There is a myth that I would like to dispense with right now. Gender equality is not limited to getting women on par with men. Decades of attempting to do just that have really gotten us not very far. And the bad news is that recent statistics say closing the gender gap in employment will take approximately another 170 years!
I recently attended a W-20-related conference at the East-West Center in Hawaii. The W-20 is a part of the G-20 dialogue process that advises Group of 20 nations on women’s economic empowerment. The East-West Center conference put together leading women from various sectors in the Asia-Pacific to identify gender issues of the region and put forth policy recommendations that will feed into the G-20 summit in Argentina next year.
Appropriately titled “Women Fast Forward,” a small but exclusive group of current and former heads of state, corporate executives and gender specialists, including myself, discussed the way toward gender parity, especially in the economic arena.
“With projections that it will still take 170 years to reach economic parity given current conditions, it’s time to hurry history,” said international development economist Amanda Ellis, who spearheaded the dialogue.
The dialogue came up with some interesting recommendations, such as calling for countries to remove discriminatory legislation and level the playing field so that women can fully contribute to sustainable growth and adapt regulations to encourage more female board members on publicly listed companies.
While Korea is behind many of the G-20 countries on some of these measures, I was relieved to see it got recognition for initiating regulations that increase government purchasing from women-owned businesses.
What I took away from this dialogue focused two topics that I normally don’t associate with gender. First was indigenous economics, or better known recently as “indigenomics.”
To put it simply, it’s the assertion that indigenous or native people around the world have the right to own and cultivate land in their native methods, and that this ancient knowledge is superior and more effective in allowing them to coexist and has less impact on the environment that current modern global economic behavior. More generally it is a call for all to value our native roots and our basic cultural values. And not surprisingly, this means valuing and adapting to what Mother Nature has given us, and creating an environment that emphasizes fairness and equality.
The second is using the latest information technology to create a global business environment that is not only more efficient, but more transparent.
This trend is being led by global companies that are adapting open sourcing practices and putting into place sourcing policies that prioritize gender equality and diversity. Beyond sourcing from companies that are owned by women and other minorities, companies are starting to make each step of the sourcing process totally transparent so that opportunities are open and fair for all.
The common conclusion that we reach by including these topics in gender discussions is that the only way to correct injustices for women is to correct injustices for all. To make sure women get equal opportunities in the workplace, we must aim for a corporate structure that offers equal opportunities for everyone. To create a more even and fair society for women, we must create a more even and fair society for everyone.
By Sohn Jie-ae
Sohn Jie-ae is an invited professor of the Graduate School of International Studies at Ewha Womans University. This is the second of two columns. -- Ed.