Gender gap – do we care?

PICKING up from where I left in my column on Global Gender Gap Report where the World Economic Forum (WEF) quantifies the magnitude of gender disparities and tracks their progress, with a focus on the relative gaps between women and men in four key areas: health, education, economy and politics.

The 2016 report covers 144 countries. More than a decade of data has revealed that progress is still too slow for realising the full potential of one half of humanity within our lifetimes.

The report was first published in 2006 by the WEF. The 2016 report covers 144 major and emerging economies. The Global Gender Gap Index is an index designed to measure gender equality.

The Global Gender Gap measure was introduced by the World Economic Forum to examine four critical areas of inequality between men and women which are economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment and health and survival.

The Gender Gap Index assesses countries on how well they are dividing their resources and opportunities among their male and female populations, regardless of the overall levels of these resources and opportunities. By providing a comprehensible framework for assessing and comparing global gender gaps and by revealing those countries that are role models in dividing these resources equitably between women and men, serves as a catalyst for greater awareness as well as greater exchange between policymakers.

In Malaysia, gender disparity exists in all spheres and facets including health, education, economy and politics. Something to rant about would be the fact that in Malaysia the last Gender Gap Measure and Monitoring Report was produced in 2007 by the government and beyond that I am unsure if there was any other similar statistical information available.

As far as the WEF report is concerned, gender equality in the country remains unfavourable, with the latest Global Gender Gap Index (GGI) report ranking Malaysia at 111 out of 145 countries following a score of 0.655 last year.

When compared to other Asean countries, Malaysia was placed ninth out of 10, just above Cambodia. The gap is measured on a scale of 0 to 1, where optimum equality is achieved when a country scores an index of 1.

There has been keenness, each year when the World Women's Day is celebrated and promising numbers are thrown about leaving women wishful that things were improving. Year in year out, the numbers do swell (favourably) showing some improvements but disproportionate to the population increase. Do the facts and figures tally with actuality? We are progressing all right but at what rate? We are being overtaken by our neighbours who have gone leaps ahead of us.

Zooming into workplace for example, women who are enrolled in STEM-related courses number more than men but at work the number tilts harshly and shockingly too. There seems to be a mismatch in numbers in the education sector and the workplace.
At universities and high school, the balance is striking and yet when it comes to workplace, we wonder where all the women have gone in STEM-related jobs.
I suppose, it is important to incorporate men into the theoretical framework where workplaces need to adapt to the "whole person", both women and men.

There is no problem with female achievement as women have caught up with men in terms of education. The problem arises when young adults try to balance work and family, and women end up carrying nearly all of the caregiving responsibilities.

If women put many more hours into these household activities than men, this greatly disadvantages women in the workplace. It is unrealistic to expect gender equality if workplaces demand that women spend as much time as the men, at all times.

Being just different should not really be creating gaps and voids as then we need to come to terms and reconcile what characterise the differences to see if amends can be worked out to plug the leaks.

In Japan and the United States, public policy is an important part of increasing gender equality in the workplace and at home, but they don't really produce the desired outcome always.

As a society, we need to continue to encourage people to go beyond stereotypes and recognise the contributions that each individual, male or female, can make to the workplace and to relationships at home.