiago-style inequality” makes poverty harder to track in official statistics. Families that are living above the poverty line are doing so with access to informal credit, which only pushes them further into poverty since they pay 20% more for basic goods. One can blatantly see inequality in the fact that Santiago’s pharmacy chains do not want to operate in impoverished areas of the city. A communist local politician resorted to setting up a “state-run people’s pharmacy” to fill the void.

Some saw the expansion of education as the key to increasing economic growth and opportunity in Chile. As a result, Santiago has multiple universities. However, the existence of stable educational institutions does not mean they are accessible, making it hard to produce the wanted economic expansion. The Chilean government commits just 0.5% of GDP to higher education. Furthermore, “the average university course costs 41% of the average income.” Some university graduates regret the pursuit of tertiary education stating that it did nothing for their job prospects and only increased their debt.

To address this educational barrier, Chile has made some colleges tuition-free for households with the lowest 60% of income. This addresses the issue of high tuition costs that prevent students from enrolling but the secondary costs of education, such as textbooks, transportation and food, do not receive coverage. This still presents a barrier to inclusion and can make completion difficult for many students.

An Inclusive Approach to Development

Dr. Kubik states that development is a complex process. It requires a “coordinated approach that involves political, social and economic dimensions to be successful in the long run.” By focusing less on inequality and more on raising Chile’s GDP, the Chilean government risks different policy conclusions, which can result in clashes between the government and its citizens.

Social and political dimensions include steps the government took to remove all barriers to the completion of education, enforcing inclusionary governmental policies, and in Chile’s case, allowing lower class citizens the same privileges as upper-class citizens. Progress in gender inclusion, education improvements, social acceptance and more, can reduce inequality in Chile.

Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

The Feminization of Poverty in Thailand
Feminization of poverty refers to the higher likelihood that women will experience poverty than men. This rate is disproportionately high, even in industrialized nations where people encourage climbing the corporate ladder. The feminization of poverty in Thailand is a key issue for the country, and other gender inequality issues exacerbate it.

Gender Inequality in Poverty

Of all of the people living in poverty in the world, 70% are women. For these women, poverty is more than just a lack of money. It also includes not having access to necessary resources, such as healthcare, education, food and housing.

Poor households are also susceptible to chronic poverty. Chronic poverty refers to when households are stuck in a cycle of poverty that is difficult to escape. For example, having an uncertain source of income instead of a stable one is difficult to overcome, especially when society deems women less than men. Feminization of poverty in Thailand and other places not only affects the particular individual in poverty but also generations to come. The cycle of poverty is incredibly difficult to break, which can lead women and their families to feel hopeless.

The Wage Gap in Thailand

Around the world, women earn less than men for doing the same work. The wage gap in Thailand was 2.5% in 2015. Unfortunately, in 2020, this gap increased to 10.94%. Further statistics from 2020 show that the average number of unpaid work hours per day is 3.2 for women and 0.9 for men. Additionally, the average number of total work hours for women and men differs by 0.9.

Furthermore, Thai women do not receive enough access to economic resources and financial services. Therefore, women do not possess the same amount of financial and digital literacy as men, resulting in underdeveloped technology skills. This puts women at a disadvantage when searching for jobs. Because of this, women in Thailand do not have equal access to markets.

As demonstrated in the unpaid work statistics, women bear the burden of unpaid responsibilities at home, such as cleaning and cooking, due to societal gender roles. This unpaid work results in women having less time to spend with their family and community. Women are also more likely to prioritize spending money on their children’s well-being, including health and education. The effects of the wage gap on working mothers often include living in poor conditions, lacking access to healthy foods and having fewer opportunities for their children. As a result, many women face increased levels of stress and unhappiness.

The Good News

The first step toward gender equality in Thailand occurred in 1933 when the government granted Thai women the right to vote. Thailand was one of the first Asian countries to give women this opportunity. The current Constitution of Thailand states that both women and men have equal rights.

The role of Thai women in the workplace has increased in recent years. Approximately 17.5 million women work in workplaces throughout Thailand. According to research from Grant Thornton International in 2019, women held 33% of all CEO and managing director jobs in the private sector in Thailand. Moreover, 20% of directors in Thailand were women according to the 2019 Corporate Governance Report.

Women have more protections than before and additional opportunities to advance their careers. Thailand now has anti-discrimination rules in hiring, rules against workplace sexual harassment and equal pay for equal work, which improves the feminization of poverty.

