For several decades, American women’s success in the job market was quite remarkable. Their increased share of management positions in both the public and private sectors was especially breathtaking and inspiring to women in other countries.
Regrettably, the progress toward full gender equality and participation stopped. The percentage of women in the labor force hit 46 percent in 1994 and has not changed much since. Women’s full-time annual earnings were 76 percent of men’s in 2001, and 77 percent in 2011.
True, there have been some bright spots. Katherine Graham, former chairman of the board of the Washington Post Co, was “the most powerful woman in America,” former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton and US National Security Advisor Susan Rice are shinning examples of US women at the top.
However, these are rare exceptions. Only a small minority of the heads of the largest industrial and commercial corporations and federal government agencies in the US are women.
It is in this context that Clinton has launched a new initiative — No ceilings: The Full Participation Project — to accelerate the progress of women and girls at home and around the world. She is leading a “full and clear-eyed” review of the advances made for the empowerment of women around the world and the obstacles that remain.
No Ceiling has its roots in the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, where 189 countries set an ambitious goal: Women and girls should be able to participate fully in the progress and prosperity of their societies.
Clinton, then-first lady and co-leader of the US delegation, made headlines around the world when she declared that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”
As part of her new project, she has mapped out a 21st century agenda for full female participation and a prioritized list of issues affecting women and girls around the world.
Clinton is not alone in such efforts, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also taken measures to elevate women’s participation. Not only he has appointed more women to senior posts in government agencies, he has also called for corporate Japan to promote more women to executive roles. In concrete terms, he has asked business leaders to set a target of having at least one female executive per company.
Abe claimed that “women are Japan’s most underused resource,” and presented his proposal as part of a broad set of growth-enhancing reforms to stimulate the economy.
Women occupy only 1.6 percent of executive roles at listed Japanese groups, and only 15 percent of companies have any female executives at all. By comparison, women fill 14 percent of companies’ most senior, board-level positions in Europe.
In Taiwan, leaders of women’s groups and government officials often gloat over women’s accomplishments in politics and business. They say that Taiwan’s women rank first in Asia and fourth in the world if measured by the “gender development index” and “gender empowerment measures,” indicators used by the UN Development Programme to compare women’s access to education, and participation in the job market and elections for representative office.
Despite progress, however, Taiwan’s women are a long way from the goal of equal rights and full participation. There is still no “Hillary Clinton” or “Susan Rice” in the nation’s foreign policy or national security institutions, and Taiwan needs to elect more women to political office, including the presidency.