Maria Casa

How Women’s Participation Advances Economic Interests

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Rachel Vogelstein, the Douglas Dillon senior fellow and director of the Women and Foreign Policy program at CFR, discusses how women’s participation advances economic interests.

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Rachel B. Vogelstein

Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow and Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations


Maria Casa

Director for National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

CASA: Good afternoon from New York. And welcome to the CFR Academic Conference Call Series. I am Maria Casa, director for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Thank you all for joining us today. This call is on the record and audio file and transcript will be available on the website within the next few days if you would like to share it with your colleagues or classmates.


We are delighted to have Rachel Vogelstein with us today in a discussion on “How Women’s Participation Advances Economic Interests.” Ms. Vogelstein is CFR’s Douglas Dillon senior fellow and director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program in Washington, D.C. She is also a visiting fellow with the Center for Global Legal Challenges at Yale Law School. At CFR, Ms. Vogelstein’s research focuses on the relationship between women’s advancement and prosperity, stability, and security. She is the author of the 2017 CFR discussion paper, Building Inclusive Economies: How Women’s Economic Advancement Promotes Sustainable Growth. From 2015 to 2016, Ms. Vogelstein served as a senior advisor on women’s issues for the Hillary for America campaign, developing domestic and global policy, and leading a coalition of over 200 women leaders and organizations.


Previously, Ms. Vogelstein was director of policy and senior advisor in the Office of Global Women’s Issues at the State Department and served as the director of Women and Girls Program at the Clinton Foundation. Ms. Vogelstein is an attorney by training, with expertise on gender equality, and formerly served as senior council at the National Women’s Law Center, where she specialized in women’s health and reproductive rights. She has lectured widely on the rights of women and girls, including at the U.S. Congressional Women’s Caucus, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Foreign Service Institute, World Bank, Brookings Institution, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Harvard Law School, and Yale University. She writes for the CFR blog, Women Around the World.


Welcome, Rachel. Thank you for being with us today.


VOGELSTEIN: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.


CASA: It would be great if you could start by giving us some context for this discussion on why advancing women’s participation in the global economy promotes growth, with perhaps a few examples of what this heightened participation could look like.


VOGELSTEIN: Great. Delighted to do that. And I will start with the following proposition, which is that advancing women’s participation in the economy is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. And before I get into why, let me just take a minute to answer the question of where are we? Where are women and girls with respect to economic participation in 2018?


The data show that women and girls have made comparatively less progress in the area of economic participation than they have in, for example, the areas of education and health. So if we look at women’s health, we see that the rate of maternal mortality, which previous stood at half a million women every year about two decades ago, essentially has been cut over the 20-year period, really from the 1994 World Conference on Women in Beijing hosted by the U.N. until the present. That’s remarkable progress in a relatively short period of time. Women and girls have also made considerable gains in the area of education. So, again, in just that 20-year time period we’ve seen a significant gender gap in primary schooling virtually close on a global level. And that means an entire generation of girls all around the world now have a chance to go to school, that their mothers and grandmothers did not.


The progress that we’ve seen in women’s health and in education for women and girls was really spurred in part due to commitments on both of those issues in the Millennium Development Goals, that focused in particular on targets in those areas. But over that two-decade period, we’ve seen comparatively less progress with respect to women’s economic participation. So two decades after the 1995 Beijing conference, the highest echelons of the economic sphere remain largely male. And despite the gains that we’ve seen in girls’ education, women’s labor force participation has stagnated over the past three decades—actually dropping from 57 percent to 55 percent globally, despite the really strong evidence we have that women’s economic participation benefits entire families, communities, and, importantly, economies. In this same time period, the gap between men and women’s labor force participation has remained virtually unchanged. And of course, a gender wage gap persists in every country in the world for which we have recorded data, including, as we know, right here in the United States.


So why does this matter? The case that I’ve made in the research that we’ve done here at the Council on Foreign Relations is a case that we’ve seen mirrored in the private sector and by leading multilateral economic institutions, which is that women’s economic participation matters not because it’s a matter of fairness, but a strategic imperative. There are a few reasons for that. Today leading international financial institutions have concluded that when women participate in the economy poverty goes down and GDP goes up. And I’ll just give a few examples of analyses that we’ve seen in recent years. Economists at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, estimate that closing the gap in women’s labor force participation across OECD countries would lead to gains of 12 percent by 2030, including an astounding 20 percent in Japan and Korea, and 22 percent in Italy.


