Why a push for gender equality makes sound economic sense

This year’s OECD Forum coincides with the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, which was an important milestone to promote gender equality worldwide. Much has been achieved since 1995, but unfortunately, a lot remains to be done to close the gender gap and increase women’s participation in our economies and societies.

There are a number of reasons why we must tackle gender inequality once and for all: the most obvious one is moral, ethical and human: how can we justify having more than half the globe’s population being treated less fairly than their male counterparts?

Addressing gender inequality is first and foremost a question of fairness. Women still have fewer career opportunities, and earn on average 16% less than men. Unpaid work with children and household tasks keeps women busy even outside normal working hours–on average five hours more per week for women than for men.

It is also a question of economic performance. There can be no robust growth economy without gender equality, a critical ingredient of any strategy for durable, resilient and more inclusive growth.

Investment in women boosts economic development, competitiveness, job creation and GDP. We estimate that on average, across the OECD, a 50% reduction in the gender gap in labour force participation would lead to an additional gain in GDP of about 6% by 2030, with a further 6% gain (12% in total) if complete convergence occurred. Frankly, I don’t think that our economies can afford to ignore such huge potential.

Third, it is a question of sound governance. Countries with a larger number of women as ministers or in parliament tend to have lower levels of inequality, more confidence in government and higher spending on health. More women decision-makers and influencers in our public sectors means a more balanced perspective in designing and implementing new rules and laws, and a more inclusive approach to policymaking and service delivery.

Forty years ago women like Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir cut rather lonely figures on the male-dominated world stage. Nowadays, there are several iconic women in positions of influence, people like Angela Merkel, Michelle Bachelet and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and indeed Christine Lagarde at the IMF. In addition to me in our organisation, the OECD’s chief of staff, chief economist and chief statistician are all women. But despite such breakthroughs, there is considerable room for further advancement. On average, women represent less than one-third of decision-making posts in all branches of power in OECD countries. A range of barriers hinder women’s progress and leadership in public life, although all of these can be overcome, from resisting gender-stereotype roles and job descriptions within the workplace to addressing external barriers, such as child care and training practices that are not adjusted to women’s or family’s needs or ambitions.

A whole-of-government approach is crucial to advancing the role of women. How can the OECD help?

The OECD is currently developing a Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life. Fully complementary with the 2013 Recommendation on Gender Equality in Employment, Education and Entrepreneurship, this new tool focuses on three main areas: good governance and accountability for gender equality; closing leadership gaps in public life; and equal access to public employment. The initiative also complements efforts in institutions such as the Council of Europe and the UN, and builds on decades of OECD work to promote gender equality. It will help governments to further improve the gender balance in public life and empower women to serve in key decision-making positions. This can spur progress in the private sector and in the wider economy, too, and help the G20 realise its goal of reducing the gap in labour participation between men and women by 25% by 2025. The OECD also provides analytical support and tailored assistance to countries that aim to see gender equality flourishing in public life. For example, with financial support from G7 countries, the OECD is currently implementing a project in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region, to promote women’s participation in parliaments and policy-making.

Governments and businesses have a key role to play in reducing the gender gap, but they cannot act alone. Each and every one of us is personally responsible as well. Both men and women must engage, commit and embrace this effort. We must share our experiences with the younger generation, too, and empower them to overcome social bias and clichés. We need more role models, too. The spirit of the Beijing Declaration must continue to inspire us to work ever harder together for true gender equality, and a stronger, fairer, more inclusive world. 

Adema, Willem (2014), "Closing the gender gap can boost the economy" in OECD Observer No 298, Q1 2014, OECD Publishing

Clarke, Rory (2014), "Forging a gender-balanced economy" in OECD Observer No 300, Q3 2014, OECD Publishing

Visit www.oecd.org/gender

©OECD Yearbook 2015

 




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