Mind the gap
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I was recently asked this question: ‘Can you think of a situation when gender mattered to you?’ It was a very difficult question to answer because until a few months ago, I never really thought about the importance of gender. To me it meant filling in a box on a form, or a consideration when selecting participants for our workshops. I never considered what it meant to be a woman in my own society and I rarely thought about what it meant to be female in the countries INASP works with.  Then I was asked to develop our gender strategy. I started reading up on the subject, attended a gender analysis and planning course and reviewed the 2012 World Economic Forum Gender Gap report.  I realised how little I knew about women in the countries we work with and even the country I live in. My most surprising discoveries were:

  • Over half of the world’s university students are female, but less than 30% of researchers are women
  • The Gender Gap report ranks the UK well below two of INASP’s partner countries – Lesotho and Nicaragua
  • Rwanda has the highest representation of women in parliament at over 50%
  • Just under 1% of the world’s property is owned by women
  • Women work 2/3 of the world’s working hours but only receive 10% of the income
  • International Women’s Day is a public holiday in 29 countries

Our own research on female engagement in INASP activities has also revealed some surprises. Women represent only 35% of our country coordinators, 31% of AuthorAID members (perhaps reflecting the previous statistic on numbers of female researchers) and only 34% of our 2011 workshop participants. Clearly, we need to be doing more to support women in these areas. On the other hand, mirroring the findings from the Gender Gap report, Nicaraguans are highly engaged in our training activities (54% of participants from 2010-2011 were female) and 100% of small grant applications from those countries for the same period were from women.  In fact, if we are aspiring to true gender equality in Nicaragua, we might need to start encouraging participation from more men!

So, going back to that question I was asked, why should gender matter to us? Apart from the obvious injustice, the Gender Gap report shows a strong correlation between a country’s gender gap and its national competitiveness. Gender also appears in the MDGs and is increasingly visible on political and development agendas. In the words of Kofi Annan, ‘Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.’

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About Julie Walker

Julie Walker is the Programme Manager of Publishing Support at INASP and the Director of the AuthorAID project.
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