Another example comes from the World Economic Forum, which is not exactly considered a bastion of feminist theory. The World Economic Forum now puts out an annual gender gap report which measures the gap between men and women in a given country in terms of economic and political participation, access to education, and a few other factors. And the analysis shows that countries in which the gender gap is closest to being closed are those that are more economic prosperous and secure. And we’ve seen these same results mirrored in analyses from the private sector.


So just a few years ago, McKinsey released a study assessing the global gains of gender equality in the workforce at $28 trillion globally. Or, to put that another way, at about 26 percent of annual global gross domestic product, if we only close the gap between men and women by 2025. So think about that. At a time when the international community has struggled to recover from an economic downturn, and is starting to do that, but an economic downturn that roiled markets and has sown unrest around the world, we have literally been leaving trillions of dollars of economic potential on the table.


There’s also some really compelling research that supports the notion that women’s economic participation matters not only at the macro level, but also at the micro level. There are studies that suggest that women are more likely to use resources to benefit their families and communities for things like health care, and education, and sanitation. And that has a discernable multiplier effect. So to ignore the barriers to women’s economic participation is to forfeit these critical economic developments. So the relationship between gender equality and economic prosperity is clear, and it’s dropped.


So why is it that we still see far too little progress in this area for women? Well, there’s really three sets of barriers that I would highlight for you. The first, legal barriers. The World Bank produces a comprehensive report on women, business, and the law, that finds that 100 economies around the world limit occupations or sectors in which women can be employed. These limits can include anything from restrictions on the hours that women are permitted to work to the types of jobs that they are permitted to hold. These restrictions exist around the globe.


And certainly there are a number in the Middle East and North Africa, in sub-Saharan Africa. But there are also legal impediments in Europe. In Russia, for example—or, excuse me—in France, for example, women are forbidden from working in professions that would require them to carry loads greater than 25 kilograms, which is a limitation that is on the books. In Russia, another example, there are 456 kinds of jobs that women cannot hold. So we see these legal limitations on women’s ability to participate in the economy. And that can range from property and inheritance rate restrictions, lack of access to financial services, the inability to sign a contract, open a bank account, or even insufficient protection from discrimination on the job which is an issue, as we know, has dominated headlines not only in the United States, but around the world. So legal barriers are really significant to women’s economic participation.


There are also structural barriers to women’s economic participation. Inequalities in access to education at the secondary level persist. And that’s particularly true in the developing world. Women’s concentration in low-wage work and in the informal economy—again, a structural barrier that limits women’s ability to participate fully in the economy. And there’s a gender gap in unpaid work—unpaid labor, whether that’s care for children and elders or care for the home. And that inhibits economic productivity for women and their families, and ultimately their nation.


And then finally, there are cultural barriers to women’s economic participation. There, I would point to deeply entrenched cultural attitudes that limit women’s lifelong employment opportunities, and thereby undermine economic growth. And these cultural barriers manifest differently and in different parts of the world, but they are a constant. So, for example, the practice of child marriage, which affects one in three girls under the age of 18 and one in nine under the age of 15, stunts educational achievement and often curtails the ability of girls who become women to participate economically. We also see cultural barriers to developed economies as well. And the conversation that we are having about the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions as well as mistreatment of women in the workplace I think is testament to the notion that these cultural barriers exist in every part of the world in which women are part of the labor force.


So the case that I’ve made, together with my colleagues at CFR, is that the United States government, really as a matter of its foreign policy interest in promoting prosperity around the world, ought to be doing more to advance women’s economic participation. There has been interest in the last year and a half in the issue of women’s entrepreneurship, in a fund launched by the U.S. government, together with the World Bank, to advance women’s entrepreneurship, particularly in the developing world. But there’s much more that the U.S. can and should be doing to promote women’s economic participation around the world. And I’ll just give a few examples before we open to our discussion.


First, the U.S. government ought to promote legal and policy forums to advance women’s economic participation through its bilateral and multilateral relationships. The playing field for women in the economy is not level. And as a matter, not just of fairness but of economic interest, we ought to level the playing field for women as a tool to promote growth. We also ought to use our influence on a multilateral stage to help eliminate legal barriers to economic inclusion and promote women’s economic advancement.


There are some great examples of where the U.S. government has done this in the past, for example through the APEC Declaration on Women and the Economy that passed a few years ago and was largely led by the United States government. There was also U.S. leadership at the G-20 several years ago to create a target to increase women’s labor force participation by 25 percent by 2025. Those take the targets on the international stage, really do help spur action at the national and international level.


