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Nake M. Kamrany Headshot
Catherine Robinson Headshot

The Global Problem of Gender Inequality

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Egregious gender inequality still exists globally despite of substantial national and international measures that have been taken towards gender equality. Only four out of over 135 nations have achieved gender equality including Costa Rica, Cuba, Sweden, and Norway. Yemen was scored the lowest across all dimensions. Measures of gender equality include access to basic education, health and life expectancy, equality of economic opportunity, and political empowerment. Although there have been evident progresses, many alarming issues regarding gender discrimination still prevail today; therefore, total gender equality must be made a global priority as a fundamental step in both human development and economic progress.

The degree and causes of gender inequality vary throughout the world. Noticeable crimes against women consist of violence, femicide (murder of women), and rape (war rape). Honor killing, one such offense, is when a female member of a family is killed for the perception of having brought dishonor to the family. It has become a massive issue in countries such as Pakistan and the Muslim Middle East, and is on the rise. In July 2009, two Saudi Arabian sisters, 21 and 19 years old, were killed by their brother in the presence of their father under the rubric of defending the family's honor. Other instances of illegality include the over 3,000 women in Guatemala who have been murdered over the past seven years on account of cases involving misogynistic violence, the estimated 130 million girls who were genitally mutilated in Africa and Yemen, and the approximate 5,000 women in India who suffer female infanticide each year (bride burning) due to insufficient dowry payment -- money given to the husband by bride's family. These actions are not only unlawful violence against women, but also towards the whole of humanity.

Sex-selective abortion is yet another major disaster of gender inequality as it fuels human trafficking, demographic imbalance, and sexual exploitation. India and China, the two most populated nations on Earth, both informally maintain this practice of preference for male child birth over female. Females are undervalued in Chinese society, and under ONE CHILD POLICY, families opt for boys over girls. In China, with approximately 32 million more boys than girls under the age of 20, females are widely viewed as weaker, more expensive, and less intelligent than men. This gender imbalance has caused a ratio of 126 boys to 100 girls among the 1-4 age groups. Similarly, in India the birth of a boy is welcomed while that of a girl is viewed as a burden. Undoubtedly, sex-selection is a violation of the right to life and has distorted the natural sex ratios of 50/50 in countries in which it is practiced.

National and international measures are at work but they are not sufficient to minimize and eliminate gender inequality. For instance, the Society of Defending Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia is designed to empower women and protect their rights. In India, the Prevention of Immoral Traffic, the Dowry Prevention Act and the Sati Act aim to prevent widow burning. Indeed, China and India are both fighting feticide and infanticide. By providing financial assistance to families with girls, India is not only encouraging female education, but also supplying parents with financial aid for their daughters dowry. Meanwhile, China has taken strides to limit the abuse of modern technology by outlawing the use of ultrasound or gender detection methods. Moreover, they have granted parents who have a female child another chance at birthing a son in the hopes that families will not abandon, abort, or murder their female infant.

From an economic viewpoint, gender discrimination is also a major impediment to growth as it prevents countries from reaching their maximum productivity potential. Although women constitute 40% of the global work force, there are still many who are unpaid family workers in the informal sector. Those who do work are generally paid much below that of male workers, despite being equally capable and skilled. Furthermore, their status and promotion is limited to middle or below ranks, they are laid off pre-retirement age more frequently than men, they have limited educational opportunity, and they typically run smaller farms and less profitable enterprises. Due to these obvious restrictions, many countries experience loss of productivity that amounts to 25% due to gender discrimination. According to one study, Japan's GDP will gain by 15% if employment gender discrimination is adjusted. Unfortunately, the historical influence of Confucianism in Japan has led to male superiority over female through domestic abuse, emotional violence, sex exploitation, unfair treatment in career, and an inferior social status. Gender discrimination is costly to nations across the globe and forces women to suffer the severe emotional and economic repercussions.

Beyond the economic costs, gender inequality also has severe individual and societal losses for a nation. While the female sex constitutes slightly more than 50% of the population, only 14 of the total 200 governments, or 7%, are headed by women. An adjustment of this inequitable representation will go a long way to correct global gender inequality. To further promote gender equality, there need be increased education for women, improvements in public health, more child care facilities, and availing women equal voice in cultural, social, economic and political spheres of public life. Without equal representation of women's voice in policy-making and institutions, decisions are often more advantageous for men and therefore inefficient to the nation as a whole.

The evidence of gender discrimination is rooted in history, tradition and culture. Gender inequality is a highly debilitating stigma and leads to detriments of women's psychology of their worth and dignity to themselves and to society.

The remedy would have to emanate from the cultural tradition of citizenry; accordingly, the collaboration of local communities, institutions, national authorities and international bodies is essential to influencing change and promoting the value of women. They all must act in concert with respect to communication, education, leadership, and cultural norms and traditional values in order to shift the attitude and mindset of the population in favor of gender equality -- respecting mothers, daughters, sisters who are equal partners in this global diaspora.

Nake Kamrany is Professor of Economics at the University of Southern California and Catherine Robinson is a Research Assistant in economics at USC and a member of Global Income Convergence Group (GIC-G in Los Angeles