Saadia Zahidi: Author of Fifty Million Rising

13 MAY 2019 London
TOPICS: Europe | Women

Saadia Zahidi, author of Fifty Million Rising, discusses the “quiet revolution” of Muslim women entering the workforce, and the cultural and economic shifts it is causing throughout the Muslim world. 

On the ‘quiet revolution’ taking place in the Muslim world: “Since 2006, I’ve been involved in producing the Global Gender Gap report of the [World Economic Forum]. And every year what was surprising is that a lot of the Muslim majority economies were ending up at the bottom of the rankings. And so I wanted to investigate a little bit more about why that was happening, what was behind some of that data. And what that 50 million refers to is basically at the turn of the millennium, there were about 105 million women across the broader Muslim world, so nearly 1.6 billion people, and only about 105 million women who were in the adult workforce. And that increased to 155 million over the last couple of years. And so it’s that additional 50 million, that increase by about 50%. That’s what I was trying to chart because that’s the shift that’s really taken place in the last 10 to 15 years. And, of course, it’s the result of globalization, technology, a number of different factors. And I wanted to get into what that meant in terms of the contextual factors and what that meant inside those specific families and communities and organizations that were at the forefront of this change.”

On which countries are getting it right around the gender pay gap: “I think policymaking has a huge role to play. Now, a lot of the Nordic countries are putting in place really specific policies that I think are helping. One is quotas, but smart quotas, quotas that are designed with a specific timeline in mind. A second aspect is paternity leave. If childcare remains the realm of only women or only mothers, then we're going to continue to have this gap. And so, for example, in Iceland, I believe now it's equal amounts of maternity leave, paternity leave, leave that's reserved just for mothers, leave that’s reserved just for fathers and then a shared amount that is parental leave, that is again encouraged to be taken fairly equally. And then finally, a third aspect is legislation around pay equality. So many countries, in fact, most countries have equality built into their constitutions. But very few actually have specific policies that legislate that companies have to be paying equally and if not, there are specific consequences. So Iceland put in place a law last year that enforces pay equality inside companies. So there's a lot of these sort of innovative, interesting new policies that have been put in place that I think a lot of the rest of the world could be learning from.”

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