from Women Around the World and Women and Foreign Policy Program

From Aspiration to Action: Achieving Gender Equality in the Economy

January 19, 2017

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

This post is co-authored by Becky Allen, a research associate in the Women and Foreign Policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

This week, world leaders are convening at the 2017 World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in Davos to tackle today’s most pressing economic challenges. Driven by the theme, “responsive and responsible leadership,” leaders are expected to exchange ideas to promote increased global collaboration, economic growth, and inclusive development, amid a rapidly changing geopolitical and technological landscape.

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Women and Economic Growth

Not surprisingly, gender equality – which is linked to reduced poverty and GDP growth – is on the agenda with calls to accelerate the path to parity. But, as the WEF’s new Inclusive Growth and Development Report points out, economic inclusivity “remain[s] primarily as aspiration.” Without a revised economic framework that addresses both macroeconomic policies and structural reforms, women’s participation in the global economy will remain stymied and secular stagnation of the economy will persist.

The WEF report outlines seven pillars which, if implemented, the WEF believes would yield a successful framework for inclusive growth and development. In accordance with the seven pillars, such a framework would focus on increasing access to quality education; providing both physical and technological infrastructure that facilitates mobility and participation in an increasingly digital world; reducing corruption through emphasis on ethics; supporting financial intermediation and investment; empowering entrepreneurs by enabling financial asset ownership; ensuring compensation for wage and non-wage labor; and implementing fair tax codes and social protections for all workers.

The WEF describes this agenda as “both pro-labor and pro-business” – not only does it promote economic and social inclusion, but it also has the ability to revitalize economic growth.

Moving women’s economic advancement from aspiration to action is critical now more than ever. Should economic policy continue as usual, the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) 2017 World Employment and Social Outlook report suggests a dismal future for global markets. According to the report, GDP growth in 2016 was only 3 percent – the lowest growth rate in six years – and the unemployment and vulnerable work rates remained high with experts suggesting that both will rise further in 2017.

World leaders have the opportunity to start reversing the trends documented by the ILO, and to achieve an inclusive and robust global economy. Specifically, governments, multilateral organizations, and the private sector could collaborate to increase investment in safe public transportation to ensure access to schools and offices, develop back-to-work training programs for mothers following maternity leave, establish on-site schools and daycares at offices and markets, increase capital and tailored financial products available to female entrepreneurs, provide tax incentives to women joining the formal economy, and reduce tax burdens on the secondary earner in a family – often the female spouse.

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Women and Economic Growth

While there is certainly no one-size-fits-all approach to developing an inclusive economic framework – particularly as developed and emerging markets face different challenges – all countries can draw on and personalize these solutions. If there is political will, there will certainly be economic gain.

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