Yesterday – 8th March – was International Women’s Day, but life in a rural Cambodian village means that I do not have regular access to the internet, and so here I am writing about it today.
IWD2016 is a celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women across the globe, recognising positive change and progress towards gender equality. However, the day is also an opportunity to highlight where progress has slowed, and where urgent action is needed to accelerate gender parity – and so this year’s campaign theme is #PledgeForParity.
IWD2016 is being celebrated in a wealth of different ways. From female careers festivals to art exhibitions; from fun runs to tech talks; from gala lunches to showcases. It is an opportunity to recognise female-focused charities, organisations and groups, as well as to join together to make pledges and take action. People of influence around the world, including the likes of Sir Richard Branson, Fiona Dawson, Mark A. Weinberger, Harriett Baldwin and Beth Brooke-Marciniak – have joined the IWD2016 #PledgeForParity campaign to share their views on why gender parity is so vital to our human planet. You can read their pledges here.
Gender parity is intrinsically linked to economic prosperity; it is an economic imperative. The advancement of women and female leadership are both central to business performance and economic prosperity, and profitability and innovation increase when women have a significant role in senior leadership.
Numerous international studies on the impact of women in leadership have revealed that women are the largest emerging market in the world; more equality leads to higher GDP; more equality leads to more productivity; better gender balance on boards leads to better share price and financial performance; more gender-balanced leadership leads to better all-around performance, and more women political leaders leads to more prosperity.
As a female in the UK, I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from a fairly gender-equal society, whereby I can continue education and carve out my own career plan. That is not to say that gender equality has been reacher in the UK – you only have to look at the gender breakdown of top managerial and parliamentary roles to notice an imbalance. Whilst the UK has a long way to go yet, I am aware that other countries have lower levels of gender parity. Originally I was going to undertake my ICS programme in Bangladesh on a project that focused on helping marginalised women to create small handicraft businesses, thus educated me on the impact issues such as religion have had on the perceived roles of women within the country. Here in Cambodia, little progress has been made for gender equality over the past six years. It was still the lowest-ranked country in the region, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Gender Gap Index. Ranked 103 out of 135 countries surveyed, Cambodia placed last in the region and came in the bottom half of low-income nations, according to the index, which since 2006 has scored countries according to male-to-female ratios in four areas: economic participation, educational attainment, health, and political empowerment. The country’s poor performance in the area of political empowerment is believed to be caused by a decrease of women in ministerial positions, with females holding 10 percent of minister-level offices in 2011 and just 5 percent in 2012. I’m still trying to track down more recent statistics, but those from 2012 are concerning to say the least.
In my short time in Cambodia I have already discovered some amazing social enterprises and non-profit organisations. In Battambang I stumbled across a social enterprise called Coconut Water Foundation, who empower women through education. This is just one example to illustrate the way in which hope exists regardless of a lack of gender parity overall.