Women of the world should not have to wait until the year 2156 for true gender equality

Roseann Kelly MBE, CEO of Women in Business

It is 26 years since the eyes of the world fell upon the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where delegates declared action to achieve global gender equality in the aftermath of the Cold War.

Promises were made, policies were drafted and yet, by 2021, the UN road map that soon became known as the ‘most progressive blueprint for women’s rights’ feels distant at best. Can any country really claim that they’ve successfully eliminated gender inequalities? The answer, sadly, is a resounding no. Rhetoric is one thing, action is another.

In fact, findings from the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2021 Global Gender Gap Report indicate that countries such as the United States and parts of Europe have actually regressed in their journey towards true gender parity, which itself is measured against four pillars: economic participation and opportunity, education attainment, health and survival and, finally, political empowerment.

All of which have been impacted substantially by Covid-19. But the really alarming, spit-your-coffee-out statistic from WEF’s report is that it will now take an estimated 135.6 years before the gender gap is closed worldwide. It is absolutely unacceptable that we will have to wait until the year 2156 before women and men are on equal footing when it comes to pay and leadership opportunities – none of us will be around to wait for it!

The top of my head is flat from all the patronising pats on my head and my forehead bruised from banging my head against a brick wall. Being mentioned in strategy documents is just deflating, I will only recognise the genuine possibility of change when I see substantial investment. Which is why my ears cocked to July’s Generation Equality Forum in Paris.

It was not so much a Fifth World Conference on Women as it was a five-year plan to accelerate global gender equality with a $40 billion investment in resourcing for women’s and girls’ rights. A lack of financing has been a crushing obstacle for far too long. Women know that struggle. Many women have felt that struggle.

In Northern Ireland, we are used to struggle so why not show we can rise above it again and be an exemplar to the world. We should be bold and ambitious with all our plans and

strategies. We need to unshackle ourselves from a heavy-handed government system and, from politicians that are of Olympic standard in arguing so that we get real actions.

We should demand investment so that we can build a new economy, one built on inclusive growth. Women must be at all places where decisions are being made not in 135 years, but today. The young women of the year 2156 need us to act now. Patience is no longer a virtue, it is an impediment.