The U.S. government also ought to increase women’s access to capital and to financial services. There are a number of ways this can be done, through working with the overseas private investment corporation, OPIC, to narrow gender gaps in access to capital, and to promote financial inclusion through mobile technology and incorporate some of the lessons that we’ve learned from the M-Pesa mobile basking example and some other financial services approaches that have been successful out there.


And the United States ought to lead by example. So there are certainly policies that we need here at home to advance women’s economic participation, for enforcement of U.S. antidiscrimination and equal pay laws to expanded support for affordable childcare, tax reform to eliminate the penalization of dual-income families, and, of course, the development of a paid family leave program, which has been shown to be instrumental to women’s economic participation around the world. I think that is a key piece of the leadership that we could exert on the international stage. And hopefully will be part of the U.S. government’s work on this issue moving forward.


So with that, why don’t I pause and take your questions.


OPERATOR: At this time, we will open the floor for questions.


(Gives queuing instructions.)


Our first question comes from the University of Southern Mississippi.


Q: Hello. Thank you for talking with us today.


Some European countries are requiring companies to submit proof that they are paying men and women equally. Could this policy work in the United States? And second, as women earn higher wages, should policymakers be prepared to address higher inflation in addition to higher growth?


VOGELSTEIN: Thanks for those great questions.


On your question about equal pay, I have been following with interest the recent provisions in other countries to require that companies actually certify that they pay men and women equally. This is an issue that has persisted in part because of underenforcement of equal pay laws that exist. Certainly, there are some countries in the world where equal pay laws are not on the books, but in almost every part of the world there’s either an equal pay law on the books or there’s some type of provision, constitutionally or otherwise, that prohibits gender discrimination. Nevertheless, we know that in every country for which we have recorded data, there is a disparity in wages between men and women.


So I wanted to spend a minute on the pay disparity that we see between men and women in the workplace. There are a few reasons for that. And I wanted to talk about the three contributing factors, so that we’re all on the same page. About 40 percent of the pay gap is unexplained when economists control for other factors, such as hours at work, educational level experience, and the like. So economists have concluded that about 40 percent of the wage gap is attributable to discrimination.


There is also a portion of the wage gap that reflects the phenomenon of occupational segregation. And what that means is that women are just proportionately concentrated in certain jobs that tend to be paid lower than the jobs that men are concentrated into. And when one takes the global lens at occupational segregation, what’s fascinating is to see that the constant is that wherever jobs women hold are the jobs that are paid less. It is not the case that the job inherently is valued less in countries around the world. And I’ll give an example.


Here in the United States, the medical profession has long been seen as a prestigious and high-paying occupation. And men disproportionately have been doctors, particularly the doctors that receive the highest kind of pay, such as surgeons. If one looks over at Russia, the opposite was true. This was not perceived as prestigious as in the United States. And consequently, this was a lower paying profession. And so most doctors were women.


So, you know, the notion that you get your antibiotic prescription here in the United States in Russia—that that act looks the same is not reflective of the compensation that we see. And the variable there is the concentration of women. So occupational segregation is a factor that contributes to the disparity in pay between men and women. And a I said, that is a phenomenon that reflects the norm that women’s work is valued less in countries around the world.


The third factor that contributes to the pay disparity issue is the lack of policies to support working in the home and working outside of the home concurrently. And given that women are disproportionately burdened with unpaid labor, and in particular responsibility for children and care of elders, the lack of those policies disproportionately penalizes women. We see that in places where child care support is provided, paid family leave is available, and other supports are put into place, that women are able to participate in the economy in more robust numbers.


And in fact, there are some countries that have taken steps to reform their laws in order to produce exactly that effect. So for example, in the 1990s Canadian lawmakers eliminated the so-called marriage penalty, the product of a tax code that had depressed the incomes of secondary earners and had increased their childcare provision. And as a result, you saw the rate of women’s labor force participation increase. So those are the three factors that go into disparity in pay. The answer to what it will take to eliminate the pay disparity, in my view, is multifaceted. I think we need to address all three of those contributing factors in order to close the gap.


