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Gender Equality 101: Meaning, Facts, and Ways to Take Action

About 8 billion people live on Earth. Each individual deserves human rights, opportunities, and a life free from discrimination. Unfortunately, many of those 8 billion are subjected to violence, limited opportunities, and violations because of their gender. Women and girls have faced the most gender discrimination throughout history, which has created a world saturated with inequality. In this article, we’ll discuss the meaning of gender equality, the facts everyone should know, and ways to take action against inequality.

Gender equality becomes real when all genders get equal protection, can freely access and pursue opportunities, and are valued by society. While the world still has a long way to go before achieving equality, everyone can take action now.

What is gender equality?

When societies are gender-equal, no one faces discrimination based on their gender. People’s lives can still look very different, but no one is restricted from opportunities or rights just because they’re a certain gender. Everyone receives the human rights laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The impact of gender equality is undeniably positive. When all genders get equal opportunities to work and start new businesses, entire economies do better. According to the World Bank, long-run GDP per capita would be around 20% higher if gender employment gaps closed. Gender equality is also a necessary step in dealing with climate change, conflict, food insecurity, children’s welfare, and more.

Gender equality is #5 in the Sustainable Development Goals. The UN defines it as “not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.”

How does gender equality relate to race and gender expression?

Gender inequality doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It intersects with race in significant ways. As an example, Black women face discrimination in a way white women do not. In 2010, queer Black feminist Moya Bailey coined the term “misogynoir” to describe this reality. The word is a variation of “misogyny,” which is the hatred of women. “Misogynoir” focuses on the specific hatred of Black women. What does it look like? It includes the extreme sexualization of Black women starting from when they’re young girls. While white girls are viewed as inherently innocent, Black girls get labeled as sexually mature. As adults, Black women get painted as angry, “sassy,” or strong to the point of being emotionless. The intersection of race and gender is also seen in the American workplace. While women earn an average of $.82 for each dollar a white man makes, Black women make about $.63. Hispanic women make even less: $.58.

When talking about gender equality, we can’t forget about gender identity and expression. Sex refers to biological characteristics. At birth, individuals get assigned a sex, which is usually male or female. Gender is a social, cultural, and political construct. If someone’s assigned sex corresponds with how they see their gender, they’re cisgender. If someone’s gender differs from their assigned sex, they’re transgender. A person’s gender identity is an internal and individual experience of gender while their gender expression is how they chose to present themselves. Unfortunately, many people believe sex and gender are the same and if someone’s gender diverges from their assigned sex, they’re a unique threat. Hateful rhetoric, discrimination, and violence quickly follow. The rise of transphobic rhetoric and attacks in the UK is a prime example of this type of gender inequality. In 2022, the Council of Europe listed the UK as a site of increased violence against LGBTQ+ rights. From 2019-2020, transphobic hate crimes jumped 16%. From 2020-2021, these crimes increased by another 3%.

What are the five most important facts to know about gender equality?

Gender equality is a complex topic, but what are the most important things everyone should know? Here are five facts:

#1. Global gender equality is three centuries away

According to “Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): The Gender Snapshot 2022,” it will take 300 years to reach full gender equality. The report, which was released in 2022, examined data on gender equality across all 17 SDGs. COVID-19 and attacks on women’s reproductive health severely cut back progress. There’s also a lack of data; only 47% of the data needed to track progress on gender equality was available at the time. At this rate, the world is not even close to achieving Goal #5 by 2030.

#2. Gender-based violence is a global problem

Violence remains one of the biggest barriers to gender equality. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women experience sexual or physical violence from an intimate partner or sexual violence from someone who isn’t their partner. 1 in 4 of those women will have already experienced violence between 15-24 years old. The true numbers are most likely higher because many women do not report abuse due to fear of retaliation or stigma. The trans community is also the target of significant violence. According to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, trans people (both men and women) in the US are four times more likely to be assaulted than cisgender people.

#3. Gender equality is key to ending poverty

From 1990-2019, extreme poverty, which is now mostly concentrated in rural areas and sub-Saharan Africa, fell. However, COVID-19 essentially stopped progress. Women are especially vulnerable to poverty. There are a handful of reasons, including low wages and few decent work opportunities. Globally, women earn 24% less than men and perform twice as much unpaid work. When all the factors get added together, gender inequality is costing women $9 trillion per year. Gender equality would lift millions out of poverty and break cycles that keep extreme poverty alive.

#4. Gender equality is good for everyone’s health

Discrimination harms women’s physical and mental health. According to the WHO, women and girls experience more violence, coercion, and harmful practices. They often have little control over what happens to their bodies, as well as limited access to health information and services. When women are more valued and given education and better healthcare, everyone’s health improves. Studies consistently link educated mothers with better health outcomes for kids. Gender equality is also good for men as men living in unequal societies experience worse health and shorter life expectancies. Gender equality isn’t just about women’s empowerment; it’s a public health necessity.

#5. Gender equality isn’t just about women

Gender equality is often used interchangeably with women’s empowerment, and while women and girls remain among the most vulnerable, a truly equal world isn’t just about women. True gender equality must include all genders and agender people, who are gender-neutral. This is important to remember as some advocates for gender equality exclude trans people. In recent years, TERF rhetoric (which stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist) has infiltrated mainstream spaces and painted trans women as a threat to gender equality. They are not. Achieving gender equality means creating a safe, inclusive world for everyone.

What are three ways to take action on gender equality?

The world will never reach gender equality without action. Considering how far we are from achieving it, major changes are needed. How can individuals and organizations help? Here are three ways:

#1. Support leaders committed to gender equality

Long-term changes often need legislative backing, so if you’re in a country that elects its leaders, choose the ones committed to gender equality. That often means electing women to positions of power, but it’s unwise to vote for a candidate simply because of their gender. Women are not inherently more selfless or noble. Look at a candidate’s voting records and research their policy plans. What are gender equality activists saying about them? Are they getting support from human rights organizations? If the candidate is elected, continue holding them accountable. A lot of politicians promise to support gender equality, but once they’re in office, they change course. It’s up to voters to pay attention.

#2. Educate young people (especially boys) on gender equality

There’s been global progress on gender equality, but cultural mindsets, biases, and hatred of women remain persistent issues. Parents are not always aware it’s even happening. Using the internet, misogynist networks and influencers target young boys and radicalize them into hateful beliefs about women and gender. It can happen slowly on gaming websites and message boards. Because of how algorithms work, boys don’t even need to seek out hateful content to be exposed to it. Once anti-feminist messages have been engrained, boys may start harassing women online and in person. Radicalized men can also commit horrific violence. It’s up to adults to recognize the signs of radicalization and combat misogynist influences. Education and open communication about gender and equality are two of the best ways to take action.

#3. Support higher wages

Poverty and gender equality go hand-in-hand. If you want to support gender equality, support higher wages. Consider the United States. At the time of writing, the federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour. While many states have raised their minimum wage, full-time workers still can’t afford rent on a one-bedroom bedroom in 93% of U.S. counties. An Oxfam analysis also found that in 40 states, 50% or more of all women of color earn below a living wage. In nine states, 50% or more of all women make less than $15 an hour. These patterns are reflected on a global scale: more women work low-paying jobs. They also work longer hours for less money. To get closer to gender equality, the lowest wages need to be raised.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.

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