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Gender equality, a win-win situation

Mar 07,2015 - Last updated at Mar 07,2015

It is International Women’s Day today.

It is time to highlight the worldwide struggle for women’s rights and take stock of progress and challenges.

Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration and Plan of Action a lot of progress has been achieved. Also, there is growing attention worldwide for women’s rights and gender issues.

The entire multilateral system, including the UN system, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, is dedicating leadership and resources to promoting gender equality since it is recognised as a basic prerequisite for human development and economic growth.

The private sector is increasingly involved too.

The Global Gender Gap index by the World Economic Forum has become an important peer pressure tool for individual countries to measure their advance on gender equality.

Among the regions, the Middle East and North Africa has advanced the most in absolute terms compared to the last ranking.

Still, MENA comes last among the regions.

The main reason is the low score on economic participation and opportunities for women. This is valid also for Jordan, which finds itself among the countries with the highest decrease: from 119/136 to 134/142 countries.

It is my firm belief that Jordan should and will do better in closing the gap.

My own country, Sweden, is number four on the index. We are proud to share the top five posts with our Nordic neighbours.

Consecutive governments have run persistent policies to advance gender equality in all areas, which has contributed greatly to our stable institutions, high economic and social development, and also to lower levels of gender-based violence.

It is now time for Sweden to integrate a gender perspective in our foreign policy as well.

In fact, the Swedish government has received international attention with its declaration of a Feminist Foreign Policy.

As a point of departure, we stress that gender equality is about equal rights and opportunities for all individuals — men, women, boys and girls. But in all countries, also in Sweden, achieving gender equality will only be possible if women’s and girls’ rights, representation and resources are strengthened.

These three areas will be in focus for our gender-based foreign policy.

Firstly, equal rights are the foundation for gender equality.

There are 128 countries in the world where there is still legal discrimination against women.

In 28 of them, more than 10 gender-based restrictions persist to women’s disadvantage. Regrettably, Jordan is one of them.

Removing legal barriers matters, not only for the dignity, integrity and freedom of the individual but also for society as a whole.

If the law impedes women from getting a passport or an ID-card, accessing credit or owning and inheriting property, this affects human, social and economic development.

Equal rights help women access the labour market and participate in economic life.

Greater participation of women in the workforce has macro-economic benefits and will boost the GDP of any country.

Secondly, equal representation is key to gender equality.

Women are still under-represented in decision making at all levels in our societies, from family to the national and global level.

Social norms and values that dictate how women should or should not behave are powerful obstacles.

Many women fear criticism, social stigma or even violence if they try to break out of a social norm. This is why state actors have a responsibility to secure women’s rightful place in all areas of society, including stronger representation in political decision making bodies.

Earlier last week, two new women ministers increased the female influence in the Jordanian government to 18 per cent.

Also, civil society organisations and media can play important roles in advancing women’s representation and in supporting women who have been elected or who in other ways can be role models for younger women.

It goes without saying that women themselves have to be the agents of change and take responsibility and develop opportunities as they arise.

Women’s empowerment groups can play a huge role in advancing gender reforms.

Women organisations in Jordan are doing a fantastic job in this regard. But society also has to encourage and enable people to generate positive change.

Therefore, it is critical that structural discrimination against women be recognised at the highest level and addressed through laws and regulations, but also through incentives to promote gender equality in different areas.

When it comes to education, the gender gap is rapidly closing around the world.

In Jordan, close to 60 per cent of university graduates are women, but women make up only around 15 per cent of the workforce. This is a huge loss for Jordanian society and the country’s economy.

Limiting women to a particular role in life, or to a particular career, reinforces stereotypes.

More women in management positions contribute to a more productive and innovative working environment, improved overall company performance and bolster competitiveness.

More women in senior positions would be a further incentive for other women to enter and stay in the workforce.

The third area refers to access to, and investment in, resources to promote gender equality.

Investing resources in women and girls is essential to achieve gender equality.

The benefits of investing in education, and sexual and reproductive rights are obvious; educated, healthier women are more likely to have educated and healthier children.

This is why women and girls’ special needs and circumstances need to be taken into account in data collection and statistics to a larger extent than today.

Government agencies, schools, private sector and civil society — all need to work to counter gender-biased attitudes and procedures.

To sum up, advancing the rights of women and girls is invaluable in promoting and reinforcing the rule of law in all societies.

Enhanced political participation by women contributes to inclusive, transparent and democratic governance.

Enhanced gender equality in education and employment contributes to human development and economic growth. 

Furthermore, the empowerment of women and girls is essential in promoting peace and security at the local, national and global levels. This is why the Arab world has to start advancing this gender agenda now, or it risks falling behind the rest of the world.

Finally, we will never achieve gender equality as long as men are not fully involved. Men need to use their influence and power to advance women’s rights.

We also need men as role models in this regard.

Therefore, it is important to recognise that men can also be trapped in gender stereotypes because of societal norms or values.

Also, men fear social stigma or violence if they stand up for human rights and gender equality.

Gender equality is a joint effort and ultimately it is a win-win situation for individuals and for societies.

I wish all men, women, boys and girls a happy International Women’s Day.

Why not use it for a discussion on gender equality?

The writer is ambassador of Sweden to Jordan. She contributed this article to The Jordan Times. 

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