The issue that you raised about certification gets to, in my mind, the issue of transparency. And I think the phenomenon, the contributing elements of pay disparity that relates to straight discrimination, the 40 percent of the gap is that is unexplained by other factors, the issue of pay transparency really helps with that. because if companies have to be transparent publicly or certify to the government that they are paying men and women equally in the same positions, then they are incentivized to take the steps that one would need to take, including an annual internal audit, to make sure that they are meeting that standard.


That would get at some of the unconscious, and in some cases conscious, biases that produce the disparity we see that results in men and women being paid differently, even when they are in the exact same job. But my view is, in addition to laws like that or initiatives to require or promote transparency in pay, we also would need to address the contributing causes of occupational segregation as well as the insufficient policy architecture to support participation in the workplace by caregivers, in order to see that pay disparity go down.


CASA: Thank you. Next question, please.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Central Florida.


Q: You all talked about how legal cultural barriers in countries like North Africa and the Middle East, how they can create barriers in which women are unable to work or contribute to laws like child marriage laws. How can we as a country—and other developed countries—how can we go about changing those laws or intervening in those countries where they have made those cultural and legal barriers, like governmental laws?


VOGELSTEIN: Mmm hmm. That’s a great question.


So one tool that we have at our disposal is diplomacy. So we certainly can use U.S. leadership and both multilateral and bilateral diplomacy to make the case with leaders at the highest level that women’s economic participation is a matter of the strategic interest of the leaders in the countries that we’re seeking to effect change in. So the notion that we put this on the highest levels of diplomatic communication and that we deploy a strategic frame as opposed to potentially some of the human rights-based approaches, which have proven to be less successful in changing laws in the past, I think is one opportunity.


And the APEC example that I gave, where the United States government, when it had leadership of the APEC conference in San Francisco and then ultimately in Hawaii, they decided to highlight this issue by creating a declaration of women in the economy for the first time. And that spearheaded similar efforts in other regional bodies and led to national change. So using diplomatic influence and leadership is one way to address change in other countries.


Another is through U.S. foreign assistance. And we have seen, through one of our foreign assistance agencies, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, some really interesting approaches to ensure that we are using our influence to level the playing field economically for women. So with respect to the Millennium Challenge corporation, countries are actually competing to make themselves attractive to the United States for development investment.


And one of the criteria that the Millennium Challenge Corporation now uses in assessing the competitiveness—the economic competitiveness of developing countries that are eligible to receive investment through MCC, is whether there’s a level playing field legally for women in that country. And that has created what has been termed as the so-called MCC effect, where we have seen countries change their laws to level the playing field for women in order to be more competitive for U.S. investment. We’ve also seen that type of leadership in multilateral economic institutions in which the U.S. has influence and a leadership voice.


And the example I would give there is the International Monetary Fund. So under the leadership of Christine Lagarde, she had recognized the imperative of women’s participation to economic growth. And she had built into standard assessments of economic health the question of whether there’s a legal playing—level legal playing field for women, and whether the supports are in place to promote women’s participation in the economy, a means to produce economic growth. So, for example, one of the recent loan conditions put into place for Egypt was better policies on childcare in order to facilitate women’s economic participation.


The last thing I will say about this is we are actually seeing countries—even countries that have some of the most restrictive laws on the books—begin to recognize the economic imperative at play. So, you know, I think that creates a receptivity for some of the policies and programs that I advocate that the United States government should lead. And I think the most striking example of this in the last year was the decision by leaders in Saudi Arabia to rescind the driving ban that has long characterized that country as one of the most regressive places for women.


The reason that that decision took place had much less to do with a growing recognition of women’s human rights, and much more to do with an ambitious economic modernization effort known as Saudi Vision 2030 that recognized that the economic potential of a significant portion of the population remains untapped. And as the Saudi economy continues to struggle with low oil prices, increasing female workforce participation has become part of this ambitious economic modernization effort.


So I think it’s also important to recognize that there are movements for change within countries that already exist, that are worth supporting. And then at the highest levels we are seeing, even in countries that have regressive laws on the books, an openness and a willingness to an argument that is rooted in economic and strategic imperatives, as opposed to human rights-based approaches.


CASA: Thank you. Next question, please.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Georgetown University.


Q: Hi. I am just wondering, while there is evidence on the benefits of gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, there’s been a lot of conversations lately around kind of the need for improved measurement of time use and labor force participation, to kind of improve programming in that specific areas. So I have kind of two questions. Do you agree that we need improved data on these topics? And if so, what do you think will drive this agenda forward? And how should we encourage U.S. agencies to allocate funding to gender data and research on what works?


