Global Update on Gender Issues: Signs of Change

Women in different parts of the world have both similar and different experiences. Here are some updates from South Korea, Nigeria, Spain, France, and Saudi Arabia on workplace barriers, the #MeToo movement, and domestic violence.

South Korean Entrepreneurs

Women in South Korea, frustrated by a lack of opportunity in male-dominated corporations, are starting their own businesses at a record pace. Michael Schuman, writing for the New York Times, cites Park Hee-eun, principal at Altos Ventures, as saying, “In education we are equal to men, but after we enter into the traditional companies, they underestimate and undervalue women.” Schuman adds that only 10 percent of managers in South Korean companies are women and, in a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the pay gap between men and women is the widest among countries studied.

Schuman reports that women in South Korea are taking matters into their own hands. A Mastercard report on fifty-seven global economies found that South Korea shows the most progress in advancing women entrepreneurs and that more women than men are engaged in start-ups. Despite slow changes in societal attitudes about gender roles, difficulties in being taken seriously by male bankers, investors, executives, and employees, and constant discrimination and sexual harassment, more than 12 percent of working-age women in South Korea in 2018 were involved in starting or managing new companies. Go, women of South Korea!

Nigeria and the #MeToo Movement

Julie Turkewitz of the New York Times reports that the #MeToo movement came to Nigeria in February 2019, when a young pharmacist in the north took to Twitter to describe a sexual assault by her boyfriend. “Stories of abuse soon flew around the internet, many of them tagged ‘#ArewaMeToo,’” or #MeToo in the north. A few months later, after years of silence, Busola Dakolo came forward to accuse her pastor, a famous and powerful religious leader, of raping her when she was a teenager. Many more women came forward to accuse this same pastor, government officials, other church leaders, and university professors of abusing their power to solicit sex or commit sexual assault.

As in Europe and the United States, the backlash has been strong against the #MeToo women of Nigeria, who receive death threats and threats of criminal charges. Breaking their silence is particularly hard for Nigerian women, who fear shaming their families, scaring off potential husbands, and taking on the region’s most powerful men. These women are courageous, as are all women who speak out about sexual assault.

Spain and France on Domestic Violence

On Monday, November 25, 2019, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which was established twenty years ago by the United Nations, Spain and France moved in opposite directions on protections for women. Violence against women remains a serious problem in both countries:

On November 25, 2019, in France, the prime minister unveiled comprehensive new measures to combat domestic violence. While criticized for underfunding these initiatives, the government at least recognizes the seriousness of the situation. In Spain, however, the secretary general of the recently elected far-right Vox party took the opportunity to reaffirm his party’s intention to repeal a fifteen-year-old law intended to stop violence against women. Instead, the secretary general of Vox gave a speech about men who have been killed by women, as well as women who have suffered “violence from their lesbian partners.” This is a sad state of affairs.

Saudi Arabia and Women’s Rights

Mixed messages are coming from the leaders of Saudi Arabia about whether women actually have more rights. Megan Specia writes that the notoriously repressive country has long enforced an interpretation of Islam that restricts every aspect of life for women. While Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Mohammed bin Salman, took steps in 2017 to lift some restrictions for women, including allowing them to drive, the government also recently released a video that listed feminism, homosexuality, and atheism among ideologies that are considered to be “extremism.” While the video was taken down and declared by bin Salman to be a “mistake,” Saudi Arabia’s top women’s rights activists are still imprisoned, tortured, and subjected to physical and sexual violence. Definitely a mixed message.

We need to stay awake to all the progress and regression taking place globally so we can be ready to support each other.

Anne Litwin, Ph.D. is an Organizational Development and Human Resources Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together.’

Originally published at https://www.annelitwin.com on December 29, 2019.

Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together', OD Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Workshop Trainer

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