Talking Point: Why gender equality matters

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In support of International Women's Day Devika Jina from Youth Career Initiative talks to us about making the business case for gender equality

Sunday was the 104th International Women’s Day. It was first held in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, when more than one million women and men attended events campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, and be trained, to hold public office and end gender discrimination. In 2015, the scale of the event has grown as it maintains its relevance, with over 1000 events scheduled to take place.

So why do so many of us choose to observe International Women’s Day? In many ways, women are closer to achieving equality with their male colleagues, friends and relatives. Yet, we see and hear on an almost daily basis how women and girls are limited in their opportunities simply by virtue of their gender. The statistics below from UN Women, Facts and Figures: Ending Violence against Women, are some of the most striking:

  • 35% of all women around the world will experience physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives
  • Over 700 million women alive today were married as children. Of these, 1 in 3 were married before they turned 15

Focus on Ethiopia
In October last year, sixteen year old Hanna Lalango was abducted and raped by several men in her hometown, the country’s capital, Addis Ababa. Hers was not the only such case. In the same month, fifteen year old Tejnesh Leweg’neh was abducted by three men, one of whom attempted to coerce her into marriage. She refused, and the next day was pushed off a cliff by her assailants. This, and other such cases in the same month sparked an uproar from male and female activists throughout the country. The campaign that arose from Hanna’s death on 11th November 2014 is international in scope, with a Twitter campaign (follow @JusticeForHanna), and coverage by The Guardian, Vice News, Al Jazeera and others.

In Ethiopia 70% of the female population face physical and or sexual violence at the hands of a partner, and a lack of concern from authorities and society at large is cited as one root cause of the problem. Figures from other countries are starkly different, with the rate in Japan standing at 15%, and the global average currently 30%. According to research by the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 39% of women who experience sexual violence will never talk to anyone about it. Some 53% feared repercussions and threats from their partners if they were to report their crimes, while another 37% deemed sexual violence ‘not serious’ or ‘normal’.

Women in the workplace
Creating secure education, training and employment opportunities for women and girls, with equal pay and progression routes, is a key area where business can have an impact on gender equality.

BITC’s Opportunity Now 28-40 survey found that in the UK for every £1 a man earns, a woman earns just 81p, but unleashing the full potential of women in the workplace could be worth £23bn to the Exchequer.

In a 2013 report, Equality in Tourism found that only 15.8% of board members in the tourism industry are women, despite them forming the majority of the sector’s global workforce at 55.5%. Over a quarter of companies interviewed did not have a single female board member.

Why is this the case? BITC’s Diversity team discerned a number of barriers to women’s career progression:

  • Women have to balance work and family life: 82% of women recognise this as a barrier, compared to 54% of men.
  • A lack of senior or visibly successful female role models: 52% of women state this as a barrier, while only 26% of men agree.
  • Stereotyping and preconceptions of women’s roles and abilities: while 49% of women recognise this as a hindrance to their career progression, only 14% of men agree.

Yet, in the same Equality in Tourism report, we read that 79% of respondents agreed that ‘the presence of female workers greatly improves the quality of their overall workforce’ while 85% affirmed that women ‘greatly improve the talent pool’ from which they recruit internationally.  The business case for gender equality is clear.

By engaging young people in work and providing them with opportunities for economic independence, Youth Career Initiative helps to facilitate gender equality in the developing world including Jordan, Ethiopia and India. Throughout YCI’s history, scores of female participants have successfully completed the programme, secured employment and feel they have the ambition and foresight to build a career in their chosen sector.

For more information see www.youthcareerinitiative.org. For more information about how hotels engage in diversity and gender equality issues see our Workplace theme.

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