Liberia: Closing the Gender Gap in our Lifetime is Not Impossible

....But we need to create the momentum

By Amini Kajunju, Chief Operating Officer of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development

The World Economic Forum recently published its Global Gender Gap Report for 2022. The report examines the current state of gender parity across the globe through a four-pronged lens: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. 

The key findings of the report lead to a sobering conclusion: The global gender gap has only been closed by 68.1%, meaning that if the current rate of progress is maintained, it will take 132 years to reach full parity. This is a worrying prospect indeed. 132 years is almost twice as long as it took mankind to progress from the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight to the first person successfully landing on the surface of the moon. This is more than a lifetime—more than anyone can wait for equality to be fulfilled.

The report also points to another worrying trend. Gender parity in the workforce has been slowly declining for over a decade, and the trend has worsened in the last couple of years. Although more women around the world have been moving into paid work and, increasingly, leadership positions, the report’s results show that there are still significant obstacles to attaining full parity. Long-standing structural barriers, geopolitical conflict, climate change, and the cost-of-living crisis make the gender gap harder to close.

I still remember all those hardworking women in my family and community who inspired me as a child and instilled in me lifelong values. As in generations before them, their aspirations were often stifled by inequities and injustices. Waiting another century and more to close the gender gap will perpetuate this trend for generations!

In a world still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and grappling with the repercussions of the ongoing war in Ukraine, the risk of a global recession is growing and the cost-of-living crisis deepening. There is, therefore, little reason to hope that the progress toward gender parity will accelerate in the near future unless urgent action is taken. This does not bode well for the prospects of women and girls worldwide who, more often than not, are disproportionately affected in times of crisis.

There are, however, encouraging signs, not least for our continent, Africa. Rwanda and Namibia have closed at least 81% and 80% of their gender gap, respectively. The sub-Saharan region has bridged 67.9% of its gender gap and currently ranks ahead of the Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia.

This is the region’s highest gender gap score in 16 years. Sub-Saharan Africa also recorded the third-highest regional score among the eight world regions on the sub-index of Health and Survival; it has also shown substantive improvement from last year in the level of parity in Political Empowerment. At the global level, women’s leadership in politics is steadily on the rise. The global average share of women in ministerial positions nearly doubled between 2006 and 2022—reaching 16.1%— while the average share of women in parliament rose from 14.9% to 22.9%.

The current progress seen in sub-Saharan Africa carries with it the momentum of long years of struggle for parity that African women leaders, active in various fields, have undertaken. These women have redefined what’s possible for women to achieve. Despite facing discrimination, adversity, and bias, they have progressed into decision-making positions and have been critical problem-solvers—steering the continent toward a better future for all. 

The Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development (EJS Center), was founded by, and carries the name of one such leading African woman, and has been working on amplifying women’s leadership power across the continent. Through its flagship program—the Amujae Initiative—the EJS Center has fostered a community of distinguished African women leaders who share the same commitment and outlook: to strive for success and excellence and reach for the highest levels of leadership.

These women are role models and living proof that barriers can be broken down and obstacles eliminated in pursuing equality and better representation in every sphere of life.

Amujae Leaders are women leaders who are not only on an upward trajectory in their leadership careers but are also inspiring the next generation of leaders and bringing others with them in their journey. They are shaking up the status quo that confines women and girls to limited societal roles. They are active in governments, international organizations, local authorities, financial institutions, and more. They are making strides in various public and private spheres, from healthcare, education, and economic development to climate action, finance, and technology. 

Women like these are why we are seeing progress in closing the gender gap in sub-Saharan Africa, as shown in this year’s World Economic Forum report. One key to increasing this momentum is to open up the pathways toward more representation in policy and decision-making positions.

Women in positions of power in public governance, women sitting at the decision-making table, can create transformative change whereby policies are formed and decisions are made through a gender lens—with equity front and center. And when these policies and decisions go through this process, they are guaranteed to meet the aspirations of a broader spectrum of the population.

It is crucial that we keep track of the progress of women’s representation in public leadership in Africa, as this is conducive to a better understanding of the state of play and of the current obstacles, therefore providing a greater ability to challenge the status quo. This is an effort that the EJS Center has undertaken by launching its Data Hub for Women’s Leadership in Public Governance—an innovative and unique tool that presents critical, reliable data on women in leadership positions in Africa.

The Global Gender Gap report and the EJS Center Data Hub are excellent tools for identifying the gender gaps that still exist in every sphere of life—and that are being exacerbated by current crises. They bring to light a clear map of the progress and setbacks in public governance, the labor market—including pathways such as education—economic empowerment, and healthcare. They are, therefore, guideposts in our endeavor to fill these gaps by placing the right woman in the right place at the right time.

Closing the gender parity gap in Africa, and indeed the world, cannot be achieved overnight. Obstacles are still overwhelming, and the wind of change is not blowing strongly enough. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on seeing it achieved in our lifetime. By identifying gaps, investing in leadership opportunities, and creating a pipeline of inspiring and aspiring women leaders, we can start seeing inequality recede. We can start seeing how parity can help societies and communities spread their wings…and the stars become a reachable destiny!

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this commentary are solely of the author and do not necessarily represent that of the Daily Observer newspaper.