On upgrading the securities of women globally

Grzegorz Żukowski / Flickr / Creative Commons

Today is International Women’s Day, and now more than ever, we need to clearly see the common and unique challenges that women globally face across a range of securities. While important strides have been made and should be applauded, we need to double down on building a world where women take full and equal access to the full bounty of modern society.

Women face multiple layers of securities challenges, from physical and health to economic and even climate-related. There are unique physical security challenges for women in regions all around the world. Restrictions on movement enforced by laws, societal customs and patriarchal norms can make it nearly impossible for women to build an independent life outside the context of a family or home. Gender-based violence — both in rapidly expanding urban areas as well as in rural villages — are particularly pernicious for women, with studies showing that nearly one in three women globally have suffered sexual or violent crime. Then there’s the extreme risk of human trafficking, a crisis where the vast majority of victims are female.

Those physical security challenges can bleed right over to health security, with women often struggling to acquire the unique health services they need. In the United States, women can find it difficult to access a range of services from obstetrics and gynecology to the comprehensive help needed to fight breast and ovarian cancers. But even outside of these specific health services, women encounter significant barriers to accessing all healthcare services. Outside of wealthy nations, the quality of health care can decline dramatically, with acute declines for women who are often overlooked by public health systems.

Even with physical and health security, women commonly face a brutal competition for jobs and economic security. In many regions of the world, access to basic banking and credit services remains a block on women’s financial independence. Statistics show wide economic disparities and lack of job access for women in nearly all nations, from rich to poor. Equal access to schooling is better in the developed world, but girls in developing nations are often given more limited access to schools and educational resources, curbing their future career prospects.

Finally (although sadly not comprehensively), women face disproportionately large impacts from the on-going climate emergency threatening Earth. Resource scarcity can force women to do more work to provide food and water for their families while restricting the nutrition they receive. Women are often forced by social custom to stay put in the aftermath of climate disasters, endangering their health and particularly maternal health.

The quality of these securities affects all of us, but the lack of any one layer of security is felt more acutely by women. Physical security is a challenge for billions of people, but the deleterious effects of violence fall heavier on women. A lack of health security is a plague that affects billions of people, but women face uniquely daunting barriers to the services they need. Economic precarity applies to all but a small sliver of the richest countries, but that precarity particularly affects women. Even more ominously, these barriers to securities don’t just apply to individual women, but by extension, to their families, communities, societies and even future generations. Every security challenge is more acute and intense for women, and that’s what International Women’s Day and the broader global women’s movement is meant to highlight.

There are positive developments on many of these fronts. Human trafficking has become a potent issue and significant international work has been conducted to stamp it out. The education of girls has improved remarkably over the past decade, and access to maternal care in many developing nations has expanded. All of these improvements should be applauded.

Yet, any disparity — and particularly the yawning disparities we still see across much of the world — remains a crisis that we must mobilize to solve. Those disparities exist between men and women as well as with people of color. This is a generational fight, and one that we need to keep building momentum so that all people around the world can live a fair and equitable life.

What solutions are needed? Better safety, health services, and economic security can improve the lives of anyone, but too often, international benchmarks fail to properly weigh challenges for women as well as other minority groups. As the classic statistical problem of Simpson’s Paradox shows, individual groups can have radically divergent outcomes even as aggregate statistics show improvement. While development institutions like the World Bank have done more to highlight the unique challenges of women the past two decades, many development indicators fail to capture equity in these various securities. Updating our metrics and improving measurement is a great place to improve the visibility of women in international conversations.

With better data comes the need for better governance and services. Greater investment and attention need to be offered on the securities of women, ensuring that the gap between women and men is narrowed and ultimately eliminated. That includes ensuring better representation of women in city councils, national legislatures, executive branches, and in corporate C-suites and board rooms, to ensure that women’s voices are heard in centers of power globally.

Finally, there is the potential for entrepreneurial innovation to ameliorate some — although not all — securities problems. Women’s health security, for instance, is particularly ripe for improvement, and as a firm, Lux Capital has made broad investments across startups like Alife Health, Maven Clinic, Gameto and many others to improve access to health for all women. As my partner Deena Shakir wrote in Forbes late last year, “Transformative innovations in women’s and family health not only advance health equity, but can also improve individual family finances and contribute more broadly to economic productivity.”

With each flip of the calendar, International Women’s Day is a moment to memorialize challenges, recognize large and small victories, and build community to strike forth for a better and more secure world for all women. We’ve done so much, and yet, so much more work is waiting to be done. Even as we continue to talk about securities on “Securities,” we must be alert to the visibility of women in these conversations and ensure that our analysis always encompasses everyone.