Gender equality: Empower or have power?

(Image courtesy: Gates Foundation)

In 2015, leaders from 193 countries came together to draft the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They set their sights on bold objectives that we could aim to achieve by 2030. These objectives offered energy, direction and solidarity to a wide range of entrepreneurs, funders and enablers. Every year, the Gates Foundation’s Goalkeeper report collates data from diverse sources and attempts to answer the question: “How is the world doing?” on these SDGs.

I am a big believer in data’s ability to give us an opportunity to see and sense, in turn, giving us the impetus to solve problems better. The Goalkeepers report is a great way for me to dig deeper into where we have reached on the SDGs, what gaps exist and where and what we can do better to bridge them. 

At Societal Platform, I focus on Equity. Here, I want to talk about the data that made me pause and reflect the most: ‘unpaid domestic and care work by sex’. 

SDG Target 5.4 Gender Equality

Recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure, and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.

This chart reveals that globally, women spend 3.2 times more hours than men undertaking domestic and care work. 

This gap is narrower in Nordic countries (with Finland hitting an equality milestone recently), Central Europe, North America and Laos. However, most African and Asian countries are in red. It’s said that at the current pace of change, we will not meet the global gender equality goal until 2108 (at the very least!). 

My immediate thought upon looking at this data was that if women take a greater burden of domestic care work, where is the time for them to learn, to define their own career paths, to earn to their maximum potential? What can we do to make exponential leaps today and get to the finish line faster?  Melinda Gates offers bridging the “power gap” as a way forward.  

Gender equality depends on women having power, not just “empowerment”. Click To Tweet

We can’t just talk about empowering women without making sure they are actually gaining power in their families and communities.
—Melinda French Gates

What does this ‘power gap’ look like? 

When women earn their own money but don’t have the power to spend it; when women gain an education but don’t have the opportunity to voice their opinion; when women take on bigger roles at work but still spend disproportionate time taking care of domestic chores; when more women enrol for higher education, but very few make it to formal labour markets. 

In the last year, I spent time with a lot of entrepreneurs who work with women and hypothesised: “If women earn as much as men, they will be able to gain a voice, reduce their household burden and do better for themselves and their families.” But, now I think that just financial independence may not be enough. We may need to design for women to be empowered as well as for them to have power. Among Societal Thinking Core Values, I see “Restore agency” as the guidepost in enabling us to fill this “power gap”. Agency is the ability of an individual to act independently and to have access to and make choices freely. When this agency is restored, an individual has the ability to think about and act on the choices they see in front of them, in a manner that serves them best. 

If you work with communities, don’t stop at empowering them, think about how you can restore their agency, so that they have the power to see, sense and solve problems on their own. Learn more about the Societal Thinking Core Value of ‘restore agency’ here.

About the Author

Priya Ajmera

Chief Evangelist, Societal Platform