smiling girl

Last week, the United Nations Foundation partnered with the U.S. Embassy in France, Swarovski, and UN Women to commemorate International Women’s Day by convening leading dignitaries, celebrities, and experts to discuss both the challenges and successes on gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

During the event, I moderated a conversation with Jane Hartley, U.S. Ambassador to France and Monaco, Nadja Swarovski, Member of the Executive Board of Swarovski, Kristin Hetle, Director of Strategic Partnerships for UN Women, Loic Corberry, an actor, director, and HeForShe advocate, and Kathy Calvin, President and CEO of the UN Foundation. Here are three important points I heard:

1. No country has achieved gender equality, and the time to demand it is now.

Over 50 years ago, the famous French writer Simone de Beauvoir said, “This has always been a man’s world, and none of the explanations for why this is have seemed adequate.” Today, in 2016, not a single country in the world has achieved gender equality.

Girls and women remain the majority of the worlds unhealthy, uneducated, underpaid, underrepresented, and violated. Today, like 50 years ago, none of the explanations for this seem adequate.  

However, last year was a pivotal year for girls and women that provided renewed momentum and a glimmer of hope that we are making progress on gender equality.

In December, the global community came together in Paris to sign a climate agreement, and earlier in the year we adopted a new set of Sustainable Development Goals that will guide our work over the next 15 years.

We agreed, as a global community of 193 countries, that empowering girls and women is a priority. We agreed that issues like ending child marriage, sexual and reproductive health, stopping violence, economic empowerment, and parity in public life are all central to progress – for all countries.

This is a huge achievement and we must continue to build on this momentum.

2. Every country has barriers to gender equality, and we need to tackle them head on.

There are three broad types of barriers that arise time and again, no matter where women live, that we haven’t tackled effectively: 

  • Time: Girls and women spend more time on unpaid work, from collecting fuel and water to engaging in domestic work to caring for children, siblings, or elders.
  • Decision-making: Girls and women experience across the globe experience more systematic barriers to being able to make their own decisions than men and boys –whether it’s choosing who you will marry or being adequately represented in parliament or the board room.
  • Safety: Every country in the world has unacceptable levels of violence against girls and women. 

We can focus on a few things right now that will help move the needle and lift some of these barriers. First, we need more women in key leadership positions. To do this, we need to change laws and norms. Germany last year passed a law requiring that some of its largest companies give 30% of supervisory positions to women – joining a trend in Europe to legislate a much greater role for women in boardrooms. 

A recent McKinsey study found that if women were fully integrated into the world economy the way men are, we could add $28 trillion to the global economy. This is equivalent to the economies of China & the U.S. combined! 

Also, we need better data on girls and women. We can’t get to where we want to be if we don’t know where we are today. Unfortunately, around the world, we still know very little about issues that disproportionately affect girls and women, like sexual violence, unpaid work, and their sexual and reproductive health. 

3. We need more companies to fully understand and embrace gender equality.

Ensuring companies are aware of the barriers to gender equality is an important first step, but they also need to embody the issue into their core. Swarovski is a good example.

More than 70% of Swarovski’s employees are women and 90% of customers are women. When Nadja Swarovski joined the executive board in 1995, she was the first female member. Since then, she has infused gender equality into the DNA of the company. Last year, during the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN, Swarovski pledged to work with UN Women to help in their effort for gender equality and empowerment. At our event, Swarovski unveiled a new bracelet that benefits UN Women for the Safe Cities Global Initiative. Companies and commitments like this will help break down barriers and ensure progress on gender equality.