The Beijing Platform for Action, developed at a 1995 United Nations conference, set an agenda for women’s empowerment and identified 12 critical areas of concern. Twenty years after Beijing, ShareAmerica assesses global progress in each critical area. This article focuses on closing the economic gender gap.

Women’s earnings still lag behind men’s

Women make up half the world’s population, but they earn, on average, half of what men do. Much of their labor — raising children, running households and gathering necessities — is unpaid. The Global Gender Gap Report 2014 records global progress in closing that gap: Nicaragua and Rwanda are among the top performers, while the widest gaps remain in the Middle East and Africa.

Women are buyers and sellers at this Tlbilisi, Georgia, market. A small loan helped this spice vendor start her business. (The World Bank/Yuri Mechitov)

In general, women in developed countries are doing well, owning assets, starting small businesses, and even making more purchasing decisions than men. But current U.N. data indicate that women in developing economies often are still excluded from economic and policy decisions.

Government policies that assure women equitable access to credit, capital and property rights advance both female economic parity and economic growth that benefits all citizens.

A designer at the Leather and Shoe Research Institute in Hanoi, Vietnam, refines the product line. (USAID/Richard Nyberg)

Female participation in private enterprise is a crucial economic driver. Economic security for women enhances the health, education and vitality of families. Ensuring women the freedom to buy, to produce and to contribute fully to civic and political transformation benefits all.

Closing the gender gap will take time

There are hopeful signs, but the 2015 Gender Gap Calculator predicts the gap will not close until 2095. Globally, women leaders are working to achieve parity sooner. Suzan Aref heads the Women’s Empowerment Organization (WEO) in Iraqi Kurdistan, where challenges from Daesh and Syria threaten women’s economic progress. Before the current civil conflict, WEO educated women and helped them microfinance small businesses. Today, women are displaced in refugee camps. “We have to provide them with some kind of income-generation projects, because it is difficult to survive like this without any income. Especially to protect women from trafficking and prostitution, we have to empower them economically,” Aref said in a recent interview.

Lubna Olayan runs Olayan Financing in Saudi Arabia and advocates for women in business. (Courtesy of Lubna Olayan)

Lubna Olayan, a Saudi businesswoman who heads Olayan Financing Company, supports grass-roots organizations in the Arab world that empower women. “Education is the single most important driver in improving society, in Saudi Arabia and anywhere in the world,” she says — that, and “ensuring  that [women get] equal opportunity to … participate in the country’s economic development.”

Successful women can help other women get ahead. The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership actively seeks and assists new women entrepreneurs around the world, offering grants and opportunities to learn from professionals. Vital Voices Global Partnership does similar outreach.

Women’s skills are needed to transform and improve economic conditions globally. Through united public and private efforts worldwide, gender economic parity can become a reality.