Jenny Gurung: The best and worst of the decade for women

Thursday, January 9, 2020 - 12:12pm

Toward the end of the year, I got many notifications for opinion pieces reviewing the best movies, books and pop culture moments of the decade. Something I haven’t read enough about is the little progress made in narrowing the gender gap in the past decade. Don’t get me wrong, the gender equality movement has made many great improvements, but that progress has stagnated and leveled off in many aspects. With the 2020 election drawing closer, attention should be drawn to the issues of sexual violence and the gender wage gap to prompt dialogues with policymakers and voters. 

 

The 2010s saw many milestones for women. In the past year Greta Thunberg spoke about climate change, Simone Biles set gymnastics world records and scientist Katie Bouman captured the first-ever image of a black hole. This decade also saw the evolution of mass communication and social media platforms like Twitter, which has arguably become one of the most informative platforms today. This has helped social movements not only gain momentum, but also reshape the dialogue surrounding issues such as sexual and gender-based violence. 

 

The #MeToo movement that gained traction a few years ago brought awareness to the issue of workplace harassment, especially among congressional aides and women in Hollywood, prompting a legislative response by Congress. These responses include the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act and the BE HEARD Act that strengthened protections for victims and held perpetrators liable. 

 

In an open letter to presidential candidates, debate moderators and the media, #MeToo demanded “real solutions” from presidential candidates during the November 2019 Democratic debate, especially since there have been “zero questions about sexual harassment policy out of over 4,000 debate questions in two decades.” #MeTooVoter was introduced as a way for voters to show support for an agenda that centered around accountability policies and reforms. Voters and supporters tweeted about the debate’s all-female moderator panel. The message invited policymakers to work together with debate moderators and media organizations to address the systemic issues that prevent sexual violence accountability from institutions and communities. 

 

Social movements have reshaped the dialogue around issues such as sexual violence, but they fail to bring into attention that this past decade has seen slow improvement in the gender wage gap. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, from 2008 to 2017 “the weekly gender wage gap narrowed by just 2.0 percentage points.” The gender wage gap has persisted due to factors like gender discrimination, workplace harassment and work experience. This is clear in sports, where only 40 percent of women’s college teams and about three percent of men’s college teams are coached by women, and higher administrative leadership roles are male-dominated.

 

However, the current gender wage gap is narrower among young adults than among workers overall. In fact, countries like Britain have recently pledged to increase female leadership in their largest publicly-traded companies to 30 percent. Despite a steady narrowing of the gender gap and the empowerment of young women, there has been too little action taken by policymakers to address this problem in the past decade. Women's issues need to be brought to the attention of policymakers by young voters, especially as our generation joins the workforce.

 

To address gender equality in the coming decade, UN Women has mobilized governments and communities to commit to its Generation Equality campaign. Generation Equality aims to achieve equality for every person — not just women — through small actions that have big impacts. It invites people to read and learn more about different issues with monthly action packs, weekly newsletters, infographics, slogans, GIFs and various toolkits on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. 

 

Using movements and campaigns like #MeTooVoter and #GenerationEquality, we can invite policymakers to have discussions about the gender wage gap, sexual violence and the lack of female leadership. Communities of young voters can utilize social media, the most powerful tool in our toolkits, to learn, inform and spread awareness to start the conversation.

 

Jenny Gurung can be reached at jennygrg@umich.edu.