“Gender bias is not only morally deficient, but is also economically inefficient,” says Barbados High Commissioner to London Guy Hewitt.
The point was made as he delivered the keynote address on Tuesday to a large audience gathered at Commonwealth Headquarters in London for a panel discussion marking International Women’s Day. The theme of the March 8 event was Sustained Education Of Women And Girls For Their Economic And Political Empowerment.
Participants heard that in the post-Independence period, many developing countries treated education as an essential right and the major enabling factor for development, owing to its contribution to economic growth, social mobility and cohesion.
The presentation underscored the indelible mark made by females in their efforts to conquer the limitations of past eras which “located women in the kitchen, bedroom and informal economy”.
High Commissioner Hewitt noted: “There are powerful examples of women who have achieved much in business, politics, education, arts, sports and other professions.”
The Barbadian envoy emphasized that “notwithstanding these gains, the struggle for gender equality remains”. He challenged those who held to the “old patriarchal zero-sum game” that marginalized women whom he said “make up more than half the global population, and perform two-thirds of the hours worked, but only receive one-tenth of the salary and only own one-hundredth\of the property”.
He also queried whether in the absence of resolving gender inequality “we can hope to combat issues like climate change, poverty, debt, food security, radicalization, and \armed conflict”.
Hewitt spoke from the context of Barbados, which “like many other Caribbean countries consciously battled the ‘unholy trinity’ of race, class and gender bias, and a country where today there is no stigma to female-headed households, where the majority of university graduates are female, and where the majority of home mortgages are held by women”. However, he recognized that “this is not a global norm”.
The high commissioner asserted his conviction that with more women as leaders and decision-makers, “businesses would be more profitable, governments more representative, families stronger, and communities healthier . . . . There would be more peace, stability and sustainability”.
“Empowering females ultimately is about improving outcomes for all,” he told the gathering of high commissioners, diplomats, staff and gender equality advocates.
Hewitt based his premise on the fact that women often experienced life differently, and that experience informed the way they saw problems and thought about solutions. “Studies show that women communicate and lead differently than men. They often listen, encourage dialogue, and build consensus. They are more likely to be collaborative, inclusive and team-oriented.”
Hewitt was joined on the panel by Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Professor Rashida Manjoo and British Shadow Minister of Housing Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP.
In delivering the opening remarks, Sharma noted the achievements made by the Commonwealth to advance gender equality, such as establishment of the new Women’s Forum at the Commonwealth Heads Summit and the selection of Patricia Scotland, the first female Commonwealth secretary general, which he described as “a watershed moment”. Sharma underscored the barriers faced by some women and girls, including violence and discrimination, child marriage, female genital mutilation, inadequate maternal and child health care, and lack of access to education and training.