VOGELSTEIN: That’s a great question. And there have been a number of leaders who have prioritized this issue, which often attracts much less attention—this issue of collecting data on gender and supporting research and analysis of that data. When I worked at the State Department with Secretary Clinton, I had the privilege of working with her on an initiative called Data2x. And the goal of that program, which has spun off into an independent NGO that continues today, is to close gender data gaps—the notion that we measure what matters, and we do what we measure. And so if we care about making progress in these areas, we need to at least have a baseline of understanding of what the disparity looks like.


And the lack of data we have on time use, meaning the ways in which men spend time versus women, we do have some data. But they are largely concentrated in particular economies. And we do not have a solid global data set that helps to reflect the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work on women. We also have insufficient data, I would say, on women’s participation in the informal economy. And importantly, we have far too little research in economic models to reflect the effect of unpaid labor on economic growth.


So the goal of an organization like Data2x is to help close those gender data gaps. And part of that work will require investing in national statistical systems that gather data on work. And part of that involves diplomacy with the leading multilateral organizations that, for example, define what work includes, and have in the past defined work to exclude the labor that women do that is uncompensated. So that would be, for example, working with the International Labor Organization to think about how we should define work, and how we should calculate the effect of women’s unpaid contributions to GDP.


And so Melinda Gates is another leader that has recognized the importance of thinking about the importance of the lack of data that we have on how we even understand the gaps that currently exist. And of course, the GDP figures that I cite all take for granted the unpaid labor that is disproportionately shouldered by women around the world. And of course, the underrepresentation of women’s participation in the informal sector in standard economic modeling is also overlooked by this lack of data.


So one of the recommendations we made in the report that Maria referenced, called Building Inclusive Economies that we released at CFR last year, is that the U.S. ought to support more research in data collection. And something that certainly the U.S. government ought to do, working with ILO and investing in statistical systems at the national level, but it’s also something that, I would argue, the international community ought to take on, that there ought to be more investment by, for example, the U.N. statistical division in areas of research that relate to women’s economic participation.


CASA: Thank you. Next question, please.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Center for Global Affairs.


Q: Hi. I have a question about the direct—which is connected to the question that was asked just now—about the—if there’s any kind of direct economic compensation anywhere in the world for women, or is there any program for women who are taking care of children or the elderly, the informal sector? You just mentioned that they could be included in the GDP and we need data and research on it. I’m curious to know if there’s any program or any examples that are in the world that have actually recognized this sector formally, and women has benefitted from directly financially?


VOGELSTEIN: You know, we have looked into this and, for the most part, have not found that that is an approach that has been employed mostly anywhere in the world, and in fact that the reverse is true. So you can certainly find proposals and a few examples, but for the most part the strong norm is not to recognize unpaid labor in ways that have been defined to not be considered productive work. And so the argument that we make in our report is that time use surveys should collect sex disaggregated data based on a number of indicators. One is care for children. A second is care for the elderly and the sick, collection of fuel and water—which can take an enormous amount of time in certain parts of the world—household tasks, and also to ask questions about time spent on leisure activities. And if we had all of that information, analysts and statisticians could then use the data collected in time-use surveys to generate an accurate picture of women’s work and really measure the effect of women’s contributions on GDP.


So this is an approach that has been successfully employed by, for example, the National Institute of Geography and Statistics in Mexico, which then valued unpaid labor from women at approximately 20 percent of GDP in 2012. And they also looked at men and recognized that men contribute 6 percent of GDP through their unpaid labor. So you can already see that significant disparity there. And that’s certainly a disparity that the places in which we do have time-use data suggests exists in other parts of the world as well. But I think the important precursor, the precondition to having a program would be to actually create that baseline. And for the most part, we don’t have that baseline. So I think step one is supporting research and analysis to create the baseline of what the contribution is, what the disparity looks like, and then we can get to a place where we can propose policy solutions to do that.


CASA: Thank you. Next question, please.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from University of Northern Iowa.


Q: Yes. Thank you.


My question is, do you see a correlation between women’s economic participation, national economic security, and environmental quality and sustainability?


VOGELSTEIN: I’m not aware of research that links the two, although I think that’s a fascinating idea, and perhaps an area that we can and should look into and can encourage others to do that as well. What I can say is that having women at the table produces differences in decision making, when you have women in a critical mass. And that’s as true in the workplace, with respect to the economic sector, as it is in the area of climate and the environment. So there are a number of organizations that are advocating for women to have a larger role, because women are underrepresented in climate negotiations and in environmental policymaking. And given the differences we’ve seen, when we do have a substantial proportion of women at the table.


