Editorial: Minding the gap

THERE’S a list where the Philippines always ranks among the world’s top 10 and, no, it’s not a corruption index, you pessimist. Last year was no different.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2017, released last November by the World Economic Forum, ranked the Philippines 10th out of 144 countries. This placed us in the same zip code as Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and New Zealand, although perhaps not on the same street.

The report doesn’t measure levels, but gaps. Amount of resources available matters, but so do steps that government and the rest of society have taken to make these resources equally available to men and women. That’s how it was possible for low-income and lower-middle income nations like us, Nicaragua, and Rwanda to land in the top 10. All the other seven in 2017 are high-income nations. We are the only ones from Southeast Asia.

Let this sink in: Since 2006 when the annual report was first issued, the Philippines has placed anywhere from sixth to ninth, often outperforming richer nations in our vicinity like Japan and Singapore. Nations that attained full parity among men and women were given a score of 1. In 2017, the Philippines scored 0.79. This meant that gaps between men and women in terms of access to resources and opportunities in health, education, economy, and politics were narrower than those of other countries.

This calls for a celebration, especially now when it sometimes seems like a dangerous time to be an outspoken woman, and when some of the women who are in power don’t exactly inspire us to be our better selves. We did well in education, having closed the gender gap, which landed us in first place for that criteria along with 26 other nations. We didn’t do badly in political empowerment, where we placed 13th globally. It’s in economic opportunity and participation (25th place) and health and survival (36th place) where we can do better.

“There is a clear values-based case for promoting gender parity,” the report said. “Women are one-half of the world’s population and deserve equal access to health, education, economic participation and earning potential, and political decision-making power.”

But the report offers more than opportunities for girl-power affirmation. It also contains details that provoke questions. Why, for example, are there more out-of-school boys than there are girls? Why do more boys than girls die under the age of five in this country? The grim ratio is 38 boys out of every 100,000, compared with 28 girls. We mind the gender gap not because of the myth that one is innately better, stronger and more deserving than the other. We mind the gap because we desire a community where girls and boys have equal opportunities to become what they want to be.

Some myths feed our imagination. Others limit it. How is it possible that, in 2018, still fewer girls than boys pursue training in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics because of the myth that females are wired to be less adept than males in these areas? In a handful of industries—legal, public administration, and media included—women now hold half or more of all jobs. But we’ve yet to achieve parity in others, including energy (where women hold only 25 percent of jobs), IT services (27 percent), and finance (41 percent), the Global Gender Gap Report states.

For International Women’s Day, which we’ll celebrate this week, remember to thank the women who’ve broken massive barriers and glass ceilings for us; the ones who’ve inspired us to push past our uncertainties and to speak up. Remember, too, the host of women who have fed us, nursed us back to health, and gave us advice that made our challenges more soluble. Think of the girls and boys who may not have our privileges, and figure out ways by which we can help them rise.

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