Gender equality impacts economic growth and societal development across the globe. Not only does it deprive women of an equal voice in society’s decision making – it also has a serious impact on their education, health, employment and safety across a woman’s lifespan. Encouragingly, many governments and agencies are making concerted efforts to reduce the gender gap, which in some cases means overcoming centuries of entrenched perceptions and barriers about women’s role in society.
Poor awareness and access to healthcare for women lead to higher disease and mortality rates, reducing their potential to contribute to the economy and increasing the burden on scarce medical resources.
Although the past two decades have seen huge advances in life expectancy, fertility and overall health, these improvements have not always been shared equally between the sexes. Many multilateral agencies are attempting to address this inequality.
One sure way to improve health outcomes is through education. It is a vital tool for a healthier, freer and more prosperous life. For a developing country, girls’ education is a critical investment to help ensure economic growth and greater participation of women in the labor force.
In many parts of the world, women are largely excluded from the mainstream economy and struggle to raise funds to own their own businesses. And while many of them work in unpaid or vulnerable jobs without any security or benefits, initiatives such as cooperatives and microfinance are helping to raise their economic status.
Another way in which women are working towards opportunity is through greater political participation. It is here that women have the chance to influence the development and application of policy and laws that impact their status.
A lifetime of discrimination means that women who reach old age are often extremely poor and uneducated, with little means to access vital services that could improve their condition.
Discriminatory inheritance laws coupled with little or no savings, find many aged women working past the statutory retirement age, unable to break the cycle of poverty. They often suffer maltreatment, abuse and even violence.
Different countries have enjoyed varied fortunes in reducing the inequality between men and women and there are some extreme regional and national differences. However, it is the successful examples in emerging nations that point the way forward, with government and local and international NGOs playing a crucial role.