And the threshold that social scientists indicated is kind of the point at which women’s participation becomes significant from a policymaking perspective is about 30 percent. So I think the notion here that the research bears out is, you know, if you have one woman at the table, suddenly she is now seen as the one representative of all women. She likely wants to blend in, in order to get done what she needs to get done, so she may not take any radical policy positions. If you have two women at the table, they’re often compared to one another, sometimes pitted against one another. Again, you may not see any profound difference in policy choices. But when you have three women at the table, it becomes less of a phenomenon to have a woman there. And that’s when you start to see policymaking differences, when you have that 30 percent threshold.


That’s true in politics. That’s true in the workplace, in the private sector. And that’s also true with respect to women’s participation in environmental policymaking. So I don’t know that there’s a study that answers your question, but I think the research that we do have suggest that it would be one worth pursuing.


CASA: Thank you. Next question, please.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Pittsburgh.


Q: OK. Hi. Thank you for speaking with us today.


I had a specific question on—you were talking about women’s participation. But is there any data or anything that suggests that women present in the governance process, specifically in public administration, may increase or advance economic interest? Is there any literature that suggest this at all? Thank you.


VOGELSTEIN: What the literature on women’s policymaking suggests is that women tend to make different choices when they reach a critical threshold, back to the conversation we were just having. That women tend to invest more in areas like health, and sanitation, and education than men when they reach a critical threshold. That research largely comes from a few studies, one of which looks specifically at the panchayats in India, the local village councils, which had a quota that produced a significant number of women in the village council. And then from those significant numbers, women’s policy choices were analyzed. And the result that I just described is what we found. There are a few other examples, but they’re minimal.


And I would argue that we need much more research on the effect of women’s political representation on policymaking. And part of the reason we have too little research on that is because women, of course, have been dramatically underrepresented in political leadership positions. So just to give an example and a baseline there, women still comprise less than a quarter of parliamentary seats around the world. And certainly, the United States is in line with that, and slightly under the global average in fact. And there are about 18 women who are heads of state. That’s an increase of 12 women who are heads of state in 1995, so a very slight increase when you consider the notion that there are 193 U.N. member states in the world.


So part of the reason we have too little research on the effects that women’s political representation has on policymaking is that in most parts of the world we haven’t come close—nearly close enough to the 30 percent threshold that I just described, that the social science literature suggests is the threshold at which you should expect to start seeing policy differences. There’s also some evidence that suggests that it’s the third woman in a leadership position who has the ability to make policy changes in ways that the first woman or the second woman is not able to do, because the first woman in many cases, even the second woman in leadership positions for the first time, is still constrained by the notion of being the first, and the requirements that entails.


So there are very few countries—fewer than five—that have had more than one—more than two female heads of state. They do exist, but they’ve very few. So I think the bottom line is we need more research in this area. In part, it’s a hard area to study because we’re still getting to a place where women are reaching a statistically significant percentage of political representation to be able to study their effects. But I would also argue that this is an area where we have too little research in part because there is not as much interest in studying women in power as there is in studying women in development, women in health, women in education—areas that women are more traditionally associated with. So I would make the case that we need more women at the table. We need to be studying the effects that that has. And we need to be investing in the data and research in order to truly understand the implications of women’s leadership.


CASA: Next question, please.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


Q: Hi, there. I just want to thank you again for speaking with us today. Excuse me. I know we all greatly appreciate it.


You had made a comment earlier that in some countries where gender gaps—(coughs)—excuse me. I apologize for my voice. The gender gap has been decreased, there was signs of greater economic prosperity. And I’m wondering what you would think about that being a sort of a chicken and the egg situation, where if there was more economic prosperity to begin with, there’s then some political and economic freedom to make more progressive policies. And then furthermore, when we talk about competitions for foreign assistance and investment, is there some sort of follow-through program to be developed? Because the assumption, I guess, would be that there’s a certain hierarchy of priorities in every country because each nation faces different issues. So once that investment is made, are there tools—primarily coming from the U.S.—to ensure that those investments are used efficiently and effectively for the reason that they were given?


