Today is International Women's Day, and this year's theme is "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality!" The reference to 2030 is about the deadline for the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) which chart out the new roadmap for global development for all countries of the world for the next 15 years.
But what's the big commotion? Many people seem to think that there's no such thing as gender inequality anymore, and that women and girls have reached the same respect, appreciation and acknowledgement as men and boys have as equal members of the societies they live in. Don't we already live in "Planet 50-50"?
The short answer is: No, we don't - and we're not even near yet.
The grim reality is that gender equality has not been fully realized anywhere in the world. Even in the top performing countries, such as the Nordic countries that often are quoted as the most gender equal in the world, inequalities persist that hinder girls' and women's ability to be full rights-bearing members of their societies. For example, in my native country Finland, rates of violence against women continue to be the highest in Europe, with nearly half of women over the age of 15 having experienced some form of sexual pr physical violence. In Iceland, a country with reportedly the smallest gender gap in the world, women continue to face a 20% pay gap compared to men. United States, one of the most powerful and wealthiest nations in the world, is one of only eight countries in the world with a rising maternal mortality rate, and countries like India and China, despite their impressive economic growth, still deal with a plethora of violations of women's rights ranging from incredibly high rates of gender based violence in India to five Chinese feminist being arrested for trying to organize a rally against sexual harassment - on International Women's Day last year. While progress has been achieved, literally everywhere in the world women still have to fight for their right to be treated as full rights bearing human beings.
Sometimes, people will claim that some of these issues aren't about inequality or discrimination. That, for example, challenges related to women's access to health care services aren't about gender equality but about lack of resources. But here's the thing: The allocation of resources is always a value statement. The political decisions made about availability of sexual and reproductive services, family planning or contraceptive access are a reflection of the importance placed on protecting and realizing women's rights, and an indication of what is considered a priority and what isn't. The inability to ensure that all girls and women have equal access to education, training and meaningful employment is not about lack of resources but about lack of political will. The persistently high rates of sexual and physical violence against women in almost every corner of the world aren't an indication of lack of rescues to combat sexual violence, but about power structures, These decisions have long lasting implications on not only women's health and well-being, but their lives and the future of their societies on a much broader level. Without access to education, women can't obtain the skills they need to become independent and economically secure. They can't provide for their families and ensure the wellbeing of their children. Without access to sexual and reproductive health services, women cannot take control over their reproductive decisions, and continue to face unnecessary risks related to pregnancy and childbirth. Women who live under constant threat of violence continue to have their lives and rights hindered and violated by fear and injustice, and even in countries where things like education and healthcare for women are taken care for, women still face numerous obstacles and discrimination based solely on their sex in the job market, in politics and in decision making.
That's why we need a big shift in attitudes, priorities and values to build a "Planet 50-50 by 2030". It will take more than goals and roadmap to reach a day when women and men are truly treated as equals in the world - and before women everywhere in the world can make decisions about their life, their health, their education, their family and their employment based on what they want - not what they are forced into because of gender discrimination. To build a Planet 50-50, we also need to pay more attention to gaps between women themselves. We need to ensure the commitments we make and action we take reach even the most vulnerable, the most marginalized and those women who are the hardest to reach - those who are still too often left behind from development and progress, and whose voices are left out of global debates and discussions about what women need.
Can we have a gender equal planet by 2030? Absolutely. And I think we should aim to get there much faster, because another 15 years of gender inequality should not be considered acceptable. But before we can start truly building that planet, we need to own up to the fact that it is not lack of resources nor know-how that has prevented us from getting there before. It's time to start putting women and girls first - because a Planet 50-50 isn't just in their best interest, but a better world for all of us.