115 years of women's progress

Started by the Suffragettes in 1911, International Women’s Day (March 8), is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity worldwide. At MiQ, our mission is to leverage our position to educate and advocate gender equality and greater representation in ad-tech and media.

To celebrate International Women’s Day this year and help raise awareness of gender equality issues, we’ve put together a look at the global gender gap, how it has changed over the last 20 years, and important women’s achievements over the past century.

Women’s Political Empowerment

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Index, women currently account for 28% of parliamentarians and 21% of ministers or heads of state. While the World Economic Forum estimates that only 23% of the political gap has been closed globally, there are still causes for optimism at regional and local levels. One example is the United Kingdom, which improved five places (to 15th) in the study after a record number of female MPs were elected to Parliament. Likewise, the Canadian Parliament currently includes a record number of female members, with 92 of its 338 House of Common members, or 27.2 percent. And while women only hold 19.8% of the seats in the United States Congress, 390 women are currently planning to run for the House of Representatives, the highest number in American history.

Globally, Iceland was rated the clear leader in political empowerment for women, having closed 70 percent of its gender gap, while four other countries have crossed the 50 percent mark: Nicaragua, Rwanda, Norway, and Finland. In January, Iceland passed legislation making it illegal to pay men more than women, an attempt to eradicate the country’s wage gap by 2020.

Gender balance in political participation, decision-making, and access to power is an internationally agreed target of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Women in Business

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Index, economic participation and opportunity is the area where the gender gap is greatest, in part because the spread of disparity in outcomes is much wider globally. Thirteen countries, including six from Sub-Saharan Africa, have closed more than 80% of their gender gaps, though 18 countries have closed less than 50% of their gap. Even in advanced economies, female participation rates are often significantly lower, particularly in Italy, Korea, Turkey, and Japan.

Women’s economic empowerment isn’t just a moral imperative, it’s also an economic one. In a 2017 report on Women in the Economy by Citi’s Global Perspectives & Solutions group, the firm estimated that if countries raised labor force participation and average hours worked to parity for men and women, GDP could increase by 20%, and the GDP generated by women could increase by as much as 50%. Furthermore, they found that many of the policies that have a meaningful effect on gender equality are also conducive to better labor outcomes generally. Increased educational attainment for women accounts for 50 percent of the economic growth in OECD countries over the past 50 years, over half of which is due to girls just having access to higher levels of education.

Put simply, where women work, economies grow.

Women’s Rights and Health

Thirty-four countries have fully closed their gender gaps when it comes to health and survival outcomes according to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Index. Medical and technological improvements over several decades have extended the lives of both men and women, who are expected to live to 82.5 years old and 85.3 years old, respectively.

Despite this, major gaps persist, particularly as they relate to women’s reproductive health and family planning. The World Health Organization estimates that 222 million women still aren’t getting the contraception services they need.

On the upside, strides have been made in women’s healthcare, such as the inclusion of women in clinical trials. Whereas women were formerly excluded from clinical trials in many countries, in part due to safety concerns, women’s health advocates began to lobby for inclusion in clinical trials throughout the 1990s and did so successfully in many countries, such as the United States and Canada. Today there is a growing awareness of the roles that sex and gender play in health outcomes for women and a greater understanding of how different illnesses and medications affect women.

Women in Entertainment

In 2017, women comprised less than 18%  of all directors, writers, producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 highest grossing films domestically. This was only one percentage point higher than the prior year and marked a trend that has remained virtually unchanged since 1998. The genres employing the largest percentages of women relative to men, in those roles, were documentaries (30%), followed by comedies (23%) and dramas (22%).

On the other side of the camera however, there is some cause for celebration. While women comprised only 29% of protagonists in the 100 top-grossing films in 2016, that number represented a 7 point increase from 2015. Females also accounted for 37% of major characters, an increase of 3 points from 2015. Gender stereotypes were still very prominent in those films, as female characters were less likely than males to be seen at work, working, or portrayed as leaders, and they tended to be younger than their male counterparts.

This year’s Academy Awards also offer a positive message for women in entertainment: Greta Gerwig is now the fifth woman ever to be nominated for Best Director (for Lady Bird), breaking an eight-year all male-streak in the category. Rachel Morrison (Mudbound) became the first woman ever to be nominated for Best Cinematography, and for the first time since 2004, four women were nominated for screenwriting honors: Emily V. Gordon (The Big Sick), Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water), Dee Rees (Mudbound), and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird).

While it may be tempting to trivialize the importance of women’s representation and employment in entertainment compared to health issues and political empowerment, media influences  we view the world. Positive portrayals of women help establish and reinforce healthy attitudes.

Women’s Education and Participation in STEM Fields

As of 2017, 27 countries have fully closed the gap in educational attainment as measured by the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Index, with three new countries closing the gap this year. The study found only 18 countries where women still have less than 90% of the education outcomes (achievement of educational goals for learning and development) that men have, an improvement from 22 in 2015.

One area of particular interest is women’s participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. While countries have dramatically closed gender gaps in education on the whole, gender differences within particular fields still persist. While women complete high school at the same rate as men and more women graduate worldwide from university than men, women are still in the minority in STEM fields and make up an estimated 29% of persons employed in R&D worldwide.

Despite this, there are more women in STEM than ever before, and women dominate social science and health fields, particularly anthropology, forensics, pharmacology, zoology, and psychology. In the United States, women also account for more than half of biological and biomedical sciences degrees earned at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Female representation in STEM fields is key to making sure that women have access to equal economic, political, and health outcomes worldwide.





World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index, 2017 http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2017.pdf

UN Women.org, Facts and Figures: Leadership and politcial participation http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures









Hannah Simpson