Women’s Equality Day

Today is Women’s Equality day – a day which celebrates women’s right to vote in the United States, a right protected by the 19th amendment. In the years since August 26, 1920, women across the globe have made gains and changed their lives. Women now have the right to vote in nearly every country, approximately 139 constitutions guarantee gender equality, and in 2010, 19 women led their countries as head of state.  At least 115 countries have provisions assuring equal property rights for women, 117 countries have adopted equal pay laws, and in January of this year the United Nations welcomed the creation of UN Women, an organization designed to advance and promote women’s and girls’ rights worldwide.

Yet much work remains to be done. Women account for roughly two-thirds of the world’s 793 million illiterate adults and although 125 countries have outlawed domestic violence, three-fifth of the world’s nations have not criminalized marital rape. Strong preferences for sons over daughters endure: in 2010, the UN found “more than 134 million missing women” from the world’s population. Maternal mortality rates remain high, with 99% of maternal deaths concentrated in the developing world, and women’s work is frequently undervalued and insecure.  In 2009, roughly 55% of working-aged women in Sub-Saharan Africa were employed, but 82% of these women worked in vulnerable jobs. Few women are in positions of authority in the workplace and of the world’s 500 largest corporations, only 12 have a female chief executive officer.

These numbers matter when it comes to economic development. As the World Bank recognizes, investment in women is “smart economics” because women’s empowerment accelerates the growth of stable, prosperous societies. Research from 2007 shows that restrictions on women’s access to employment opportunities cost the Asia and Pacific region $42-$47 billion a year in labor productivity and consumption revenues, and gender gaps in education contributed to a loss of $16-$30 billion per year.

Groups such as La Pietra Coalition are making the case and showing the importance of empowering this ‘emerging market of the emerging markets.’ Partnering with the Economist Intelligence Unit, La Pietra helped create the Women’s Economic Opportunity Index, which has increased understanding about the factors that influence women’s economic opportunity and how to boost them. La Pietra has also petitioned the G20 to secure women’s inclusion in the global economy so that they may meet the “global economy’s need for human capital and talent.”

The La Pietra Coalition reminds the world that women’s inequality is not just a women’s issue. It is a global issue. As we celebrate the past, we must also look forward and ask what can be accomplished in the next 91 years so that women’s economic rights are no longer an ideal, but a reality.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a member of the La Pietra Coalition, is a Fellow and the Deputy Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.  Ashley Harde is a Research Associate at the Council on Foreign Relations. This piece was cross-posted with permission from La Pietra Coalition.

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