VOGELSTEIN: Mmm hmm, great, great question. So, to your first question, there are actually long—there was long a, in my view, misbegotten belief that a rising tide lifts all boats, particularly when it comes to women at the bottom. That, you know, if you have a situation where the economic fortunes of a nation are increasing, that that would potentially translate into greater equality for women. There are plenty of examples that suggest that that is not the case, and that while there is a relationship between gender equality, closing gender gaps, and economic growth, that the reverse is not necessarily true. And that it’s perhaps even more important to take a gender-conscious view when one is assessing economic health, otherwise one is likely to miss gender inequalities that are masked or even potentially exacerbated at times with economic growth.


So let me just give one example to illustrate this. If you take the situation of India, which is a rising economic power, as—you know, one of the BRICS nations. As India’s economy grows, one might expect to see that particularly in areas, communities, parts of the country where you’re seeing economic prosperity, that cultural norms about the status of women and girls would change. And when you take an issue like son preference, for example, what we find that that is not the case. And in fact, that in communities where you see economic prosperity or economic growth, in some cases the son preference can actually worsen. So an example of this is the phenomenon of gender bias in sex selection. In communities that are rising economically, there’s now greater access to technology to permit one to know whether one is expecting a girl or a boy. And so the phenomenon of gender biased sex selection is highest in areas where you have seen economic growth.


And these are places where you’ve also seen increased education for girls. And you’ve seen, in some cases, programs that emphasize not only the opportunity from educating girls, but also the economic opportunity when girls are able to become educated and participate in the economy. And yet, that cultural norm not only exists, but actively is exacerbated in places where you saw economic growth. There are many examples like that. And so I would argue that we need to be really mindful of the ways in which gender inequality continues to be present, even when we have a situation where an economy is growing.


In order to respond to your question about how to ensure that investments are used effectively and for the purposes for which they were intended, you know, I think that part of the answer to that is monitoring, and evaluation, and accountability. So, I, again, would hold up the Millennial Challenge Corporation as a great example of an organization that not only built in the question of a level playing field for women—into its model of assessing economic potential, but they also have a series of metrics and evaluation requirements that ensured that that is a continued focus and not just an initial assessment. So, you know, I think that has proven to be effective.


You know, I think it’s also important to pair incentives like that with programs that do address many of the cultural norms that really, at their root, are part of a belief that the value of girls is less than the value of boys, or the value of women is less than the value of men. You know, I think that having behavior changed communication programs to address some of those cultural norms can be as important as some of the economic incentives. You know, I think that pursuing one strategy without the other is not as likely to produce the results from some of the multisectoral approaches that we’ve seen proven to be really effective.


CASA: Next question, please.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Oxford University.


Q: Good morning, Ms. Vogelstein.




Q: Can you—OK, you can hear me. Sorry.


VOGELSTEIN: Yes, please go ahead.


Q: Do you see disruption—do you see a disruption coming by way of the blockchain technologies that are coming out, the cryptocurrencies that have been created, that whole mushroom hitting—you mentioned earlier on access to banking and the developing world, now being able to use it. You also mentioned the M-Pesa. Do you—where do you—are you assessing the impact to address this issue more directly in the developing world?


VOGELSTEIN: The answer to that is yes, but. (Laughs.) It’s yes, but one of the things that we’ve observed when we look at some of the IFC research on closing the gap in access to financial services is that while the number of people with bank accounts or access to financial services is going up, that the gender gap is not narrowing. And that suggests, again, back to the question about whether increasing economic fortunes or better economic conditions necessarily go down to the improvement of gender quality, the answer is no. You need to take additional steps.


And I would argue that that is true in the financial services realm as well, that there is still too little focus on the particular challenges women face when it comes to access to financial services, beyond some of the common challenges that exist across the developing world. You know, there are unique barriers that women face. And I would argue that in addition to thinking about technological solutions, we need to be thinking about what some of those cultural and structural barriers look like, so that we’re devising technology that actually responds to some of those barriers and ensures that we’re not perpetuating a gender gap.


Q: OK. Thank you.


CASA: Next question, please.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the University of Minnesota.


Q: Hello. Thank you for taking my call.


My question is, as we’re leveling the playing field for women that means that there will be a larger workforce of working mothers. And you’ve discussed options for better daycare or better childcare, but what about the cultural barriers that women face when there’s family planning and access to birth control?


