Progress towards gender equality is painstakingly slow

Sexual offences continue to increase, with a reported 14% increase from 50 108 in April to March of 2017/18 to 52 694 in the same period in 2021/22.

Sexual offences continue to increase, with a reported 14% increase from 50 108 in April to March of 2017/18 to 52 694 in the same period in 2021/22.

Published Apr 24, 2023


London - The rhetoric and narrative remain nauseatingly aspirational. The remedial pledges are equally so.

The reality is that by every study, survey or measure, the progress towards gender equality, empowerment and balance is painstakingly, if not criminally, slow and cynical.

The truth is that the women of our world overwhelmingly also bear the brunt of misogyny, coercive control, manslamming, gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) and other forms of discrimination and abuse – a continuum of the same gender paradigm.

The tenth edition of the Gender Balance Index (GBI) 2023, launched last week in London by the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF), the independent global forum for central banking, economic policy and public investment, makes awkward reading for both men and women.

It is a metric of shame on humanity, especially given the near-numerical parity in the men-to-women Gender Ratio of 50.42%/49.58% of the global population.

In South Africa the ratio is gender reversed, uncannily reflecting the same percentages – 50.76% females to 49.24% males.

In the central banking and financial services sectors, for instance, according to GBI 2023, “at the current rate of progress, it will take 140 years (in the year 2163 to be precise) to achieve parity between men and women in leadership positions in the sectors”.

There are no signs this bastion of male dominance will change meaningfully any time soon, despite some positive developments in leadership roles, boardroom representation and senior executive appointments. These developments remain marginal, fragmented, piecemeal and bereft of any urgency.

The GBI tracks the presence of women and men in senior positions in central banks, pension funds, commercial banks and sovereign funds.

“Across the sample of 336 institutions, 14.0% are led by women. That’s up from 13.7% in 2022 and 13.3% in 2021 – a mere 0.3% and 0.7%. Taking a longer view paints a similar picture of slow progress. When we first released the GBI in 2014, 21 of the world’s central banks had a female governor. Now that number is 22,” observes Clive Horwood, Deputy CEO of OMFIF.

Gender-based violence, gender inequality, discrimination and lack of empowerment transcends borders, ethnicities, faith traditions, class, cultures, economic status and demographics.

They are a microcosm of society in general, which saw a resurgence during Covid-19 and in the post-pandemic recovery, and in turn in the testosterone-induced macho populism of male politicians the world over – irrespective of governance systems and across the right-left spectrum.

There can be no inevitability of the poor state of gender balance. The reasons are manifold. Men still dominate the real decision-making in every sphere of human activity – in some societies even relating to childbirth and maternity care. This is because they control the resources and their allocation.

International gatekeeper organisations, still largely dominated by male cadres, are weighed down by their paymasters, who often pay lip service to gender-based issues, which means there is a drag on policy formulation, consultation and adoption.

Take the World Bank/IMF Group. Despite the fact that the IMF last year published a consultation on a new strategy of “mainstreaming gender” that “aims to integrate gender into the fund’s surveillance, lending, and capacity development”, and to prevent gender inequality from worsening, the words “gender equality, empowerment and balance” do not even get a mention in the IMF’s 2023 World Economic Outlook (WEO).

The same goes for its Global Policy Agenda (GPA) 2023 – both touted at the Spring Meetings a week ago.

The only mention in the GPA 2023 was that it launched 12 publications under its surveillance programme, which includes Article IV Consultations and Financial System Stability Assessments between October 2022 to March 2023 on “inclusion and gender”, compared with 55 on climate change, and 58 on digital money.

How this reconciles with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva’s assertion in the 2023 WEO that “enhancing our engagement on social spending and integrating our strategies – on climate, digital, and with fragile and conflict-affected states, and more recently gender – in our surveillance and other core activities, we are better able to help our members develop stronger, more inclusive, and more resilient economies” remains to be seen.

The same applies to IMF Deputy Managing Director Antoinette Sayeh’s claim that “attention to gender has never been more urgent.

Stakeholders in fact are still talking about increasing awareness of the necessity for more gender balance.”

The GBI 2023 headline data also casts doubt about the claims of some corporate women, such as Laura Cooper, Senior Macro Investment Strategist, at BlackRock that there “has been quite a meaningful increase in the number of women and a decrease in the gender pay gap”.

For many women, progression up the corporate ladder is often blocked by childcare requirements – as if children are the result of immaculate conception.

Surely, it is time for a new labour business model in which embedded crèches and free or heavily subsidised childcare services at work become the norm.

The fact that all institution groups advanced their scores in the past year by 1-2 points once again exposes the huge gender-equality gap that needs to be narrowed.

Pension funds continue to outperform with an aggregate GBI score of 50 out of 100 – meaning they are just halfway to achieving gender parity.

The global score for commercial banks and central banks is less than 40, and only 23 for sovereign funds.

SARB’s ranking has regressed from 88 in 2022 to 100 in 2023, with a low overall GBI score at 34 and only one female in a senior position, as deputy governor. On the flip side, Standard Bank, the country’s premier financial institution, improved its ranking from 38 to 26, but still with a lowish GBI score of 38 and only 23% female executives and 29% female board members.

In the wider gender debate, which underpins the position of women in all socio-economic sectors, South Africa has the dubious distinction of having the highest incidence of GBVF in the world.

The Second Presidential GBVF Summit last December called out GBVF as a “national crisis” and a “pandemic”.

The rate of femicide in South Africa continues to be among the highest globally, with three women reportedly killed daily by their intimate partners.

Sexual offences continue to increase, with a reported 14% increase from 50 108 in April to March of 2017/18 to 52 694 in the same period in 2021/22.

Widespread discrimination, political, economic, and social structural dynamics, and intersectional power inequalities continue to drive GBVF in the country.

The 2022 crime statistics indicate a total of 294 rapes reported to have occurred on the premises of educational institutions (schools, universities, college, and day care facilities).

The number of cases of sexual misconduct reported to the SA Council of Educators (Sace) last year, according to Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, rose sharply from 92 in 2019/20 to 169 in 2020/21 and 191 in 2021/22.

The 1 500 delegates attending the Presidential GBVF 2 Summit had a clear message for President Cyril Ramaphosa – “despite progress made, significant challenges and gaps persist”.

These include failure to establish a legislative and institutional framework on GBVF. And a lack of co-ordination between government departments, which leads to a fragmented response.

A duplication of efforts and wastage of resources. The failure to see GBVF as discrimination. The rampant impunity, lack of accountability, and consequence management.

The lack of gender-responsive budgeting.

The lack of trust among key actors and an inadequate whole-of-society response to decisively deal with patriarchal and misogynistic culture systems and practices in families, communities, and social institutions.

Cape Times

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