Gender equality is fundamental to whether and how societies thrive

RWANDA EASILY scored another first in the East African Community by taking the 7th position, globally, in the 2014 Global Gender Gap Report that was released early this week. This was the first time Rwanda was included in the rankings.

RWANDA EASILY scored another first in the East African Community by taking the 7th position, globally, in the 2014 Global Gender Gap Report that was released early this week.

This was the first time Rwanda was included in the rankings.

Burundi came second in the EAC, ranking number 17 in the Global Gender Gap Index, followed by Kenya at 37, Tanzania 47 and Uganda 88 out of 142 countries.

The Global Gender Gap Index was first introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress.

The index seeks to measure the relative gaps between women and men across four key thematic areas: health, education, economy and politics.

So far, according to the 2014 report, no country in the world has achieved gender equality. The highest ranked countries, which include Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, have closed over 80 per cent of their gender gaps. The lowest ranked country—Yemen—has closed a little over half of its gender gap.

Rwanda and Burundi have closed just over 70 per cent of the gender gap and, along with South Africa, are ahead of the rest in sub-Saharan Africa.

Given the situation of women, the world over, the report observes what is obvious but rarely taken to heart: That, people and their talents are two of the core drivers of sustainable, long-term economic growth. If half of these talents are underdeveloped or underutilised, the economy will never grow as it could.

Yet the report notes some improvement across the board, with each country standing out somewhat in one way or the other towards women’s betterment.

Rwanda’s overall high ranking, according to the report, can be explained by the country’s strong performance on the political empowerment and good performance on economic participation and opportunity.

Rwanda closed its gender gap on labour force participation, enrolment in primary education, sex ratio at birth and women in parliament.

Rwanda, South Africa and Senegal are among the top 10 ranking countries on the women in parliament indicator, with Rwanda ranking first and the only country that has more women in parliament than men.

Burundi performs highest on the economic participation and has closed its health and survival gender gap.

Kenya is ranked among the top 10 countries on economic participation and opportunity, and is one of the highest-performing countries in sub-Sahara on the estimated earned income indicator.

Tanzania is marked by improvements on economic participation, health and survival and political empowerment. The country ranks among sub-Sahara’s highest-performing countries on labour force participation and estimated earned income.

Uganda is among the top 10 performers on the labour force participation indicator.

Backed by multiple studies, it is clear how healthy and educated women are more likely to have healthier and more educated children, creating a positive, virtuous cycle for the broader population.

The report also notes how research shows the benefits of gender equality in politics: when women are more involved in decision-making, they make different decisions—not necessarily better or worse—but decisions that reflect the needs of more members of society.

Women deserve equal access to health, education, influence, earning power and political representation. Their views and values are critical in ensuring a more prosperous and inclusive common future. Humanity’s collective progress depends on it, the report declares.

It makes an impassioned case for gender equality: the most important determinant of a country’s competitiveness is its human talent—the skills and productivity of its workforce.

Similarly, an organisation’s performance is determined by the human capital that it possesses and its ability to use this resource efficiently.

Ensuring the healthy development and appropriate use of half of the world’s available talent pool thus has a vast bearing on how competitive a country may become or how efficient a company may be.

There is clearly also a values-based case for gender equality: women are one half of the world’s population and deserve equal access to health, education, economic participation and earning potential and political decision-making power.

Ultimately, the report observes, gender equality is fundamental to whether and how societies thrive.

The writer is a commentator on local and regional issues

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