Every once in a while, I stumble upon an exquisite book that
opens a new chapter in my life, transforming it for the better. One such
memorable book is "The Female Hero in American and British
Literature" by Carol Pearson and Katherine Pope. The authors describe how
a woman can embark on a heroic journey of self-discovery, beginning from the
realization that there is more to life than the ascribed roles given to her by
patriarchal society; accepting this "call to adventure" to seek the
life she dreams of creating; facing the road of trials; and, eventually,
arriving at a place where she becomes the master of her inner and outer worlds.
Every day, women accomplish amazing feats in their lives, almost heroic in nature, despite the various challenges they face. This thought left me wondering if we could deliberately design cities to be more feminist — a sort of utopia where women are given all the support they need to lead fulfilling lives. Gender equality matters not only because it is a basic human right, but also because it is a key driver of substantial economic and social gains. Research published by the World Bank Group in 2018 found that, were women to have the same lifetime earnings as men, global wealth would increase by $160 trillion, which is twice the current value of global gross domestic product. Despite this obvious potential, women only account for 38 percent of human capital wealth, leaving them and their children vulnerable to poverty. The relative lack of earnings for women is due to three main factors: Lower employment rates, fewer hours worked, and lower pay.
Therefore, in order to achieve meaningful progress in women’s well-being, policymakers need to design feminist cities that offer all the services a woman needs at the various stages of her life in order to fully support her in realizing her potential. In particular, investment needs to be channeled into early childhood care and education, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, women’s health care services, environments safe from violence, employment quotas, equal pay regulations, political representation, and a robust family policy that makes it possible for women to balance work and family commitments.
Many countries pride themselves on being feminist. The five Nordic countries — Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark — are stellar examples of gender parity, consistently outperforming the world, according to the Global Gender Gap Index. There are many fascinating practices to be gleaned from them. To begin with, investment in early childhood education is high, ensuring that every child is enrolled in preschool, free of charge. This, in turn, improves cognitive, emotional and behavioral skills in children, which will eventually propel them into pursuing tertiary education and participating in the labor market. Consequently, all of the Nordic countries have attained a 99 percent literacy rate for both genders, while labor force participation rates are relatively high and almost equal between women and men.
In terms of closing the gender pay gap, we can look to Iceland for a solution, as it is the most gender-equal country and has achieved 85 percent of its overall gender equality indicators. In 2018, Iceland became the first country in the world to pass legislation that forces employers to prove they are paying women and men equally for the same job; otherwise they face a daily fine and public shame. The government aims to close the gender pay gap by 2022.
Family policies in the Nordic countries enable parents to reconcile their family and work responsibilities, support a more gender-equal sharing of paid and unpaid work, and provide a fantastic care system for the child. Sweden was the first country to offer parental leave for both fathers and mothers. Paid parental leave is a generous 480 days and parents in Sweden also have the legal right to reduce their normal working hours by up to 25 percent until the child turns eight. As a result, the rate of working women is the highest in the EU: 78.3 percent. Sweden has also been ranked the best in the world for work-life balance, according to a recent HSBC survey. Furthermore, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) "How’s Life?" survey found that only 1.1 percent of employees work very long hours — the second-lowest rate among OECD countries. Since January, Sweden has labeled itself as having the world's first "feminist government," further committing to a wide range of interventions that will improve women’s lives.
The UAE government is also committed to the social progress and well-being of women. Its investment in gender equality spans the fields of education, social assistance, housing, socioeconomic empowerment, health care, politics, and safety. In 2018, the government clearly signaled its intention to close the gender gap by launching the "National Strategy for Empowerment of Emirati Women." Some key new initiatives include the increasing of female representation in the Federal National Council to 50 percent and supporting entrepreneurial women. In the field of health care, the government aims to provide specialized pre-natal and post-natal care support services for women and their children, nursing services for elderly women, family counseling, and mental health services spanning across a woman’s life. Also, the Cabinet has approved the drafting of a Federal Law on Combating Domestic Violence.
Feminist cities need to be designed in a way that safeguards a woman’s well-being across her different life stages. Communities that are more gender equal are happier and healthier. They also do well economically. Therefore, we can all agree that gender equality is not only good for women, but its benefits spill over to families, communities and economies.