The Point Of International Women’s Day

It’s easy to scan the data to hand and convince ourselves of a truth.

Marissa Mayer leads Yahoo! Ginni Rometty is Chairman, President and CEO of IBM. Many of us have women co-workers and line managers. Girls often outperform boys at school. More young women now enter medical schools than men. So women’s emancipation is a non-issue, a twentieth century struggle. Why on earth, we might then ask, does the United Nations persist with International Women’s Day?

It seems a reasonable question. But, adopting Daniel Kahneman’s superb Thinking, Fast and Slow, it’s ‘System 1’ thinking. A plausible and easy explanation that is in fact seriously misleading. For a moment’s reflection reminds us that we have a long way to go.

The focus for IWD 2013 is on stopping violence against women. But of course that’s just one – vital – start point.

In advanced economies, for instance, women still face barriers in the workplace. A McKinsey study concluded that:

“In corporate America, far too many highly skilled women simply don’t progress up the ladder… despite significant correlation between gender diversity in top management and higher rates of return on capital employed.”

It’s another indicator of perhaps our greatest challenge: How to re-invent work to make it fully compatible with family life and women’s unique role as mothers.

In poorer countries, and that’s most of humanity of course, women’s emancipation is a broader issue, and multi-dimensional.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to food noted this week that “sharing power with women is a shortcut to reducing hunger and malnutrition”.

Drawing on extensive research evidence, he called for a renewed focus on education:

“As much as 55% of the reduction in hunger could be put down to improvements in women’s situation in society. Progress in women’s education alone (43%) was almost as important as increased food availability (26%) and health advances (19%) put together.

“If women are allowed to have equal access to education, various pieces of the food security jigsaw will fall into place. Household spending on nutrition will increase, child health outcomes will improve, and social systems will be redesigned – for women, by women – to deliver support with the greatest multiplier effects.”

Think slowly for a moment – spark that lazy System 2 thinking into life – and it’s clear why International Women’s Day matters more than ever. For all of us.

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