Archive | June, 2014

A World Cup of Gender Equality

17 Jun

In the face of World Cup fever, I was idly wondering how the countries involved compared on issues other than football.   Then I was inspired by the WSJ’s ‘World Cup of Everything Else’ – which is a must-visit amusement for lovers of data visualisation. Here the World Cup countries are ranked on everything from population and threatened mammal species, to Body Mass Index and numbers of McDonalds per head of population. Also in there is a figure for women’s representation in parliament. I’d been thinking about how women in the World Cup countries fare whilst we’re all fixated on the male game, and so have put together some figures from global data sources to see who wins where women are concerned.

I looked for information on the proportion of women in parliament in the competing countries (relatively easy to find for all countries at the World Bank) and measures of the gender pay gap worldwide (more complicated to measure in the first place and much poorer global coverage). In political representation, the Netherlands, Ecuador and Costa Rica are out in front with 39% of members of parliament female, whilst Iran has fewest women in parliament: only 3% of representatives there are female. For England I’ve had to use UK figures throughout, and with 22% of MPs female, we’re strictly middle of the table.



Meanwhile, on the gender pay gap, many other gaps emerge. There’s no information on this for many of the countries in Latin America and Africa, nor for Iran or Croatia or Bosnia Herzegovina, on the most accessible measures. The OECD compares differences in median earnings for full-time working men and women (in blue in graph below) whilst the Wage Indicator data (in red) comes from surveys, rather than population samples, and compares hourly rates of pay by gender. On the OECD measure, Belgium is our winner with a gender pay gap of 6%, whilst South Korea and Japan are bottom, chalking up gender pay gaps of 37% and 27% respectively. Using the Wage indicator figures, which cover more Latin American countries, we can see that Ecuador and Argentina and Chile all have gender pay gaps of over 30% – but in Chile’s case OECD information on full-time workers comes in at a lower level of 16% difference between men and women’s earnings. Again, England occupies the centre ground, close to the results for USA and France – and narrowly beaten by Germany on the OECD measure.


I was casting around for other measures of the state of gender relations, and found that the World Economic Forum (WEF) produces the global Gender Gap Index, which summarises the relative gaps between women and men in health, education, economics and politics. So who would win the World Cup on gender equality? According to the WEF index, the answer is – Switzerland, which comes in at number 9 in their world rankings. (The very top of the WEF table contains the Nordic countries of Europe, alongside New Zealand, the Phillipines and Ireland – none of whom qualified for the World Cup this time). Algeria, Iran, and Ivory Coast all rank low on this index, coming in at 124th, 130th and 131st respectively. Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and England all feature in the Top Twenty, whilst the host country, Brazil ranks 62 in the world – just ahead of two other previous champions, Mexico and Italy.




So what have I learned from a look at the World Cup of gender equality? Depending how you look at it, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Belgium are winners. And for much of the world, politics, economics, health and education can still be a game of two – gendered – halves.


Armchair or action? : the question posed by the End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit

11 Jun

In all the hype surrounding this week’s End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit it’s not surprising that the significance of the event has been questioned. From accusations of ‘hypocrisy’ in the Guardian – centring on the poor treatment of refugees on our own doorstep, whilst William Hague and Angelina Jolie highlight the plight of victims in far-flung fragile states – to Jeremy Paxman’s sceptical tone on Newsnight when he remarked that the perpetrators ‘wouldn’t be there’, dissenting voices have been heard, amidst cautious optimism from the organisers, NGOs and rape victims themselves.

It is important to accept that such an event cannot do everything to solve complex and often intractable problems: critics point out that there is rape and sexual violence in all cultures, not just ‘over there’; that misogynist attitudes occur globally and are hard to change; that establishing a rule of law on sexual violence in conflict does not mean that such laws are upheld, or that victims routinely get justice for the crimes meted out against them – crimes often perpetrated by authority figures. Others ask, why not seek to stop the wars themselves instead?

However, in spite of logic, these can all end up being arguments against doing anything at all. What’s the point if wider issues in sexual violence and conflict are not addressed? And in doing so these arguments miss some important points: to see perpetrators as absent from the scene is not quite accurate – they are there in victims’ testimony, and, according to the Independent, interviewed in a documentary screened at the summit. Representatives of governments and agencies worldwide are attending the event, and have the power to influence the training and behaviour of both military and peacekeeping forces, so that the idea of impunity is made increasingly unacceptable, and sensitive treatment of victims encouraged. Laws and UN declarations may not in themselves eliminate sexual violence, but they do send out a strong signal that such behaviour should be brought to account through justice systems. Surely the message counts for something?

Ever in search of some evidence, I looked at a Briefing from the Institute of Development Studies which neither shies away from the complexities, nor absolves the situation of hope. Since the Bosnian war there has been recourse in humanitarian law for victims of sexual violence in conflicts, but the researchers recognise that there are particular problems faced by displaced populations, who may or may not be in official camps – if not in camps they are less likely to see humanitarian laws against sexual violence enforced. Documenting experiences of displaced people and of vulnerable populations over time – after wars have ended but sexual violence still occurs – means that much more is known about the magnitude of the problem and about what potentially helps.

Meanwhile in the Washington Post, researchers note that not all conflicts are associated with widespread sexual violence. This means that we can learn about the particular factors which escalate its risk, and this opens up the possibility of preventive strategies. And States which tolerate sexual violence perpetrated by their armies can be named and shamed. So, shall we sit in our armchairs, critiquing from the sidelines, or join the trending opinion on Twitter that says ‘Time to Act’? Change will not occur overnight, but that does not mean it is not worth pursuing at all.

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