Global gender equality: Progress, challenges, and imperatives

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, France made a historic move by embedding abortion rights into its constitution.
Global gender equality: Progress, challenges, and imperatives

Joya Saikia

(The writer can be reached at

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, France made a historic move by embedding abortion rights into its constitution. Addressing the French lawmakers, the Prime Minister emphasized the nation’s moral obligation to women and urged them to seize the opportunity to rewrite history. This development follows a recent controversial decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, which overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade verdict from 1973, stripping away constitutional protections for abortion. The issue of abortion rights has garnered significant attention globally, with Poland enacting strict restrictions and Hungary introducing bureaucratic obstacles for women seeking abortions. In India, the requirement to prove ‘foetal viability’ poses a significant challenge for many women. Dr. Natalia Kanem of the UNFPA highlighted in 2022 the crucial link between women’s bodily autonomy and achieving gender equality.

Across the globe, approximately 1.12 billion women of reproductive age, constituting 60%, reside in regions where abortion laws are relatively permissive. However, a significant portion, around 40%, or 753 million women are subject to restrictive abortion laws. Amidst an escalating trend of violence targeting women and girls, encompassing physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, particularly perpetrated by husbands or intimate partners, there is growing apprehension. Shockingly, statistics from 2021 reveal that one woman fell victim to familial homicide every 11 minutes, underscoring the severity of the issue. Additionally, a troubling quarter of the global population holds the belief that spousal abuse is justifiable, compounding concerns. Furthermore, the digital landscape has become a breeding ground for novel forms of violence against women, facilitated by technologies like deepfakes and amplified by misogynistic influencers. This online onslaught is compelling women to retreat from digital platforms, exacerbating their marginalization (UNDP, 2024).

Despite global commitments to advancing women’s economic empowerment and narrowing gender disparities in the workforce, the reality remains stark. Presently, one in every ten women grapples with extreme poverty, and if existing trends persist, an alarming 8% of the world’s female population—approximately 342.4 million women and girls—will continue to subsist on less than $2.15 a day by 2030, predominantly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly a quarter of these women will face moderate-to-severe food insecurity. Furthermore, a staggering 73.5% of women engaged in wage labour lack access to essential social protection measures. The disparity in labour force participation is glaring, with only 61.4% of women in their prime working years actively engaged, compared to 90% of men. Legal barriers hinder over 2.7 billion women across 69 economies from pursuing the same range of job opportunities as men, while 43 economies lack legislation addressing sexual harassment in workplaces. Wage differentials persist, with women earning a mere 51 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. The burden of unpaid care work falls disproportionately on women, who collectively invest approximately 16.4 billion hours daily, three times more than men. Projections suggest that by 2050, this unpaid labour could account for up to 40% of GDP in certain nations. Closing the gender gap in workforce participation has the potential to inject a staggering USD 7 trillion into the global economy and elevate GDP per capita by an average of 20%.

Despite being halfway through the timeline for achieving gender equality under SDG-5, progress remains dishearteningly slow. Not a single indicator for gender equality and empowerment has been met or even come close to being met. Currently, only 15.4% of indicators are deemed ‘on track’, while 61.5% hover at a moderate distance, and 23.1% are significantly off track from the 2030 targets. The challenges ahead are daunting, with estimates suggesting it will take at least 300 years to eradicate child marriage, 286 years to bridge gaps in legal protection and dismantle discriminatory laws, 140 years for women to attain equal representation in positions of power and leadership within the workforce, and 47 years to achieve parity in national parliaments. Addressing these disparities requires a substantial financial commitment, with an additional USD 360 billion per year needed to advance gender equality. Failure to prioritize this imperative not only imperils the entirety of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals but also undermines the fundamental principles of a just society—a cornerstone upon which all other goals must be built, as emphasized by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

A significant obstacle hindering progress in achieving gender equality is the glaring lack of financing, with an astounding annual deficit of USD 360 billion for gender-equality initiatives, as highlighted by UN Women. Compounding this challenge are the escalating costs of conflicts as well as soaring fuel and food prices, which have compelled nearly 143 countries to implement policy measures undermining their capacity to invest in essential public services and social protection programs. A recent study has underscored the urgent need for alternative economic models that prioritize sustainability, advocating for a transition towards a green economy and a care-oriented society. Such models not only amplify women’s voices but also pave the way for achieving feminist climate justice. The looming climate crisis poses a particularly dire threat, with projections indicating that it could push an additional 158.3 million women and girls into poverty.

Amid the escalating conflicts worldwide, women confront mounting obstacles, including heightened risks of maternal mortality and morbidity, inadequate access to healthcare, and the alarming trend of girls being denied opportunities for education. The focus of 2024 Women’s Day rightly underscores the critical importance of investing in women to drive comprehensive progress. It is now imperative for nations to intensify their efforts towards achieving the goals they have committed to, ensuring that women and girls have equitable access to essential healthcare, education, and opportunities for empowerment. This necessitates proactive measures to promote power-sharing and economic participation while simultaneously dismantling the pervasive influence of gender-based violence by challenging normative behaviours and stereotypes.

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