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Why we have a longer way to go than you think for gender equality

The UN has recognized the intersectionality of the SDG's, and stated none of the other 17 goals can be fully achieved without achieving gender equality.

Why we have a longer way to go than you think for gender equality
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Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash
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Gender equality has been talked about in Europe and the United States since the late 1800s. The Equal Rights Amendment was passed by Congress in 1972, falling short of state ratifications by the original deadline. The CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) was adopted in 1979. The 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and SDG #5 commits governments to take measures to comply by 2030.

The UN has recognized the intersectionality of the SDG's, and stated none of the other 17 goals can be fully achieved without achieving gender equality. Conversely, gender equality also depends on the realization of the other goals, in particular racial and economic equity and reproductive health.


Women entrepreneurship is central to economic equity for women. With economic security, the nutritional, educational, and health status of the entire family improves, in every society. There are differences in the types of businesses men and women engage in, however. Globally, women tend to establish companies in the retail and service sectors more frequently than men. They're also more likely to start businesses with social impact.

In Europe, men make 93% of investments in technology companies. Also, people start companies based on what they know or master – the higher the educational level, the higher the financial returns. In societies where women's educational attainment is lower than men's, their companies will be more likely to be small-scale.

Women investors make up only 26% of investors overall. Investors (and their advisors) are mostly white men, who may find it easier to believe in the endeavors of people who look and think like them. Even women investors do not unequivocally support women entrepreneurs. Most of the investment sector, excluding social impact investors, are set on quick returns, which is much more likely in the tech sector as compared to the service or social impact sector.

I would maintain, though, that small scale is not necessarily a negative, and not all small-scale business needs to scale up. If a woman can attain a comfortable income through her small company (hairdresser, caterer, psychotherapist, web designer – or in my own case, formerly a doctor in private practice), she may prefer not to scale up in order to avoid the risk, hassle, additional responsibilities and time of dealing with employees, perhaps remaining free to pursue other interests or manage more time with her family?

Indeed, our capitalist mindset is programmed to think bigger is always better, but today we still over-consume, and our values need to change - only the social impact sector needs to grow.

A requirement when dealing with investors is the need to produce, preferably, rapid financial returns. This seems to have seeped over into the nonprofit sector as well in the form of 'Impact data". Grantors, especially governmental, now require impact data the same way investors require reports on success in the form of metrics.

As a leader of the Kota Alliance, I see women-focused non-profit organizations bending over backwards to create such metrics in order to be eligible for grants. Yes, we can enumerate the participants in our workshops, classes, or programs. For example, how many women received contraceptive implants? How many graduated from high school or college? How many fewer children they had? How their family income rose?

These are the many statistics we monitor.

We display these numbers in big characters on our webpages. But in truth, how can we ever know the true impact our efforts have had? Some of the outcomes take years, decades, or generations to materialize. History confirms that - and in the meantime there are many other family, community and society-wide changes that happen and influence the outcomes and impact.

If we only look at numbers and expect quick results, the funding may stop after a year or two, and few people will have gained. If we have difficulty producing numeric data, we have taken to telling stories – appealing to your emotions. This can be in person, in writing and increasingly through video and film.

These anecdotes can be compelling, but can easily be manipulated and will not necessarily be representative of true need. The struggling African organization which self-produced a clumsy amateur video on their work on preventing child marriages probably did not get many crowdfunding donations. However, the American one with the slick video did, because they already had better resources.

Naturally, funders need to know their donations are well spent. But the assumption should be any effort to improve gender equality, women's health (including reproductive health), to end child marriage, sex trafficking, and domestic violence, etc. is the right thing to do and needs support.

There is still not enough of this work done in any country in the world. Do we really still need to convince anyone about the value of civil society organizations battling these issues? Small and startup organizations often have an innovative idea and a special heretofore unfilled niche, but the smaller the organization, the less capacity they will have to monitor, evaluate and report.

Funders need to provide extra money for these tasks, as well as instruction and mentoring so organizations can learn how to improve their programs and become more effective. So, whether you are an investor or foundation funder, supporting and investing in women-owned businesses and nonprofits is of utmost importance.

The results will materialize, and benefits will be seen not just for women but for society as a whole. But patience is key.

Dr.Jaana Rehnström is the Founder and President of the Kota Alliance, an organization elevating collaboration across borders for women-centered nonprofits, NGOs, and much more. View her work here.

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