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Gender Parity for Economic Recovery

This week we are attending The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023 virtually, exploring what leaders around the world believe governments, businesses and societies need to do to accelerate gender equality progress.

At the latest count, The World Economic Forum estimates it will take 151 years to reach gender parity – a number that is going in the wrong direction. And there are 178 countries which restrict the participation of women in society. 

In today’s ‘Gender Parity for Economic Recovery’ panel, facilitated by Shereen Bhan of CNBC-TV18, we heard from Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, Minister of Finance Nigeria, Smriti Irani, Minister of Women & Child Development India, Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director at Oxfam and Ilan Goldfajn, President Inter-American Development Bank.

How can gender parity accelerate economic recovery? Where are the opportunities? 

Leaders know they need to bank on women – it’s the moral thing to do. But women are also good to bank with!

Ahmed explained that in Nigeria, when they provide small loans to small businesses, performance from the loans given to women in terms of recovery is about 99%. From this they believe that taking care of what women need is a very wise economic decision – you can get more mileage from whatever limited resources you have. They have to very consciously consider every naira they spend, and how much return they get from it. They’re repeating this throughout every sector in the economy and are starting to see very promising results. 

In India, Irani talked about the fact that 1.3billion people in the country have a digital identity, and the gender split is 50:50. However, in 2014, data showed that approximately 400 million people were unbanked, of which 220 million (55%) were women. So Prime Minster Narendra Modi instructed banks to reach out to these people and they opened bank accounts for everyone. Credit support without collateral was offered to small businesses run by both men and women, and 70% of the loans were taken out by women. This revealed a huge number of entry level women entrepreneurs who had until that point been hidden within the economy. Loans were then offered to mid-sized businesses, and an even higher percentage of women (80%) took them out. In a country where micro, small and medium-sized businesses account for 80% of industrial enterprises and contribute to over 40% of manufacturing output and exports (World Bank), it highlights latent talent within the workforce, and proves that when you support women it makes fiscal sense and empowers society. 

The vocabulary of gender justice is changing without time for reflection – think about the impact of the language you use

Irani talked about the power of reframing gender equality as a driver of progress. “We need a tectonic shift from this being about the emancipation of women, to the opportunity for wider society of investing in women-led development.” 

The conversation around technology and ensuring that women are included is often focused on consumption – empowering girls and women to understand how to use technology and how much it can be used to solve women’s issues – all of which is extremely important. However, wouldn’t it be more powerful to also focus on women as leaders of enterprise, drivers of technology that will advance economies and society? 

Fixing gender equality requires a holistic approach, which includes men

Bucher summarised how the pandemic has disproportionally impacted women globally. Firstly, more girls were pushed out of education than boys. And moving further up the pipeline, young women lost twice as many jobs as young men. If unresolved, this will affect future contributions from women throughout economies.

What the last few years have also highlighted is the amount of unpaid care work carried out by women. This invisible work is becoming visible. And so it should be – unpaid care work is not measurable by GDP, yet as Bucher explains, it’s “the silent motor behind the economy”. Countries that are investing little money in women are finding that their debt burden is increasing post-pandemic.

The solution Bucher believes is to look at gender inequality as a ‘system problem’, rather than tackle individual parts in silos. One way to achieve this is to change the entire tax approach of a country (or even better, all countries) so that it better invests in women’s health and education and, therefore, overall empowerment. Research released from Oxfam this week finds that the richest 1% of the world has taken nearly twice as much new wealth since 2020 as the rest of the world put together. And this exacerbates gender equality: they cite the example of a study carried out in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, which found that hikes in VAT resulted in an increase in poverty in women-dominated households. They believe that if the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires paid an annual global wealth tax of up to 5%, this could raise $1.7 trillion yearly, which is enough to lift 2 billion people out of poverty. 

Everyone agreed that in 2023, it’s not enough for gender equality to be driven solely by women. The facts are there to prove that gender parity has a positive impact on everyone, including men who will ultimately benefit from a thriving economy and society. And if you’re not a part of the conversation now, you will soon be left behind. 

Share this article with your colleagues and the people around you and encourage a healthy discussion. And for anything else, follow us on social media or get in touch via email but remember when women thrive, men thrive, business thrives.  

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