– Miranda Kargol
Photo: Flickr

Female Empowerment in PoliticsThe high rate of preventable maternal mortality rates in developing countries continues to be a cause of concern. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines maternal mortality “as the death of a woman from pregnancy-related causes during pregnancy or within 42 days of pregnancy.” Maternal mortality occurs almost entirely (99%) in low-income countries. The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) of impoverished countries estimates 239 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. This rate is 12 per 100,000 in high-income countries. Research shows that female empowerment in politics links to reduced maternal mortality rates.

Reasons for High Maternal Mortality in Developing Countries

Female Representation in Government

Global female representation in government has increased to more than 20% while maternal mortality has declined by 44% since 1990. Is this a cause-and-effect scenario or merely coincidence? A recent study titled, “Maternal Mortality and Women’s Political Participation” offers data to support that it is not just happenstance and that female empowerment in politics has a direct effect on maternal mortality levels.

In 2020, female participation in parliament reached 24.9% globally. One reason for the rise in women’s representation in government is the fact that several countries are adopting gender quotas. Gender quotas secure a number of seats in government for women. At least 130 countries have adopted gender quotas and have an average of 26.9% female representation. Countries that have implemented quotas have seen maternal mortality decline at an accelerated rate. Estimates have determined that gender quota application results in an average of a 9-12% drop in maternal mortality.

Female Policymakers Prioritize Women’s Health

Health is a vital contributing factor in empowering women. Women statistically prioritize policies aimed at improving female conditions at a higher rate than their male counterparts. These policies often target issues such as education, child marriage and maternal health. Countries with gender quotas in place show an estimated 8-11% rise in “skilled birth attendance” and a 6-11% rise in the use of prenatal care.

A paper that Cambridge University published in 2016 asserted that an increase of only 1% in women’s representation in government resulted in five fewer maternal deaths and 80 fewer infant deaths out of 100,000 live births. These studies and statistics conclude that women’s participation in legislatures improves the health of its female constituents.

Eradicating Maternal Mortality

Female empowerment in politics contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Sustainable Development Goals, which the U.N. established, include reducing maternal mortality (SDG 3.1) and increasing the number of women in government (SDG 5.5). These goals are complementary to each other. By working toward SDG 5.5, which is to “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life,” it is reasonable to conclude that the world could achieve, SDG 3.1, which is to “reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births” by 2030, in tandem.

Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Female leaders in India
In 2020, Priya Periyasmy became the leader of her village council in Tamil Nadu, a South Indian state that 68 million people populated. Despite gender quota laws in village council elections, female leaders in India are the vast minority and women must fight to do their jobs in a hostile work environment. Additionally, women who run for office often face sexual harassment and slanderous attacks. Following Periyasmy’s brave example, 15 female village council leaders in Tamil Nadu state have filed complaints about discrimination in the past six months.

Village Councilwomen Fight Discrimination

Periyasmy tolerated daily annoyances, with other council members not greeting her and asking her to sit on the floor during meetings. She initially ignored the discrimination, but the abuse she faced interfered with her ability to work. The panchayat vice-president regularly threatened her and once attacked her for sitting on a chair at work. Periyasmy went on strike and organized a sit-in protest with her husband. She and 15 other Dalit women in the same situation are demanding action under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Dalit female leaders in India face heightened discrimination. They belong to the lowest caste in India’s social hierarchy.

In another village in Tamil Nadu called Attupakan, V. Sasikumar quit his factory job to support his mother when she became the first female Dalit village council president. After other members stopped her from talking at meetings and hoisting the flag on Independence Day, she asked the Madras High Court to protect her family.

Sasikumar points out the daily wage earner status of his parents. After the struggle of getting into a leading position, his mother now faces discrimination. Other council members would not allow her to do her job. Still, she has the full support of her family.

India reserves half of each state’s village council posts for women, resulting in the election of 1 million female village councilors. However, proposals for similar legislation for state and federal elections exist for 20 years already. The bills did not pass yet. The bipartisan Girls LEAD Act challenges this, increasing global female participation in democracy, human rights and governance.

Girls LEAD Act

About 132 million girls between 6-17 years old are not enrolled in school and only 24% of all national parliamentarians are women, which are two highly connected problems. Women largely have underrepresentation in politics, allowing men to sway important decisions, many of which only women. Through U.S. foreign assistance initiatives, the Girls LEAD Act identifies and addresses barriers to female political participation, providing support for civil society organizations that women lead. The act ensures that each foreign organization engages girls under 18, introducing them to political leadership early.

Promoting girls’ education and political engagement will reduce violence against women and transform more societies into democracies. Women’s leadership supports democracy through cooperation between parties and the understanding of citizens’ needs. According to research, female inclusion in peace negotiations decreases corruption. Additionally, the likelihood of childhood marriage will decrease by 5% for each year of a girl’s continued secondary schooling.

