Closing the Gender Gap on International Women's Day -- and Every Day

On 8 March, the world celebrated the 98th International Women's Day (IWD). Great strides have been made in closing gender gaps since its launch in 1911. At the time, less than five countries had granted women the right to vote - today, this is a universal right in all but a handful of countries. Over the past century, legislation relating to equal pay, inheritance, property rights and violence has dramatically improved around the world. Health and literacy gaps have been vastly reduced. School enrollment ratios in some parts of the world have been reversed, with more women than men enrolled in primary, secondary and tertiary level education. Perhaps most evident is the massive influx of women into the workforce in recent decades, resulting in enormous gains for the global economy.

Yet, there is still much work to be done in education, health, the workplace, legislation and politics, before women around the globe enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men. International Women's Day, and the awareness it creates, holds greater significance than ever in the current global economic downturn. Women make up one-half of the global human resource pool - countries that do not invest adequately in educating and empowering girls and capitalizing on the female portion of the talent pool are undermining their economies' resilience, productivity and competitive potential. This is a missed economic opportunity to capitalize on valuable skills that are more important than ever to help pull economies out of the downturn.

Furthermore, there is compelling evidence that diverse groups and teams are better at problem solving than homogeneous ones. The reason is simple. Innovation requires new, unique ideas - and the best ideas flourish in an environment that encourages the representation of all stakeholders, diversity of opinion and openness. This implies that most business environments have thus far not been nurturing the best decisions and that the greater representation of women in senior leadership positions within governments and financial institutions is vital not only to find solutions to the current economic turmoil, but also to help stave off such crises in the future. Business will need to make vital readjustments today to begin preparing for the post-crisis labour market.

The World Economic Forum makes two contributions to the global efforts to reduce gender gaps. First, it recognizes that measuring the size of the problem is a prerequisite for identifying the best solutions. The Global Gender Gap Report ranks countries according to the size of their gender gaps. By providing a comprehensive framework for benchmarking global gender gaps, the report reveals those countries that are role models in dividing resources equitably between women and men, regardless of their level of resources. The new Corporate Best Practices for Gender Equality study will assess practices that successfully promote gender equality in the corporate sector, based on a comprehensive survey of over 3,000 companies in some of the largest developed and emerging economies in the world. It aims to serve as a valuable, one-stop guide for business leaders who seek to better leverage female talent in their companies.

Second, the Forum places a strong emphasis on a multistakeholder approach to engage leaders who share best practices and develop solutions. The Gender Parity Groups are multistakeholder communities of highly influential and committed leaders - 50% women and 50% men - from business, politics, academia, media and civil society, all seeking to actively address gender gaps and optimize the flow of talent. The Global Agenda Council on the Gender Gap composes the leading experts and practitioners conducting the latest research in the field of gender. Each of the individuals and organizations represented in these communities work collectively towards empowering women, developing globally replicable frameworks and bringing the world ever closer to achieving gender parity.

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