10 things we learnt in 2019

10 things we learnt in 2019

This year’s been turbulent to say the least. But real progress has been made in women’s rights and in the worlds of business and policymaking. Hazel Davis rounds up a range of heartening news and initiatives making a difference for us everywhere.


1. Mattel’s Dream Gap project

Barbie launched its global Dream Gap Project in March this year to provide girls the resources they need to believe in themselves. The title comes from the disparity between young girls’ actual dreams and the dreams they feel are more likely to be achieved.

The Barbie maker partnered with GoFundMe to raise $250,000 to support organisations including She’s The First, helping girls in Peru, Nepal, India, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Ethiopia to dream big; She Should Run, which encourages girls in the US to run for office, and Step Up, which empowers girls from under-resourced communities to fulfil their potential, through after-school programmes, mentorship and college tours.   


2. Germany scraps tampon tax 

Starting on 1 January 2020, a reduced rate for menstrual products will apply in Germany, which, with a 19% rate on menstrual products, has lagged behind India and Kenya, which abolished VAT on the products in 2011. Ingenious campaigners created a Tampon Book filled with 15 tampons to make use of the fact that books were only taxed at seven per cent. In the UK, the Labour government moved sanitary products to a reduced rate of 5% from January 2001, following a campaign and debates in parliament. This is currently the lowest rate possible under the EU's VAT rules.


3. UNESCO’s strategy for gender equality

This year UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) launched a new initiative – Her education, our Future – a strategy for gender equality in and through education. Running from 2019 until 2025, the initiative aims to accelerate education for women and girls. The global campaign’s three pillars are education; better legal, policy and planning frameworks and better-quality learning opportunities. Part of initiative includes Atlas, a monitoring and advocacy tool to help people gain greater awareness of legislation and regulations affecting girls and women worldwide. 


4. More women-led startups in India

India's Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship has launched a scheme to support women-led startups in the country. The Economic Empowerment of Women Entrepreneurs and Start-ups by Women was commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The project is working closely with local partners in selected regions. Still in the pilot phase, the programme is advising on gender issues around entrepreneurial support in Assam, Rajasthan and Telangana.


5. VALUE4HER for women in agribusiness

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), in collaboration with its regional partners in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, launched a programme – VALUE4HER – to help increase incomes and employment for women in agribusinesses in ACP countries. Priorities for the programme include helping women with grant applications, strengthening leadership skills and facilitating network and knowledge-building. 


6. Canada appoints an Ambassador for Women, Peace and Security

In June this year, Canada appointed its first ever Ambassador for Women, Peace and Security, Jacqueline O’Neill, whose job is to provide advice and ‘confidential assessments’ to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. Canada, along with 79 other countries, has a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, mandated by UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000). A former president of Inclusive Security, O’Neill has supported coalitions of women leaders in Colombia, South Sudan, Sudan and Pakistan and campaigned for the inclusion of women in peace negotiations and policymaking.


7. She Can Stem

In the US, a campaign #SheCanStem, launched in 2019, aims to inspire middle-school girls to stay in STEM by showcasing female role models across a variety of STEM fields. The campaign has been using digital channels to appeal to the tween audience. The Ad Council, the company behind the media strategy, has compiled a large library of video interviews with more than 50 female STEM role models from diverse backgrounds. And it's working. Three quarters of all girls who saw the ads said they had participated in at least one STEM activity outside of school during the year, an increase of one in seven on the previous year. 

8. The UK’s companies are shaking up inclusion

We’ve still got a long way to go but in 2019 things brightened a little in terms of gender diversity. Though there are still 44 all-male executive committees across the FTSE 350, this is down from 50 a year earlier. There are now two all-male boards, down from 152 all-male boards in 2011. Elsewhere, companies began adopting better inclusion policies. Diageo became one of only five companies globally to offer 26-weeks paid parental leave for both parents, for all its employees worldwide.


9. Sudan repeals public order law

In November, Sudan repealed its oppressive public order law that controlled how women in the country acted and dressed in public. The law handed the authorities powers to arbitrarily control who women spoke to, what jobs they held and how they dressed, with punishments including stoning, flogging or even execution.  


10.  Royal Bank of Scotland launches scheme for women-owned businesses

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) put its money where its mouth is this year and launched a scheme to increase the number of women-owned businesses in Scotland. The initiative is part of the bank’s ambition to reduce the gender pay gap and will run through the NatWest brand in England and Wales and Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland. In 2019 the Rose Review found that up to £250bn of new value could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as UK men. The report suggested that even if the UK were to achieve the same average share of women entrepreneurs as best-in-class peer countries, it would add £200bn of new value to the UK economy.