This International Women’s Day let’s #pressforprogress on closing the gender gap in economic, educational, health and political opportunities for women, particularly those in developing countries where women and girls face extraordinary barriers to achieving gender parity.
Last year, the World Economic Forum reported that the gender gap across health, education, politics and the workplace widened for the first time since 2006. On average, the 144 countries included in the report closed 96 per cent of the gap in health outcomes between women and men and more than 95 per cent of the gap in educational attainment, but a substantial gap remained for economic participation and political empowerment. The gap in these four factors is particularly large for South Asia, where the World Economic Forum estimates it will take another 62 years to close it.
Why press for progress on gender parity?
There are values-based and economic arguments for achieving gender parity. The values-based argument is that we have a moral and ethical imperative to ensure that women, who comprise half of the world’s population, have the same access to opportunities as the other half. The economic argument is equally strong—gender parity makes economic sense. It fuels economic growth and contributes to the competitiveness and future-proofing of economies.
If we know that achieving gender parity contributes to economic growth, why aren’t we there yet, particularly in developing countries, where economic growth is one of the factors that has contributed to a halving of extreme poverty in the last 20 years?
The statistics speak for themselves. Women in developing countries:
- are much less likely (26 per cent less) to be employed than men, and for those who do find work, 75 per cent of it is in the informal economy, leaving women unprotected in cases of theft, sexual harassment and discrimination
- do two to five times more unpaid work than men (food preparation, childcare, retrieving water, caring for sick relatives), which limits the time available in their day to spend on income-generating activities
- living on less than $2 per day are 28 per cent less likely to have a formal bank account than men with the same income level 
One of the reasons for the lack of gender parity in developing countries like those in South Asia is that women confront a myriad of complex legal, social, cultural and economic inequalities that exclude them from fully and equally participating in their communities and economies. Each of these inequalities on its own impedes women’s attempts to lift themselves out of poverty, but they interact with one another, resulting in a multiplier effect that greatly increases the enormity of the challenges they face.
How can we press for progress?
For the last 45 years,Opportunity International has expanded access to credit and economic opportunities for some of the most marginalised women living in developing countries, empowering them to build sustainable livelihoods and lift themselves, their children and communities out of poverty.
We’ve crystallised our efforts in a Women and Girl’s strategy, which addresses the systemic gender-based barriers that prevent women and girls from making the journey out of poverty. The strategy focuses on giving women and girls access to educational and economic opportunities throughout their lives, including access to credit, savings and insurance. It also includes tailored programs to help them access their basic needs, such as quality education, clean water, food and healthcare, and to strengthen their voice through greater participation and influence in decision-making in their households and local communities.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s commit to closing the gender gap for women in both developed and developing economies. Let’s give women and girls a chance to reach their potential by gaining the knowledge, skills and confidence to journey to freedom on the pathway out of poverty.
This International Women's Day help us #pressforprogress on closing the gender gap in education for women in developing countries by clicking here.
 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2017: http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2017/
 World Economic Forum 2017
 United Nations, 2016. “Leave No One Behind: A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment.” http://www.womenseconomicempowerment.org/assets/reports/UNWomen%20Full%20Report.pdf
 United Nations, 2016
 United Nations, 2016.
 FAO, 2011. “Women in Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap for Development”
 United Nations, 2016
 United Nations, 2016