Give or take a few hours, depending on where you live, today is International Women´s Day.
This year, the theme is on Parity – the idea that women have equal social, economic, political and cultural rights as men, but that we aren´t there yet. In fact, the World Economic Forum says we are 117 years away from it.
There are so many ways that women are not at parity with men, but one area of particular interest to me is women´s equality within the international and community development sector.
Finding data on women´s involvement in the development sector is like looking for a needle in a haystack in the dark. I guess that because agencies are not required to report, they don´t. Not unusual, given that any old organisation generally doesn´t share about their employees. I couldn´t find any data about women working for the UN, nor for other organisations like Oxfam. For me, this is interesting, particularly as more light is being shined on and more pressure applied to the private sector in regards to women´s representation on boards. We spend so much time talking about what poor countries or poor communities should be doing and we don´t look at ourselves.
Taking a look at national data on gender and pay parity, there is obviously a gap. In New Zealand, as a youth worker, I will reportedly earn some $14,800 less per year than a man. In the US, women are paid only 79 percent of what men earn. Only about sixteen percent of S&P board seats are held by women. In New Zealand, women hold less than fifteen percent of private directorships. When we talk about political representation, only two countries in the world currently have 50 percent or more representation of women in their parliament. A quick look at the 30 executive heads of the UN agencies shows that only eight of them are women. One can only assume that these patterns are replicated within the international development sphere – that women earn less, are less represented in upper management, and are less present as influencers and in decision making. Certainly from my time within that world, it seems so.
Parity to me means structural changes that make it easier for women to get up and move around on the jungle-gym, as Sheryl Sandberg refers to the career ladder. More opportunities for women to be in decision-making roles, having more influence about what community and international development actually looks like, and along with that, a different view on career success. We need real opportunities for all women to be able to mix life and work in a way that works for them. Many organisations are on their way, but somehow there still seem to be overwhelmingly men in the upper levels of management. We need to look at what is missing and what could be done better. The best way to start this would be to actually ask women and men themselves.
At the end of the day, what are we preaching in women´s empowerment? Are we trying to get women in a place where they can be consulted on what happens to them, or do we want them to also be in the driving seat, deciding what happens? We need to do this work internally as well as externally, so that everyone, all over the world can benefit. And we need to get on it, because I for one, am not keen to wait around till 2133 to see gender parity become a reality.