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Changing the workforce and transforming politics. How women are helping the world evolve

At home, in the work place or in the public sphere, women have achieved remarkable things since the suffragette movement. They are leading scientists, powerful political leaders and  accomplished CEOs driving innovation and change. By participating in politics, getting higher education, having an income and gaining civil rights, women have transformed societies and are working hard to change cultural norms.

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Despite the historical legacies, women have come a long way in every sector of public and private life. They gained their right to vote only to become powerful leaders themselves and got an education transforming sciences, arts, driving innovation and technological advancements.

Influential women have inspired others to follow their lead and the numbers presented by international and national NGOs show a reality, significantly different than the one recorded a century earlier. Women have made their way into positions of power, paving the way for future generations encouraged to aim even higher.

Changing the workforce

Women have become more active in the workforce now accounting for 49.6% of the world’s workforce. According to the UN, when women started to work, the economy started to grow.  In several countries, the number of households where income is controlled by women, either through their own earnings or cash transfers, changed spending habits that now benefit future generations.

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Women dominate sectors like services occupying 61.5% of available jobs.The most striking increase in women’s service sector employment has been in East Asia, rising from 32.7% to 77% over this period. Most women also work in this sector in North America, the European Union and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The terms and conditions of work vary greatly in the service sector, which encompasses technical and communications services, retail and clerical, and care and personal services. 25% of agricultural jobs also employ women. Despite the regional and sub-regional variation, women make an essential contribution to agriculture across the developing world.

In the industry sector, 13.5% of positions are occupied by women and when it comes to leadership roles, over 20% of parliament positions and 4% of company leadership also go to women.

Statistics are quick to point out that studies have shown that companies greatly benefit from increasing leadership opportunities for women, which is shown to increase organizational effectiveness. It is estimated that companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all dimensions of organizational effectiveness.

Women in the workforce
data source: UN

Women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men and  a majority of them are still stuck in low-paying sectors of the economy. The UN’s agenda is to bring down the differences and reach parity not only for wages but also for economy as a whole. And while the debate and the fight for economic equality will still rage on, according to Bloomberg, these issues vanish in America when looking at the highest earners.

Seventeen of the 200 top-paid executives on the Bloomberg Pay Index are women. An impressive achievement if we consider that Fortune Magazine registered 21 female CEOs in the US. And an analysis presented by the same publication concluded that in 2015, female CEOs of the 100 largest public companies in the U.S. made significantly more than their male peers in 2015.

While in developing nations the situation is moving towards pay equality, in less developed nations, the pay gap is significantly higher for women, and increases if that women has children. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the gender pay gap is 31% and 35%, respectively, for women with children, compared to 4% cent and 14% for women without children.

Comprehensible policy shifts are needed in order to correct the imbalance and as the number of women assuming political leadership roles is on the rise, they now have a unique position to bring about the much needed changes.

Transforming politics

At the beginning of 2017, 10 women were serving as Head of State and 9 were serving as Head of Government. 22.8% of of all national parliamentarians were women and the numbers are expected to rise.

Rwanda is an extraordinary example with 63.8% of seats in the lower house being occupied by women and leading the world charts when it comes to parliamentary participation. Regionally, Nordic countries have a women participation of 41.1%, the Americas, 27.7%; Europe, 24.3%; sub-Saharan Africa, 23.1%; Asia, 19.2%; Arab States, 18.4%; and the Pacific, 13.5%.

Women in politics
data source: United Nations

When it comes to the executive branch, 17% of government ministers were women, with the majority overseeing social sectors, such as education and the family. Countries are putting new measures in place in order to assure a better representation of women not only at national levels, in the judiciary, legislative and executive branches but also in the local and regional levels as well.

Power through education

The past two decades have witnessed remarkable progress in participation in education with the gender gap getting smaller and smaller. Gender disparities in access to secondary education have been reduced and work is in progress regarding tertiary education. Female participation in tertiary education overall has increased globally and currently surpasses male participation in almost all developed countries and in half of developing countries.

Women account for 30 per cent of all researchers—an increase compared to previous decades but still far from parity. Better education and higher degrees are considered among the greatest accomplishments of activism in the last 100 years. And better education has also been linked to better health, both in women and in children.

Advances in healthcare

Reproductive and maternal health has improved considerably over the past two decades.

Worldwide, the number of maternal deaths declined by 45 per cent between 1990 and 2013 and globally, women’s life expectancy has reached 72 years. Still, according to the World Health Organization, 1000 women die every day of the consequences of pregnancy and child birth.

Civil rights and protections

Many countries have put in place legislation to protect women form abuse, either in the workplace or at home. In the European Union, for instance, 55 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment at least once since the age of 15. Of these, 32 per cent experienced it in a place of work, according to the UN and activists are still fighting to promote more measures for protection not only against sexual harassment but also against workplace discrimination.

67 countries now have laws against gender discrimination in hiring practices but they still exist in 155 countries and in 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.

Legislators are also looking to enforce measures against home violence. And attitudes are beginning to change. In almost all countries for more than one year, the level of both women’s and men’s acceptance of violence has diminished over time.

Sylvia Jacob