Why Don't Women Have More Power?

Question: What the biggest surprise in global gender gaps?

Saadia Zahidi:  Well here’s one really important fact.  When we look at gaps, what we’re finding is that in the world as a whole, at least out of the 134 countries that we’re looking at, 96% of health gaps have been closed.  Ninety-three percent of education gaps have been closed.  And then only about 59% of economic participation gap and only 18% of the political empowerment gap.  So what we find is that, generally speaking as a global average, women are starting to be as healthy and almost as educated as men.  And yet they are not being channeled into the economy and not able to participate in decision-making.  So that’s a immense loss in the global economy.  That’s certainly one, you know, very striking fact that comes out of the report. 

The second though is more good news.  And that is, you know, we are making progress.  So when we look at the last five years of data that we’ve been collecting, what we find is, out of the 114 countries that we’ve covered for the last five years, 86% have actually made progress.  So 86% of these countries are moving forward.  And out of those, some of them are moving forward very, very fast.  They’ve made gains of 10 or 20 percentage points in terms of closing their gender gaps.  And perhaps even more encouragingly, it’s not just the countries at the top that are making progress.  So it’s not just Iceland and Norway and Finland that are moving ahead, it is also countries at the very bottom. 

So for example, Saudi Arabia is one of the worst ranking countries on this index, and yet it’s also one of those that growing the fastest, that’s moving forward the fastest because of a huge investment in terms of women’s education.  The United Arab Emirates, another country that has made over the last couple of decades a big investment in terms of women’s education and is now moving forward because they’ve made a very conscious effort to remove the barriers for women’s entry into the workforce and then women’s entry into the political system.

Question: Why is Iceland ranked 1st in the 2010 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap?
Saadia Zahidi:  So, it’s not, by any means just Iceland.  So Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, these are all countries that for the last 100 years or so, as a part of their development and growth, have made social inclusion goals a very important part of that development.  So that has resulted in these countries having now not just very high levels of health and education for women, but very high levels of economic participation.  And a lot of that is due to conscious policies that make it possible for women and men—not just women—to be able to combine their family life with their working life.  And what they’ve ended up with is this virtuous cycle where you have not just high levels of participation, but also actually higher fertility rates than most of the other western European countries. 

So that is certainly one angle.  The other piece is the political empowerment piece.  And quite a number of the Scandinavian countries have put quotas and targets in place several decades ago in fact, and have now reached a stage where they no longer need that stipulation, where they no longer even need that quota because you do have women in very senior positions in government.

Question: Why is the U.S. ranked 19th?

Saadia Zahidi:  The United States has actually made quite a lot of progress over the last five years.  And so finally broke into the top 20 in our 2010 report.  And it’s a country that obviously has very high levels of health and education for women, at least according to the measures that we're looking at.  In fact, women are now as we know coming out of university education in greater numbers than men are.  The problem is that that talent is not being tapped into at the right levels. 

So yes, women and men are entering the workforce in similar numbers are women and men’s wages are certainly very similar at that very entry level, and yet when you go through the ranks of most companies you’re starting to lose out in the middle management, you’re starting to lose out at senior management, and by the time you get to, for example, CEO level, there are very, very few women that are left there. 

It’s a waste of the investment that companies have made in having those women for five or 10 years in their systems and then simply losing out on that talent because they’re unable to find a mechanism to allow them to combine work and family.

Recorded on October 13, 2010
Interviewed by John Cookson

Generally speaking, women are starting to be as healthy and almost as educated as men around the world. And yet they are not being channeled into the economy and not able to participate in decision-making.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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