Normalizing women’s leadership in politics will break the stigma and negative cultural attitudes behind it, which is the root of the bigotry that Periyasmy faces. Passing the Girls LEAD Act would protect marginalized politicians, including the 16 female leaders in India who actively fight discrimination.

– Rebecca Pomerantz
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts About Women’s Rights in Panama
Panama has a world-class financial and banking sector. However, its steady economic growth has not been proportionate with the reduction of economic, social and political inequalities. Panama’s parliament does not represent the country’s women. As a result, they are subject to high levels of violence and injustice. Here are five facts about women’s rights in Panama. 

Gender Party Initiative

Panama launched the Gender Parity Initiative (GPI) to form alliances between the public sector, private sector and multilateral agencies to close economic gender gaps in 2018. The GPI allowed Panama to add resources, energy and proposals towards three core objectives. These objectives are to increase the number of women in leadership positions, increase women’s participation in the labor workforce and close gender wage gaps. These three objectives increase women’s rights in Panama through 15 different measures. The measures include building the personal and professional development of vulnerable women, assessing women’s decision-making in companies, supporting women in education and promoting women as property owners.

Voices of Indigenous Women

The Comprehensive Development Plan for Indigenous Peoples of Panama project published the Diagnosis of the Situation of Indigenous Women in Panama in 2017. This elevated indigenous women’s voices in development projects and policies. The contribution included seven indigenous ethnic groups in Panama to provide greater visibility to the concerns, challenges and proposals of indigenous women. Additionally, the diagnosis addressed political participation, female indigenous migration, sexual and reproductive health, violence, education and economic conditions. Therefore, this created an institutional framework for Panama to support women’s rights, women’s wellbeing and the local community.

International Women’s Strike

An International Women’s Strike occurred in Panama’s capital in March 2019. Women marched with posters that stated, “We are all workers.” They symbolically stopped at the Attorney General’s Office to demand respect and equality. The Mayor of Panama’s office and the National Institute of Women elevated the strike by organizing Divas del Mundo concerts, featuring entertainers Emeline Michel, Patricia Vlieg and Lila Downs. Furthermore, the National Institute of Culture held the Women’s Space Exhibition fair through the Office of Equal Opportunities. This opportunity uplifted women entrepreneurs by providing them a space to display and sell their goods.

In addition, the presidential candidate of the Panama Podemos Alliance José Blandón signed the V Pact Women on the same day as the march. This pact proposed to have a cabinet with half women and half men. Moreover, this would be a first in Panamanian history. Organizations including the Forum of Women in Political Parties, Panama Women’s Alliance and the National Coordinator of Indigenous Women in Panama convened V Pact Women. Blandón also added that he would enforce that women receive the same pay as men. He also wants to combat domestic violence.

The “Quarantine Without Violence” Campaign

Panama’s Ombudsman Maribel Coco alerted the authorities about the prevention, care and punishment of violence against women during COVID-19. Additionally, he launched the information campaign “Quarantine without violence.” The violent death and the femicide of women have steadily increased in Panama’s overcrowded communities due to difficulty in social distancing.

Panama’s Public Ministry registered 20 femicides in 2019. However, numbers have increased and the violent death of women has risen by 57.8%. The “Quarantine without violence” information campaign aims to protect women’s rights in Panama by raising awareness of their vulnerability to domestic violence, informing women about their rights, providing advice on how women should handle domestic violence and encourage reporting domestic violence cases. Furthermore, it aims to elevate women to work with the justice system, the media and members of the public force. This allows the authorities to remove the aggressor or the woman from the house.

Panama Government’s Steps to End Gender Discrimination

Panama implemented gender-based quarantine schedules in June 2020. These schedules allowed anyone to leave their homes with protective masks during permitted hours. In addition, they declared that people must remain two meters away from others. This gender-based quarantine schedule was an important step in addressing discrimination against transgender people. Others often profile or target people who identify as transgender because the system does not account for their gender identity and expression. As a result, many victims experienced arrest, received fines or could not buy essential goods. However, Panama announced a total lockdown in early 2021. As such, it re-implemented national gender-based measures stating people can only leave their homes based on their registered gender.

Panama’s national government is currently working with the United Nations through a five-year agreement called the Development Cooperation Framework. It aims to address and respond to Panama’s sustainable development. Contributions include access to quality services, governance, institutions, justice, environment, climate change and human rights. It is critical that women’s rights in Panama become a part of the development and growth of the nation moving forward.

– Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr