Equality for Women = Prosperity for All:
The Disastrous Global Crisis of Gender Inequality
By Augusto López-Claros and Bahiyyih Nakhjavani
New York: St. Martin's Press. 312 p.
Book review by Arthur Dahl
When a distinguished economist, who headed the unit at the World Bank producing the "Women, Business and the Law" reports, gets together with a well-known Bahá'í author of books such as "The Woman Who Read Too Much" to write about gender inequality, the result is bound to be outstanding. Their new book (October 2018) is a remarkable analysis of all the reasons why gender discrimination is bad for society, with an emphasis on its economic costs. They demonstrate convincingly, citing many research findings, that the resulting social and political disparities are behind endemic poverty and violence, individual frustration, social instability and cultural disaffection. The more freedoms are given to women, the greater the resulting prosperity for all.
The first chapter explores the demographic dimension of the gender issue, including the women missing due to son preference, and the fact that we frequently ignore or deny rights to half the world population (the female half). This then leads into a disturbing review of violence against women in all its forms, often hidden or protected by family and labour law.
One of the most significant forms of discrimination against women is in the world of work, starting with beliefs that the place of women is only in the home and raising children. Even when they do go out to work, it is often in the menial and least-paid jobs. Many countries had, and often still have, laws prohibiting women in certain professions. Then there is the "glass ceiling" preventing women from accessing higher levels of responsibility and managerial positions. Even when the laws are changed, practices are slow to follow. The consequences of the exclusion of women from the economy are analysed in some detail, demonstrating how significant is the economic impact.
In analysing the culture question, the book considers the barriers erected by religious interpretations of gender roles and the arguments of cultural exceptionalism that deny the universality of human rights, dissecting the many ways that an unjustified sense of male superiority and the defence of male power hide behind questionable interpretations of scripture and culture, making women who try to improve their lot the victims of cultural crimes.
In its analysis of the legal approaches to gender, the book explores the impact of international conventions and the evolution of civil law, common law and traditional forms of law on women's mobility, and their marital and inheritance rights. The long struggle for female suffrage and the right to vote is only beginning to be reflected in women taking on legislative and political responsibilities. Behind all of this is the role of education, particularly of girls, but also more generally to overcome gender stereotypes in society. There are still movements that see education of girls as such a threat that they resort to kidnapping, rape and murder to prevent it. The authors demonstrate the benefits of providing education to girls, and the costs of denying it, with 500 million women still illiterate today.
Finally, the book adds up the costs of inequality, with systems of governance that license injustice, and identifies the kinds of laws that must be changed to uphold women's rights, guarantee their security, and improve their access to education and employment. One could not ask for better justifications for guaranteeing equality to women in order to achieve prosperity for all.
Last updated 12 February 2019