Out of 1,000 people, 504 are men (50.4 percent) and 496 are women (49.6 percent). We’re talking about half the world’s population. Vulnerable and disadvantaged women, and those who experience discrimination and inequality of any kind, need to be empowered if we are to achieve full inclusivity and the United Nations’ goals of sustainable development.
From its inception, the U.N. has protected the rights of women. Among the purposes of the U.N. Charter is the mandate “To achieve international co-operation … in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”
Within one year of its existence, the Economic and Social Council established its Commission on the Status of Women dedicated to gender equality and the advancement of women. The General Assembly declared 1975 as the International Women’s Year, and, in 1979, adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Since 1975 to date, there have been four World Conferences on Women, advancing and broadening the agenda and acknowledging women’s rights as human rights. Gender issues were integrated into the Millennium Development Goals agenda for 2015. The post-15 Sustainable Development Goals also integrate women’s issues explicitly (Goal 5) and as a crosscutting theme.
But despite countless efforts and numerous instruments in place, we still have these devastating facts with us:
- One woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth every 90 seconds.
- Non-communicable diseases (cancers, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, diabetes) represent the biggest threat to women’s health worldwide.
- One-third of the countries in developing regions have not yet achieved gender parity in primary education.
- In sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, and Western Asia, girls still face barriers to entering both primary and secondary school.
- One in three women experience physical or sexual violence in their lives.
- More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to female genital mutilation.
Looking at this major global topic from the point of view of the human brain might provide some useful insight on ways to address it.
Even though male and female brains show subtle structural, biochemical, and functional differences — such as, for example, involving their relative sizes, or the thickness of white matter (some parts being thicker within male brains while others in female brains) — it is unknown how these relate to differences in behavior. If anything, they seem more compatible than competing, with women tending to be more compassionate and men tending to be more systemic when it comes to behavioral patterns, for instance.
We also know that the brain structure and function change in response to experience, so these differences between the brains of men and women — rather than being hardwired or innate — could also be due to differences due to social context and upbringing.
What does seem to be hardwired, regardless of our gender, is the brain’s capacity for empathy. It appears as though, rather than perceiving these structural differences, our brains ultimately perceive one another simply as human beings.
It should therefore seem normal for the brain to see beyond gender differences and work together for our broadly shared goals, such as development, productivity, and peace. Recent scientific studies are proving that this is not a trait of some exceptional individuals but rather a natural tendency of every human brain.