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  • Writer's pictureLuisa Zhou

The Gender Gap: How long will it take to close it?

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

There is a place on the eastern side of the Swiss Alps, cradled by tall pine trees, high picks and wide open valleys, where very influential people meet to discuss the current and the future development of our global economy. Founded by a business professor at the University of Geneva, Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum is a non-profit organisation committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas. For almost 50 years, it has hosted an annual meeting at the end of January in the mountain resort of Davos, bringing together 3,000 people from more than 100 countries. Perhaps, it’s the combination of a secluded place, an exclusive list of big names and an important agenda that made this event the most powerful and controversial gathering of our time.

The second time I was in Davos during WEF was just before the spread of Covid-19 escalated to halt all international travels across the globe. While over 400 sessions of talks and discussions happened behind closed doors at the Congress Center (some of them viewable online), the streets of this small, otherwise quiet Swiss town, were filled with the bustling noise of people walking up and down the only main road from one pit stop to another, with local shops and hotels turned into temporary offices and meeting spaces for big companies and some countries. There were many events happening at different hours of the day, from morning breakfast conversations to evening cocktail meetup and even dance nights at a famous Piano Bar. It was impossible not to meet someone new and interesting, in fact, those I met were all on a quest to improve something, from selfish economic gains to honourable and courageous plans to make the world a more inclusive, equal and sustainable place, luckily those in the first group were just a few. 

While I was there I spent some time at a place called the FQ Lounge, where FQ stays for Female Quotient, an organisation founded by Shelley Zalis back in 2012 with the purpose of advancing gender equality. Their venue was spacious, well designed and furnished, with a nice and welcoming atmosphere with an impressive agenda of inspirational talks, panel discussions and interviews with experts, professionals and celebrities. All nicely crafted to engage a wide audience in the discussion on how to accelerate the process toward gender equality across all sectors and regions. 

Members of the WEF have also been promoting this agenda in the world as it is today recognised not as a female issue only, but a social and economic imperative necessary to advance humanity. The Global Gender Gap Report is one of WEF’s most important contributions to this cause and for the last 14 years it informed policy makers, advocates and general public on the progress in closing the gap across 153 countries, where data collected from each participant every year were summarised into the Global Gender Gap Index, measuring gender imbalance in 4 dimensions: Health and Survival, Educational Attainment, Economic Participation and Political Empowerment. The 2020 report showed that while the gap has been almost closed in education and health, it is still wide open in economic participation and political inclusion, with the first one at 58%, meaning 42% gap, and the second at a mere 25%, 75% gap. Given the current rate of improvement and change, it will take about 100 years to close the gender gap. I agree with many women in saying that this is too long to be acceptable.

Fig. 1 2020 Global Gender Gap Index and subindexes.

Even if equal access to education for girls has improved steadily over the last century, at a good 96% parity, leaving only a gap of 4%, the economic inclusion subindex has registered a worrisome decrease, highlighting an alarming truth: education is necessary but perhaps, not sufficient to bring about the change we need to happen in our societies. According to WEF, it will take more than 250 years to fill this one.

Fig. 2 Global Gender Gap Index evolution from 2006 to 2019.

The good news about all this is that we are living during the most interesting time of our entire human existence, a time full of challenges as well as exciting possibilities, when change is more achievable than it has ever been before and in a much shorter time than what we used to expect. Thanks to fast and reliable communication technologies, a renewed understanding that we are powerful individuals and even more so when we stand together and that change is not only necessary but welcomed, I believe together we can close the gender gap within our lifetime.

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