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SIDDHARTH CHATTERJEE: Gender inequality is stunting economic progress

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Do
not let us off the hook; keep our feet to the fire’. These were
the words of the UN
Secretary General Mr. Antonio Guterres
when he promised to
personally lead the global body towards greater gender equality.
 

As
the world observes the start of 16 Days of Activism against
Gender-Based Violence on 26 November 2018, an independent United
Nations system-wide survey on sexual harassment is taking place
around all UN country offices.
 

It
is the first of its kind and it demonstrates the UN’s common
resolve to eradicate sexual harassment and ensure a safe and
inclusive workplace for all personnel across the UN.
 

The
UN initiative is in lock-step with the theme for this year’s 16
Days of Activism – ‘Orange the World; Hear Me Too’. The aim is
to raise awareness on violence against women and its impact on a
woman’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual well-being.
 

The
now-famous ‘MeToo’ movement brought out from anonymity the shame
that many women were forced to live with, fearing that to reveal the
various inappropriate remarks and unwelcome advances they had endured
would jeopardise their careers.
 

Statistics
indicate that more than one in three women across the world have
experienced physical or sexual violence, usually perpetrated by an
intimate partner.

In a study
by Edison Research and Marketplace on sexual harassment, 27% of women
and 14% of men reported that they had been harassed at some time at
their workplace.
 

Despite
the progressive policy commitments and institutional frameworks on
gender equality and women empowerment, implementation remains slow
and inconsistent. To date, the Protocol to the African Charter on
Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa has not
secured universal ratification.

While
the
HeForShe
campaign has gained high momentum since its launch in September 2014,
a lot still needs to be done to bring men on board towards addressing
sexual harassment towards women in public and private spaces.

Such
campaigns have brought considerable gains towards raising
consciousness and self-assurance for women. Increasingly, they are
speaking out against the indignities of work-related sexual advances
and intimidation.
 

It
is time for another crescendo to rise as we consider the multiple
dimensions of gender violence. This is the cost that countries are
paying when women are girls are denied the chance to live to their
full social and economic potential.
 

This
is the insidious aspect of gender violence that needs the most urgent
restitution.
 

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Consider
the aspect of employment: according to a World Bank report
released this year, countries are losing $160 trillion in wealth
because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men.
This amounts to an average of $23,620 for each person.
 

UNDP
in its Africa Human Development Report for 2016 says, “
Gender
inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average $US95 billion a
year
”.
 

In
education, girls still have catching up to do. While Kenya has done
relatively well in balancing school enrolment among genders, there
remains work to do towards demonstrating to young women that they
have a future after their education.

According to a recent survey by
Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), only about a third of
Kenyans in formal employment are women.
 

Estimates
indicate that the return on one year of secondary education for a
girl correlates with as high as a 25% increase in wages. In
addition, ensuring that all girls get at least secondary education in
sub-Saharan Africa, would reduce child marriages by more than half.
 

All
these demonstrate the cyclical benefits, from one generation to the
next, of education as an intervention strategy.

However, while
evidence abounds that parity with women is the best driving force for
economic growth, wealth creation and poverty eradication, women’s
rights are being “reduced, restricted and reversed”, according to
UN Secretary-General Guterres.
 

There
cannot be any illusions about the enormity of the task ahead.
Misogyny is a deep-rooted expression of male entitlement that often
excuses sexual harassment and violence, even at times by the victims
themselves.

For instance, a World Bank Gender Data Portal shows that
76.3 per cent of women in Mali and 92.1 per cent in Guinea believe a
man
is justified in beating his wife
if she goes out without telling
him, neglects the children, refuses sex, burns the food or argues
with him.
 

Such
attitudes are often rooted far beyond the reach of social media
hashtags. Shifts in attitude must begin from the home, before we can
expect corporate bodies and national governments to enact
gender-sensitive legislation.
 

The
UN in Kenya is taking some concrete steps in this direction, starting
with the establishment of a coordination network on protection from
sexual exploitation and abuse in the Nairobi duty station.
 

Women
shouldn’t have to feel ‘grateful’ for opportunities says the UN DSG
Amina Mohammed in a recent
BBC interview
.

So true. Ultimately, countries need to begin
breaking structural barriers, not just with gender equality as a
lofty ideal but as deliberate strategy for sustainable development.

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