Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Picture: LEHTIKUVA VIA REUTERS/VESA MOILANEN
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Picture: LEHTIKUVA VIA REUTERS/VESA MOILANEN

Davos — On Thursday, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin called for governments and companies to do more to ensure women are treated fairly, saying equality will not happen by itself.

Gender parity is a big theme at the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, with a host of reports highlighting continued wealth and opportunity gaps worldwide.

Marin, the world’s youngest prime minister at 34, said it is not “that big a deal” for women to be in power in Finland but she welcomes the debate her election has triggered.

“Hopefully, in the future, it will be the new normal,” Marin told a less-than-full session on gender parity, where most of the audience was women. “We need laws and we need structures that lead the way to gender equality ... it just doesn’t happen by itself.”

About 3,000 members of the political, philanthropic and corporate elite — gathered for four days in the Swiss Alps — have heard how the free market fails women, who do most domestic work and caring, limiting their paid opportunities.

An Oxfam report released as the summit opened found women and girls did three-quarters of unpaid work, putting in 12.4-billion hours a day — worth $10.8-trillion a year.

A WEF report last month said it would take 99.5 years to close the gender gap across politics, economics, health and education, according to current trends. A WEF spokesperson said female participation among the attendees at the summit had risen to 24% this year from 22% last year, with a commitment by the organisation to double it by 2030.

As well as Marin, other headliners ranged from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to 17-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone.

“But equality isn’t something that is only a women’s issue, it is also an issue for men,” said Marin, who was elected last month.

Thando Hopa, the first female model with albinism to appear on Vogue’s front cover, called on business and political leaders to actively give women opportunities. “An absence of representation does not translate into an absence of life, of talent or of value,” said the lawyer as she strode across the stage to a backdrop of colourful images from her modelling career. “Be deliberate about diversity and inclusion.”

Gabriela Ramos, chief of staff at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said progress is slow despite a growing awareness of women’s economic worth.

Ramos said governments should be more proactive in reviewing tax systems and rules to address the gender gap. “There is a very strong role for governments as regulators. We need concrete solutions.”

Thomson Reuters Foundation