Our gender agenda: Equity over equality?

It’s certainly a mark of progress that this year the focus is on equity - not just equality. Have we finally accepted equality as a standard rather than an aspiration? Have we (speaking from a UK perspective) realised it can no longer be acceptable to have anything other than equal gender representation, no barriers to women in leadership roles, and that this only represents a positive for our society? António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, rightly asserted that ‘gender equality is both a fundamental human right, and a solution to some of our greatest global challenges’. Gender equality is a core focus of the UN’s SDGs, and as such Goal 5 is central to Goals House and a regular feature in our programme.


Over the past year, I’ve been encouraged by the far-reaching female leaders from around the world I’ve met and listened to from the GoalsHouse community. For example, Lubna S. Olayan, CEO, Olayan Financing Company andVanessa Kingori MBE, Chief Business Officer, Conde Nast who amongst many others, use their voice and positions of power, to champion female empowerment and call for equal gender representation. I feel fortunate to be in a generation where I have so many leading women visible in the media, such as Michelle Obama, and Jacinda Arden, who younger people can aspire to emulate.


However, it is still hard to ignore the fact that the vast majority of C-suite and CEO positions are filled by men and the gender pay gap is still a universal frustration. We must continue to work towards uplifting women into these most senior positions, so that we can really see fair representation across the board. This shouldn’t just happen to tick a box and meet a ‘quota’. Women, particularly ethnically diverse women, are tired of being the DE&I statistic. The value they bring is far greater. If we finally shift our focus from advocating equality to embracing equity, more female leaders holding senior positions can be achieved, and not the privileged few. I’m confident that we are in the midst of significant progress towards Goal5.


As a woman in my mid-20s who hopes to have a family one day,I do often question how women can really do it all, and I have an increasing admiration for those balancing motherhood and a career! According to a recent Unicef report, the UK sits in the bottom third of the league table in a comparison of 42 countries when it comes to childcare; a couple on an average wage would need to spend 30% of their salary towards this. The rising costs of childcare in the UK and absence of government contribution until the child is 3years old, subjects parents on limited incomes, or single parents, to constant struggle. Expensive childcare only serves to accentuate socioeconomic inequalities and creates situations where women cannot accept ‘that promotion’,or balance their family and career, resulting in them not returning to work - and so this cycle of inequity revolves.


The policies need to change. Leave should be gender-equitable so the assumption is no longer that the woman stays at home. Affordable childcare should be available to all and should be seen as a public responsibility, not a private one.


We cannot ignore however, that whilst our society shows signs of hopeful progress, there are many societies where equality seems very faraway, and equity a distant dream. Mahsa Amini’s tragic death at the hands ofIranian morality police, sparked a harshly supressed women-led revolution. Only this week, schoolgirls in Iran are being poisoned. Anita Bhatia, ExecutiveDirector of UN Women advocates this week, ‘with yet another harsh decree imposed on women by the de facto [Taliban] government, the world must come together for Afghan women.’ Under the previous leadership, women finally had the right to education, and the choice and freedom to divorce their abusive husbands. Now, university education has been suspended until further notice, affecting 100,000 female students, and the power and favour of divorce lies once more with their husbands.


So, as we continue to drive gender equity, parity, and inclusive policies in the UK, we cannot achieve progress whilst those insignificantly more discriminated societies are left behind in an archaic discriminatory system. It’s imperative not to forget that equality is still the target for millions of women around the world. We have come a long way, but asa gender we still have a long way to go and apply the privilege we have by comparison to uplift the women with less opportunity such as women of colour, and women of the LGBTQIA+ community. As a community, at Goals House we will continue to advocate for this change, elevate those who are otherwise marginalised, and be a part of the solution, not the problem.  

 Author: Mary Hunter, Manager of Development & Media, Goals House

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