VOGELSTEIN: That’s a great question. There are about 200 million women in the world who lack access to modern methods of family planning and would like access. My view is that access to comprehensive health services, including family planning, again, is a critical precondition to women’s ability to participate on an equal playing field in the workplace. And that this is an issue that’s particularly important now. We’ve seen recent policies by the U.S. government to reduce the U.S. contribution with respect to family planning services. And my view is, that is not only a mistake from the perspective of women’s human rights, it is also a mistake when one thinks about the economic implications of that.


So there’s a pretty well-established phenomenon that a demographic dividend is created when women have the ability to control the timing and spacing of their children. And that you also see better health and educational outcomes for children when women have access to family planning. So, you know, there is clear economic and development benefits to women’s access to comprehensive health care. And I would include family planning as part of that. And I would argue that the U.S. ought to be doing much more to support access to women’s health care around the world.


CASA: Next question, please.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Stockton University.


Q: Hello. My question is, in regard to refugee women, what can be done and how to be—to include them in promoting sustainable economic development in your communities, for women? Thank you.


VOGELSTEIN: That’s a great question, particularly given the severity and the scope of the migration crisis we are seeing around the world. Far too often, there’s a disjunction between humanitarian assistance and foreign assistance. And given that we are seeing displacement at, you know, up to 20, or some cases more, years at a time, economic participation absolutely needs to be built into the humanitarian assistance models that working can give, particularly with respect to refugees. Women and girls face particular challenges in refugee situations, as I’m sure you’re aware, from access to health care and reproductive health care, pregnancy, childbirth, family planning, as well as their susceptibility to gender-based violence and their lack of access to education. And you raised as an additional piece, which is that many of the challenges that women face in respect to economic participation are even more severe in contexts where they are burdened by so many other challenges.


So this is an issue that, in my view, is far too low on the list of priorities. And I would hope that more efforts are made to align humanitarian assistance with foreign assistance efforts so that we can broaden the conception of humanitarian assistance to include adequate and robust for women’s ability to earn a living, and that that has a profound effect not only on her own wellbeing, but the wellbeing, as research has shown, of their children. And, you know, I know there have been some efforts at the U.S. government to develop policy along those lines, but I think a lot more needs to be done there. So with respect to U.S. government policy, and on a broader level, one thinks about the broader international response to the migration crisis.


CASA: I think we have time for one more question, please.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the State University of New York.


Q: Hi. Thank you very much for this opportunity.


I wanted to ask what is it that you’re thinking about the latest issue in the Senate—the U.S. Senate, about using Social Security benefits to help early to pay for time off for women after they have a baby, and the impact. Some are saying that that would keep them in the workforce.


VOGELSTEIN: Mmm hmm. Thank you for that question.


So, you know, my view here is for the U.S. to lead by example on women’s economic participation they ought to start right here at home. And the development of a paid family leave program here is at the top of the list, particularly given that the United States is one of only nine countries in the world without any paid leave policy whatsoever. I would argue that the proposal to use Social Security puts in danger the ability of women and men, but women of course disproportionately likely to make use of paid leave, just based on current patterns. And it would endanger their Social Security benefits down the road. And there have been a number of policies that have been suggested to promote and create a system of paid family leave in this country that would not create that danger.


So I think from a policy perspective, there are other models that are stronger. But I will say that we are at a unique moment in U.S. history in that, you know, in this last election cycle for the first time you had candidates in both parties putting forward plans on paid family leave. And you had paid family leave in the president’s State of the Union in the last two administrations. So the Obama administration and now the Trump administration. I think that that is absolutely a new place for the United States to be in. And I think it suggests a growing level of support for paid family leave. I think we’ve seen it at the state level as well, with a handful of states that have enacted paid leave policies for citizens in, as I said, just a handful of states. All of that suggests a growing momentum. And so while I think we could debate the particulars of any given proposal, that the big story is that we are seeing growing support in terms of public support—but also political support—on both sides of the aisle. And that that’s a great thing.


CASA: Rachel, thank you very much for this informative discussion. And thanks to all of you across the country and outside the United States for your questions. Our next call will take place on Wednesday, March 7th, at 12:00 p.m. Eastern time. Meghan O’Sullivan, Jeane Kirkpatrick professor of the practice of international affairs at Harvard Kennedy School, and adjunct senior fellow at CFR, will lead a conversation on “The Foreign Policy Implications of New Energy.” In the meantime, I encourage you to follow CFR Campus on Twitter at @CFR_Campus and visit for information on new CFR resources and upcoming events.


Thank you, again, for joining us today. We look forward to your continued participation this spring. Goodbye.



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