Is Gender Equality Actually About Gender Equality?

A little while ago I interviewed 2 experts on Gender Equality to paint a picture on how the world looks like based on our sex today.

As women, we sympathize with issues occupying fellow women. What about gender issues men facing? Is it something on the plates of the United Nations in the next decade?

“The 5th Sustainable Development Goal [set by the UN to reach targets under 17 goals by 2030] contains specific objectives for women, to support them in overcoming inequalities that have previously placed them in a disadvantaged position relative to men.” argues a UNFPA Benin gender equality program analyst, Céline Mewissen from Belgium. 

Others can argue, this is an example for discrimination against men. 

“Women are recognised by the SDGs to have particular challenges whilst issues facing men fit into the remaining SDGs. (…) I am not aware of any positions taken by countries during negotiations for what became Agenda 2030 that referenced men’s particular issues. – Mathieu Lohr, a Consultant on Gender& Youth in Kenya, explains. “If men’s issues -and a positive men’s rights movement- would be able to build local and national coalitions that upload such a debate into the international level, changes may take place.”

An average person naturally calculates a balance between women and men. If it continues this way, it will always be a zero-sum game which is a situation where the gain of one is taken from the other. Therefore the subtotal growth is zero.

Céline adds Gender equality benefits to everyone, regardless one’s gender. A common misconception (…)  is that gender equality means that men are going to lose out when it is achieved.” 

When girls have equal rights to “education often translates into greater economic opportunities for women and their families, leading to better life conditions for the whole community.” Including men.

Let’s focus our attention instead of one or the other, to the whole. Current gender equality (women) targets are important to all and won’t reduce the well-being of men but increase the welfare of all. However, we are not looking for enhancements for men just yet. We only try to improve the subtotal from one side.

An upgrading to the system which harms no parties but benefits at least one is called pareto improvement. It means we can improve men’s equality by not taking away from woman’s equality but adding to the whole. And vice versa. 

Does the gender equality goal of the UN need to expand its targets with actions tackling men’s higher suicide rate, homelessness, and paternity fraud right now?

Men are important. But, girls and women face a special set of risks and challenges that need [urgent] attention. It does not mean that the international community is willing to exclude men. To the contrary, without the partnership of men and boys, there will be no gender equality.” UNFPA expert reminds us that “men’s involvement has made a real difference worldwide, for example religious leaders mobilized to end female genital mutilation.”

To improve gender equality let’s welcome men’s issues in the debate. How does this discussion look like today?

Mathieu seems positive: “Lot of women of our generation discuss gender with respect to men and women, and I want to believe we can see a generational change take place for whatever comes for the Agenda post-2030.” Although even advanced countries struggle collecting gender- and age-disaggregated data

Let’s have a closer look on access to health, education, economy and politics based on gender.

The UK has regulations to ensure employers must provide data on gender concerning pay. How does women rights to economic participation look like? That’s the first dimension of the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI). This index is used to analyse the basics of society and its institutions: access to health, education, economy and politics.

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Would you consider the UK among one of the most gender-equal nations on salary? 

Following data is from Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings for 2019 combined for both full and part time unless stated otherwise.

  • Even in a job like nursing, which is somewhat “feminine profession”, men get £0,48 more than women per hour. 85% are women in such positions but they make annually £5,000 less.
  • Women hold only 27% of Chief Executives and Senior Officials positions. They receive £22,000 less annually for the same work on average due to 14,1% hourly difference.  
  • Women hold 53% of all jobs in accounting and make nearly £7000 less a year on average than their male counterparts.
  • Among cooks on full-time employment, female workforce make £3000 less than male. Regardless the fact they hold 79% of such part and full time positions in the UK. 
  • Another male-dominated sector is programmers where men fill 88% of these positions, and make yearly £7000 more. 

Gender equality means that there is no discrimination on grounds of a person’s sex in the allocation and control of resources, benefits or services.” ads Miss Mewissen.

Looking into the first dimension of the index we see a different picture. Women face inequalities. GGGI doesn’t exist to measure women’s issues. It simply analyses access to the basics of society on the grounds of a person’s sex. So let’s continue to uncover the rest of the indicators measured in this index.

UK Women aged 18-35, are more likely to start a degree course than their male counterparts reads in The Guardian. This might be an argument for male issues to include in current gender equality targets. But the statistics on continued education look different globally. Out of 7 examined regions in 6 there are less chances for women to get secondary education according to UN’s website.

Internationally woman are behind: “Worldwide, women are almost twice as likely as men to be illiterate.” says Céline.

After dimension of education let’s get into politics. In the UK, 32% of MPs are women according to BBC. Globally, only 23% of the world’s politicians are women reads in The Guardian. Both genders constitute half of the global population. Why do males make 77% of political decisions globally?

Arriving to health& survival dimension we can say in general, women live longer. This is the only data being negative for men in the GGGI framework. 

Would you think there isn’t much for concern on sex ratio at birth? It’s up to nature. Wrong.

human made intervention influences the global male birth rate to be higher than it would be. Yes, gender-specific abortions are a thing. There is a higher than the natural proportion of male births globally. It is due to son preference in East and South Asia according to experts.

Is it a fair request to press for female side of gender equality by prioritising access to the basics of society? As read before in GGGI, women face inequalities on the very fundamentals of society.

Pushing for these urgent matters doesn’t make SDG5 targets not gender equal. It actually plays a key role in moving towards the balance state. 

Woman could still win by adding male related targets and men won’t lose not adding them today. 

Gender Equality is not a zero-sum game. We all win by supporting each other. Support what is urgent right now: equal access for the basics of society for women.

written by Krisztina Kapuvari.

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