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Why has progress towards gender parity slowed?

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Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day set aside by the United Nations to celebrate the social, cultural and political achievement of women.

There is much to celebrate, but according to the World Economic Forum, progress towards gender parity has slowed in many places, which is why the campaign theme for the 2016 celebrations is “Pledge for Parity.”{{more}}

Parity is the state or condition of being equal, especially as regards status or pay.

According to a new report prepared by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as part of the ILO’s Women at Work Centenary Initiative, despite some modest gains in some regions in the world, millions of women are losing ground in their quest for equality in the world of work.

The report, Women at Work: Trends 2016, examined data for up to 178 countries and concludes that inequality between women and men persists across a wide spectrum of the global labour market. What’s more, the report shows that over the last two decades, significant progress made by women in education hasn’t translated into comparable improvements in their position at work.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, women have achieved parity in many areas, but not all. Women hold many top posts in the public and private sector, but overall, women continue to work longer hours per day than men in both paid and unpaid work. Additionally, there are certain fields such as politics, engineering, construction and information technology in which women are significantly under-represented.

In terms of wages, the results in the report confirm previous ILO estimates that globally, women still earn on average 77 per cent of what men earn. Although we have no empirical evidence to support our view, this most likely is also the case in St Vincent and the Grenadines. The report notes that this wage gap cannot be explained solely by differences in education or age. This gap can be linked to the undervaluation of the work women undertake and of the skills required in female-dominated sectors or occupations, discrimination, and the need for women to take career breaks or reduce hours in paid work to attend to additional care responsibilities, such as childcare. Though there has been some small improvement in reducing gender wage gaps, if current trends prevail, the report confirms estimates that it will take more than 70 years to close the gender wage gaps completely.

There is no definitive reason why the slow down in the progress towards gender parity has come about, but one theory is the more that is achieved by educated and powerful women, the less these individuals look back in an effort to lift those women who are still struggling with gender discrimination in the workplace and the home. Additionally, when a token number of women are appointed to prominent and powerful positions, they are used as examples of how well women on the whole are doing, even though they represent a tiny percentage of women in the entire workforce. Sadly too, in some cases, discrimination and abuse against women in the workplace is also perpetrated by other women.

The onus, therefore, rests with the women of today who are in positions of authority and influence to ensure that having benefited from the struggles of their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, they make a pledge for parity so that the hands of time are not turned back.

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