2012 is now gone. After so many years on this planet, and so many accomplishments — the wheel, penicillin, iPhones — you'd think that gender inequality would have gone the way of the dodo, right? Well, wrong. In much of the world, in some ways, women are still second-class citizens.
I'm just a social science major whose grasp of economics is shaky at best, but I've thought about this issue a lot.
Here are the top three policies that could make a world of difference for women worldwide.
1) Education: In much of the developing world, girls struggle for the right and opportunity to learn. Strict mandates that girls be educated until age 16 would go a long way toward making a difference. While this would likely face backlash from extremists, as well as families who need their children to work or fetch water, girls must be allowed to learn; not only because of the intrinsic value of knowledge, but because it will grant them valuable skills to enter the workforce. This larger workforce will benefit the developing countries' economies, and will keep girls from being forced into marriages at an early age. If we don't teach girls, it enforces the idea that they're inferior, and it forms a chain reaction of consequences that impact all segments of society.
2) Contraception: This, more than anything, shouldn't only be a first-world issue. Access to contraception (and abortion services, when necessary) is a struggle all over the world. Wider access to contraception would mean fewer deaths of mothers and infants, as well as the ability to control family size. Condoms would reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, extending life expectancy, building the workforce, and making the next generation healthier than before. In areas where rape is widespread, oral or injected contraceptives could be vital in preventing unwanted pregnancy. Combined with sex education, widely available contraceptives go hand-in-hand with the goal of education. Pregnancy isn't inevitable, but it can be a choice, and more education and fewer deaths will empower a growing generation of women everywhere.
3) Legislation: Rwanda's lower legislative house is 56.3% female — the most of any country; the U.S. is 78th out of 189. An increase of female representation in government would be significant in achieving gender parity, as female politicians help advance women's rights. Laws regarding marriage and property would likely become less restrictive with women in office, and women would have more power of regulation over their own bodies. A quota system, similar to affirmative action, which requires a certain number of nominees or elected officials to be women, may be the only way to achieve gender parity in some countries. Seeing female politicians would also inspire younger generations of girls to be involved in the public sphere and to continue their education.