Points of Progress: Gender equality goes up worldwide, and more

Why We Wrote This

This is more than feel-good news – it's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.

Places where the world saw progress, for the March 23, 2020 Monitor Weekly.


Legal gender equality is very slowly increasing worldwide. The World Bank’s “Women, Business and the Law 2020” report found that eight countries – up from zero a decade ago – now have completely equal rights for men and women. Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg, and Sweden earned perfect marks, all receiving 100s – the scores being a ratio of women’s rights to men’s. The report analyzed laws and regulations related to going places, starting a job, getting paid, getting married, having children, running a business, managing assets, and getting a pension. The United States scored 91.3, just inside the global top 40. The global average of 75.2 is about 5 points higher than it was a decade ago, but still shows that across the world women have around three-fourths of the rights guaranteed to men. (World Bank)

1. United States

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Lt. Laura West (left) and Officer Danielle Stark, who work for the Chicago Police Department, are part of a growing number of women filling skilled positions nationwide, narrowing the gender wage gap.

As national demand for skilled workers grows, women are making gains in the labor market. Between 1980 and 2018, among those working in occupations that use analytical skills – such as accounting and dentistry – the share of women rose from 27% to 42%. The percentages of women filling positions that require social skills also saw an increase. These gains have helped narrow the gender wage gap from 33 cents to 15 cents on the dollar in the same time frame. Much of that wage growth is a result of the increased employment in highly skilled positions, which on average bring higher salaries and have shrunk the wage gap in those fields to 12 cents. (Pew Research Center)

2. Virginia

Virginia became the 20th U.S. state – and first in the South – to outlaw conversion therapy. Intended to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, the widely discredited practice has been criticized as traumatic and possibly linked to patient suicide. The ban takes effect July 1 and will apply only to minors – giving adults the option to seek treatment if they so choose. “No one should be made to feel wrong for who they are – especially not a child,” said Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, a former pediatric neurologist. (The Washington Post)

3. Colombia

Ten years after Colombia experienced severe flooding, local farmers affected by the downpours are adapting to erratic weather conditions made more likely by climate change. In the country’s northern area of La Mojana, around 6,000 farming and fishing families aided by United Nations funding have introduced “nature-based solutions” to climate risks. These measures focus on improving ecosystems, such as forests and wetlands, rather than larger-scale construction, such as building dams or levees. The grassroots approach, local farmers say, helps combat an increasingly imminent problem while also restoring life to their communities. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

4. Luxembourg

Francois Lenoir/Reuters
Passengers wait as a train arrives at a Luxembourg railway station.

Luxembourg became the world’s first country with a free public transport system. The decision to remove transit fees is largely an attempt to reduce traffic in the tiny European nation’s heavily congested cities, particularly the capital. Most Luxembourgians rely on private cars for transport, with a 2018 survey showing cars were used for 47% of the country’s business travel and 71% of its leisure travel. The change is expected to benefit around 40% of the country’s households and save citizens €100 ($111) a year. (The Guardian)

5. South Korea

After decades of legislative reform, citizen activism, and technological advances, South Korea now recycles 95% of its food waste. The country’s exceptional success in the area is a dramatic reversal from its swelling trash dumps of the 1990s, overflowing after industrialization. Of the 13,000 tons of food waste now produced each day in South Korea, roughly 30% is composted, 60% goes to animal feed, and 10% becomes biofuel. Over the years, the mix of reforms has reduced food waste per capita by about three-fourths of a pound per day and brought the country billions of dollars of economic benefits, according to government estimates. (The New Yorker)

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