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Nick Bridge

Special Representative for Climate Change

Part of FCDO Human Rights UK in France

8th March 2013

Closing the Gender Gap

The following is a guest blog by Natalie Rhodes and Fiona Hetherington, Gender contacts within the UK Delegation to the OECD:

Today is International Women’s Day, an annual event launched over a century ago, in 1910, to celebrate the social and economic achievements of women.International-Womens-Day

The situation for women since then has changed profoundly. One of the early and fundamental changes occurred during the First World War, when the proportion of women in total employment rose from 24% to 37%. 1918 also brought female suffrage, and by 1929 we welcomed our first female minister into the UK Cabinet.

Today, women comprise over 50% of the working population, and the number of female graduates has almost doubled in the last 20 years.

It’s clear – we’ve come a long way.

However, there is still work to be done in OECD countries. Many boardrooms are still male-dominated, gender pay gaps still exist, and some people continue to assume that once children come along the mother will be the primary caregiver, while the father is free to continue focussing on his career.

The UK has taken many steps with these issues in mind, including the implementation of new parental leave and flexible working policies that encourage a move towards a more equal system and enable more women to have a choice between staying or leaving the labour market after having children.

We have also seen positive results from the government’s voluntary approach to women on boards, with a reduction in the number of all-male boards in FTSE 100 firms from 21 to 7 in just 2 years.

Continuing to strive for gender equality is seen as the ‘right thing to do’ from a moral perspective, but gender equality is not just a question of ethics. It’s an economic imperative. Economies cannot thrive where half the population remain under-represented. This is a message strongly underlined by the OECD’s work on Closing the Gender Gap, which explores gender equality in education, employment and entrepreneurship, and follows on from the OECD’s Gender Equality report which was published at last year’s ministerial council meeting.

‘Closing The Gender Gap’ argues that  greater gender equality in ‘the 3 E’s’  has a strong positive effect on economic growth and points out that if OECD countries were able to close the gender gap completely by 2030, we would see a total increase in OECD GDP of 12%. Taking the economic argument further, there has also been an interesting debate about whether more women in leadership positions prior to the financial crisis could have led to a different outcome.  

The OECD’s Development Centre has also provided useful evidence and analysis on these issues within the development context. For example, the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) – a composite measure of gender equality that focuses on the root causes of inequalities in developing countries, by exploring traditions which shape gender roles and lead to discrimination.

This includes practices such as bias in favour of male children, property ownership laws, and violence against women. This also links to the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day: “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”.

Violence against women requires urgent attention. Unspeakable crimes are taking place in conflict zones such as in Syria, Libya and South Sudan. As part of the UK’s commitment to eliminate violence against women, the Foreign Secretary launched the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative last May, which has deployed a team of experts overseas to investigate and gather evidence against the perpetrators, and work on the frontline with grassroots organisations and local peace builders.

In November 2012, the Foreign Secretary reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to this initiative, stating that violence against women in conflict zones would be a major theme during our G8 presidency.

The last hundred years have seen unprecedented progress on gender equality. But as demonstrated, there is more work to be done (including in getting our own house in order – less than a  quarter of OECD Member’s Ambassadors are women, and an even smaller percentage of OECD senior management), and the OECD should continue to play a leading role, understanding and measuring the problem, and offering policy options, so women and girls fulfil their potential, and live without fear and discrimination.

Here’s to the next 100 years! Happy International Women’s Day.

About Nick Bridge

The Foreign Secretary appointed Nick Bridge as Special Representative for Climate Change in May 2017. He was previously Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the OECD from 2011 to…

The Foreign Secretary appointed Nick Bridge as Special Representative for Climate Change in May 2017.

He was previously Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the OECD from 2011 to 2016.

Mr Bridge was previously Chief Economist at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and head of Global Economy Department. He has served for over a decade in diplomatic postings to the China, Japan and the United States.

Mr Bridge previously worked in the Treasury, where he co-led a $4 billion facility to immunise half a billion people in the developing world, and was an economist in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Born in 1972 in Yorkshire, Mr Bridge graduated in economics from the University of Nottingham.

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