Women’s rights: Progress and challenges - Hindustan Times
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Women’s rights: Progress and challenges

Mar 26, 2024 09:53 AM IST

Authored by Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Singh, scholars, international relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

While significant strides have been made in the ongoing fight for gender equality and women's rights, it's essential to assess what has changed and what challenges persist.

Progressing women (representative image)(Pixabay) PREMIUM
Progressing women (representative image)(Pixabay)

One notable change is the increased visibility and representation of women in leadership roles across different sectors. From politics to business and entertainment, more women are breaking barriers and occupying positions of power and influence. This progress reflects a shift towards acknowledging and leveraging the talent and potential of women worldwide.

In recent years, there has been a notable surge in awareness surrounding gender biases, stereotypes, and discrimination. This heightened consciousness has sparked crucial conversations and prompted significant actions to combat these entrenched issues. Organisations across various sectors, from tech companies to financial institutions, have recognised the importance of fostering inclusive environments and promoting gender equality. For instance, many companies have implemented policies such as gender-neutral hiring practices, pay equity initiatives, and diversity training programmes aimed at challenging biases and promoting fairness in the workplace.

Moreover, governments worldwide have also taken steps to address gender disparities through legislative measures and public campaigns. Countries like Iceland and Sweden have implemented ground-breaking policies such as mandatory gender pay gap reporting and generous parental leave policies to promote greater equality. These concerted efforts signify a growing recognition of the need to dismantle systemic barriers and create opportunities for all individuals regardless of gender, fostering a more equitable and inclusive society.

However, despite significant progress in recent years, numerous challenges persist for women across the globe. In education, although access has improved, disparities still exist, particularly in regions where cultural norms prioritise boys' education. For instance, in some parts of the world, girls are less likely to attend school due to factors such as poverty, early marriage, and lack of access to sanitary facilities.

In employment, women often encounter barriers such as gender discrimination, pay gaps, and limited opportunities for career advancement. Even in industries where women are well-represented, such as health care and education, they frequently face wage disparities compared to their male counterparts. Additionally, the prevalence of gender stereotypes can hinder women's access to leadership positions and decision-making roles in various sectors.

Health care disparities also persist, with women facing challenges in accessing reproductive health services, maternal care, and treatment for conditions such as breast and cervical cancer. In many regions, cultural taboos and lack of resources contribute to inadequate health care for women, leading to preventable health issues and higher maternal mortality rates.

Moreover, gender-based violence remains a pervasive and deeply concerning issue worldwide. Millions of women experience physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, often at the hands of intimate partners or family members. Despite increased awareness and efforts to address this issue, stigma, fear of reprisal, and ineffective legal systems continue to impede survivors' ability to seek justice and support.

These challenges underscore the ongoing need for concerted efforts to address systemic inequalities and promote gender equality on a global scale. By addressing barriers to education, employment, health care, and representation, societies can create environments where women can fully participate and thrive, free from discrimination and violence.

The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2023 predicts that achieving gender parity will require an additional 131 years. According to the latest update from UN Women and the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs, titled "Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The gender snapshot 2023," there is a concerning annual shortfall of $360 billion in funding for gender equality initiatives.

The Covid-19 pandemic has not only posed significant health challenges but has also magnified existing inequalities, with women bearing a disproportionate burden of its economic and social consequences. As economies shut down and businesses scaled back operations to curb the spread of the virus, sectors with a high concentration of female workers, such as hospitality, retail, and service industries, experienced mass layoffs and job losses. For example, women make up a significant portion of the workforce in industries like retail and hospitality, which were heavily impacted by lockdowns and restrictions.

Furthermore, school closures and disruptions to childcare services have placed additional caregiving responsibilities on women, exacerbating the challenges they face in balancing work and family responsibilities. With children learning remotely and elderly family members needing care, many women have been forced to reduce their work hours or leave the workforce altogether to attend to caregiving duties. This has not only stalled progress towards gender equality in the workplace but has also led to long-term economic repercussions for women, including decreased earning potential and career advancement opportunities.

Moreover, the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated gender disparities in access to health care and social protection systems. Women, particularly those from marginalised communities, have faced barriers in accessing essential health care services, including reproductive health and maternal care. Additionally, women experiencing domestic violence have been trapped in unsafe environments with limited options for seeking help or support due to lockdown measures and social distancing protocols.

The disproportionate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women underscores the urgent need for comprehensive support and recovery efforts that address gender-specific challenges. Policies and initiatives aimed at providing financial assistance, expanding access to affordable childcare, and promoting flexible work arrangements are essential to mitigating the long-term economic and social consequences of the pandemic for women. Moreover, investing in health care systems that prioritise women's health needs and strengthening support services for survivors of gender-based violence are critical steps towards building more resilient and equitable societies in the post-pandemic era.

The Global Gender Gap Index 2023 by the World Economic Forum indicates that while the global gender parity score has rebounded to levels seen before the pandemic, the pace of improvement has notably decelerated. This index evaluates 146 countries across four main areas (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment) and monitors advancements in closing gender disparities. Among these areas, Political Empowerment continues to have the widest gap, with only 22.1% progress made, representing a marginal increase of 0.1 percentage point from 2022.

Intersectionality plays a crucial role in understanding and addressing the multifaceted challenges faced by marginalised groups of women, particularly those from racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, women of colour often experience compounded forms of discrimination and disadvantage due to the intersection of race and gender. In the workplace, they may encounter barriers to advancement and face higher rates of wage disparity compared to their white counterparts. Additionally, women from low-income backgrounds may struggle to access quality health care, childcare, and educational opportunities, further perpetuating cycles of poverty and marginalisation.

Moreover, intersectionality underscores the importance of considering how various factors such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and immigration status intersect to shape individuals' experiences and outcomes. For instance, transgender women of colour face heightened risks of violence, discrimination, and economic insecurity due to the intersection of transphobia, racism, and sexism. Similarly, immigrant women may encounter language barriers, cultural stigma, and legal restrictions that limit their access to resources and support services.

Addressing gender inequality requires a nuanced understanding of these intersecting factors and their impacts on women's lives. Policies and initiatives aimed at promoting gender equality must take into account the unique challenges faced by marginalised groups and ensure that interventions are inclusive and equitable. This may involve implementing targeted strategies to address the specific needs of women of colour, LGBTQ+ women, women with disabilities, and other intersectional identities. By recognising and addressing the complex interplay of factors that contribute to discrimination and disadvantage, societies can work towards creating more inclusive and equitable environments where all women have the opportunity to thrive.

It's crucial to recognise both the progress made and the work that remains to be done. Achieving a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination requires collective action and ongoing commitment from individuals, communities, and institutions. By challenging norms, advocating for change, and empowering women, we can move closer to realising the vision of gender equality for all.

This article is authored by Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Singh, scholars, international relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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