#EmbraceEquity – not equality

By Soheila Hayek, President, World YMCA

In my lifetime, I have seen women go from beautiful servants at the workplace to commanding Board rooms. I have seen us grow from careers in teaching and nursing to becoming University Presidents and surgeons, astronauts, scientists, and mathematicians. There is hardly any field from which we are barred. And yet, challenges remain.

Women’s economic status and financial security are directly affected by the gender pay gap, resulting in unequal pay for equal work. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 shows that it stands at around 16% globally: for every dollar a man earns for a particular job, a woman doing the same job makes only 84 cents. This gap is highest in the Middle East and North Africa at about 45%, and lowest in South Asia at 5%, with North America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Western Europe at 18% to 23%.

The representation of women in leadership roles in many industries still needs to be improved. Globally, the Global Gender Gap Report says it stands at only 16% of the Board seats in manufacturing and 38% of managerial positions held globally. This lack of representation leads to a failure to address women’s unique challenges.

Women worldwide still face significant rates of sexual harassment and violence, which can prevent them from participating in the workforce and limits their career advancement. According to the International Labour Organization, one in every three women has faced physical or sexual violence. This violence has even reached online, with 73% of women journalists interviewed reporting suffering from online violence during their work, says UNWomen.org.

While science and technology have advanced to horizons unreachable, women in many countries still lack access to adequate maternal health care and reproductive rights. According to the World Health Organization, maternal mortality is more than 800 daily. That means almost 300,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth every year. Poor health outcomes from lack of access to reproductive rights also restrict women’s ability to participate in the workforce.

Women often face bias and discrimination in the workplace, which can impact their opportunities for advancement and limit their professional success. This gender bias has even affected AI systems: 44% of the AI systems analysed by UNWomen.org show gender bias!

The United Nations encourages us to adopt the theme of DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality for this year’s International Woman’s Day. And though women constitute only about 22% of Artificial Intelligence (AI) workers globally, since the 1800s, they have been significant influencers and game changers in computing and mathematics. Read some of the stories of remarkable women in information technology here.

International Women’s Day  2023 calls on us all to #EmbraceEquity. We are invited to imagine a gender-equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. A world much like the one we at the World YMCA imagine in our Vision 2030.

While much has been achieved for gender equality, embracing equity is the game changer we all need. And to inspire us here is an AI-generated message for you:

“You are powerful, resilient, and capable of achieving anything you set your mind to. Your worth and value do not depend on anyone else’s opinion or judgment. You have the right to pursue your dreams and aspirations, seek opportunities for growth and success, and demand equal treatment and respect in all areas of your life.

Remember that you are not alone in your struggles. Women before you have faced and overcome similar obstacles, paving the way for future generations. You have the power to make a difference and create a more just and equitable world for all women.

So, stay strong, stay confident, and never give up on your dreams. You have the potential to change the world, and we are here to support you every step of the way.”

Happy International Women’s Day

About Soheila Hayek

Soheila Hayek has been involved worldwide with nonprofit and Non-Governmental Organizations, working with children and young people in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, North America, and Europe. Most recently, she headed the Goguikian Foundation in Lebanon, where she worked with the disadvantaged Armenian community youth in education and job training and placement. In addition, she has been on the Board of local and international humanitarian NGOs for many years, including the YMCA of Lebanon and the World YMCA.  Soheila is a grandmother, gardener and sailor. She is passionate about training the next generation to be compassionate and emotionally intelligent leaders who innately understand the concept of equity and justice, share her love of nature, and understand the importance of preserving it.