Analysis of the biggest dataset in the world on the status of women shows that “where women are more empowered in multiple spheres of life, countries are less likely to go to war with their neighbors, to be in bad standing with the international community, or to be rife with crime and violence within their society. The causal direction is not yet clear, but it is evident that gender equality is a better indicator of a state’s peacefulness than other factors like democracy, religion, or GDP.” (Marie O’Reilly, “Why Women? Inclusive Security and Peaceful Societies” 2015)
Happy International Women’s Day 2021! This year’s IWD theme is #ChooseToChallenge based on the belief that “a challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change”. Recognizing that we are all “responsible for our own thoughts and actions”, the #ChooseToChallenge campaign asks each of us to challenge ourselves to call out gender bias and inequality, seek out and celebrate women's achievements, and collectively create an inclusive world.
We have seen proof that positive change can result from greatly challenging times. Over the last several years, difficult (and often painful) social, economic, and political circumstances have caused people from all walks of life to come together and take action for a greater good, as they are no longer able to remain apathetic to the suffering of their fellow humans or the demise of our planet. In the case of women and gender equality, it has become apparent that we can no longer afford to disregard or diminish the value and contribution of HALF the planet’s population. The global pandemic served as a stark reminder of this as countries with women heads-of-state had fewer cases of Covid-19 infections and deaths than their male-led neighboring countries.
At Mina’s List, every day is dedicated to promoting extraordinary women leaders and supporting the essential role women play in advancing gender equality and building just, secure, and peaceful societies for all. We have learned that when women are empowered political leaders, more laws are passed to protect women’s rights; countries experience better outcomes in education, health, economic development, infrastructure, human rights and corruption; and there is a far greater likelihood of lasting peace and security. For example:
- In East Timor, Argentina, Croatia, Morocco, and South Africa, an increase in female lawmakers led to legislation on anti-discrimination, domestic violence, family codes, inheritance, child support and human trafficking.
- In India, women political leaders favored wealth redistribution, supported child-related expenditures, and invested more than men in schools, female teachers, primary education, and hospital beds.
- In West Bengal, villages with more women in political leadership saw an increase of investment in drinking water, and facilities and roads were almost twice as likely to be in good condition.
- A World Bank study of more than 100 countries showed that higher percentages of women in parliament is linked to decreased corruption in government.
- In ethnically diverse countries, the presence of a female national leader is correlated with a 6.6 percent increase in GDP growth in comparison to having a male leader.
- Thirty years of data from a majority of countries showed that the higher the proportion of women in parliament, the lower the likelihood for human rights abuses such as political imprisonments, torture, killings, and disappearances.
- A forty-year study on international crisis showed that when the percentage of women in parliament increases by just five percent, a country is five times less likely to use violence when faced with conflict or crisis.
- When 35 percent of a nation’s legislature is female, the risk of a country relapsing into violent conflict is zero.
While the global percentage of women legislators reached a historic high last year with women accounting for 25.5 percent of parliamentarians following the 2020 elections, we remain far from realizing gender equality in politics. Women face multiple barriers that limit their access to political office, including discrimination, income disparity, lack of access to training and political networks, bias media and gender-based political violence. At the current rate, it will still take another 50 years before we see gender parity in parliament. Based on the powerful outcomes listed above, it is clear that our world can no longer afford to wait for women’s equal representation in politics. Mina’s List provides the educational resources and tools women leaders need to overcome obstacles to their full and equal political leadership.
Promoting women’s leadership is a wise choice, if not essential, for every nation. However, in countries where Mina’s List works, like Afghanistan and Nigeria, the stakes for women and girls are far greater than most. Today, while the world celebrates International Women’s Day, Afghan women are fighting to retain the basic human rights and the hard-won gains that they have achieved since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, such as access to education and healthcare, the right to work, to walk in public or leave their home without a male escort and to be free from daily violence and fear. Following the U.S. government‘s decision to negotiate ‘peace’ with the Taliban to end the “Forever War” - and while the Afghan government and Taliban engage in ongoing talks to determine what the future of Afghanistan will look like, who will hold the power and how decisions for all Afghans will be made - Afghan women find that there is no option BUT to challenge the discriminatory systems and beliefs that will limit their ability to live freely and to enjoy the same rights as their brothers. For Afghan women challenging gender inequality is not merely a choice, but an all-out battle to secure their fundamental rights and freedom – for both themselves and their daughters.
Peace processes provide critical opportunities to advance women’s leadership and to embed gender equality goals in resulting Peace Agreements. Research has also shown that peace processes and post-conflict peacebuilding are more successful when women are meaningfully included in the process. To ensure that Afghan women have the opportunity to influence the outcomes of the peace talks and convey the needs and perspectives of Afghan women and girls, Mina’s List has partnered with the Afghan Women’s Network to organize a week-long Afghan Women’s Peace Forum for 200 Afghan women from across Afghanistan. The Peace Forum will beheld at the same time and in the same location as the official Afghan peace negotiations creating the opportunity for women to meet with members of the official negotiation teams as well as key national and international stakeholders.
Today, on International Women’s Day, as we reflect on how we will #ChooseToChallenge issues of gender inequality in our own lives and communities, it’s important to remember that for some there is no option BUT to CHALLENGE the mistaken beliefs, systems and institutions that devalue the worth and contribution of half of humanity. For some, like our Afghan sisters, every day must be a day dedicated to advancing the rights of women. The positive impact of women’s leadership across all sectors of society - social, economic and political – makes it apparent that profound change is needed. I wonder what our world would look like, if everyone decided that we could no longer afford to wait for women to lead our world, and that gender equality is not a mere choice, but is a necessity for building just, peaceful and secure societies everywhere.