Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Gender Gap

The World Economic Forum has just published its annual report here which shows that inequalities between women and men are gradually becoming fewer. If you can measure such things, then there has been, specifically, a 2% reduction worldwide in the past 12 months. The report caught my eye because Finland comes out as the second best country for equality between the genders, after Iceland, and I am in Helsinki as I write. While here, I've been reading the autobiography of Malala Yousafzai, written with Christina Lamb (published Weidenfeld  and Nicholoson 2013). I had no idea how much of a political activist she was, speaking about opportunities for women's education from a very early age - long before she became internationally known. In her society, people become adults at the age of 14 but Malala had been outspoken and active in the pursuit of girls' right to education long before she officially became an adult and then, as a woman, found her movement and freedom restricted in ways we can't imagine. At the age of 15, even though she continued not to veil her face, she felt had to send a younger girl who was still a child to buy a snack for her as it was not acceptable for her to be out on the street alone.The book gives a really  fascinating and detailed insight into the daily life of a family who are clearly bonded by love and by belief in the power of education for all. Although Malala's mother was not literate (she was due to begin a course to learn to read and write on the very day Malala was shot) she is an intelligent and deeply spiritual Muslim woman. For Malala, encouraged by her father who is a dedicated and passionate educator, to have achieved so much in a setting where she had enormous pressures to keep quiet, not least for her family's safety, is quite amazing. The book gives a surprisingly penetrating account of the political tensions in northern Pakistan and there is no sense that this is a naive story because it is told by one so young.

Published Weidenfeld & Nicholson 2013

The BBC has just completed its 100 Women Season with a conference for 100 leading women from around the world here Sigridur Maria Egilsdottir of Iceland gave a challenging address. Although she comes from the country where, for 5 consecutive years, the WEF has reported the lowest levels of inequality in the treatment of women, she encouraged her audience never to sit down and think the struggle is won. 70% of those living in absolute poverty in the world are women and 66% of those who are illiterate are female. Speaking of her own profession as a musician, Sigridur's painted the picture of a three generation family process - it took one generation of women to climb out of poverty, one generation to get an education and then a third to learn the instrument!  She urged us to continue to challenge 'society's deeply held view that women are somehow inferior' which leads to women being denied opportunities for education and proper health and maternity care, girl children being aborted and violence against women. You can see her full speech on the link above. She threw out a question you might like to think about, 'What message would you send to your granddaughter?' Her answer - 'get an education.' 

Icelandic Singer and Debater Sigridur Maria Egilsdottir 

Where are the best and worst places to be a woman? To see a comparison of the gender gap across the continents, go to 'Women gain as gender gap narrows' here   Of course, we might argue that we want to see the removal of poverty and the provision of education for all regardless of gender but the conference and Malala's book gave very powerful examples of why and how women suffer doubly because of their place (or lack of place) in society.

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