The power of equality

The world continues to lag miles behind its true economic potential

Anum Suhail Bashir February 16, 2017

Despite decades of progress towards gender equality and initiatives driving empowerment, the world continues to lag miles behind its true economic potential. To those who believe this is an issue only relevant to feminists or simply pertinent to social and moral justice, it’s time to accept that the ramifications exist far and wide, impacting each and every one of you, girls and women, boys and men across human development, labour markets, productivity and GDP growth on a global level.

A report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that in a full potential scenario, where all able women participated equally in the economy, there would be an increase of $28 trillion to the annual global GDP by 2025. Not only is that an outstanding 26% rise but it’s approximately the collective size of the economies of the US and China together. The sheer magnitude of the increased economic prosperity is a convincing business case study on how imperative it is to overcome the gender gap and advance women as equally contributing partners in the economy. At the outset, gender parity is a goal that multiple stakeholders proclaim to be striving towards; multilateral organisations, national governments and the civil society, yet global policies and strategies continue to move at a pace which is too slow to achieve the quantum leaps required.

The UNHLP on Women Economic Empowerment is trying to accelerate efforts towards gender equality, creating linkages, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth to empower women ‘locked out of our economies’. It is important here to acknowledge and understand that some countries significantly fall behind as a result of systemic flaws stemming from their belief about the role of women and the perceived need (or lack thereof) of equality in society. Pakistan is one such country, where deep rooted opinions exist about women; their responsibility towards unpaid care work and the role of economic independence as a means of ‘disobedience’ towards their spouse and/or family. To overcome these obstacles, certain interventions become necessary to bridge the gender gap and achieve economic gains, whether this is through equal economic opportunities, policy reform, legal protections, political voice or physical security.

Without social gender equality, the path to economic gain is strained. Equal access to education and health opportunities will improve the bargaining power for women and help achieve economic independence, shifting attitudes and norms particularly in the gender stereotyping of jobs. This could be facilitated through awareness campaigns at a primary school level; vocational training programmes to develop social and technical skills as well as legislation which would penalise absence from school. While education directly impacts entrepreneurship and workforce participation as well as maternal and reproductive health, it also improves the overall status of girls in a family which has implications on child marriages and domestic abuse. Interventions and basic gender friendly services create favourable environments, overcoming gender gaps and enabling women to move from lower paid occupations to high productivity sectors such as science and technology, where they may take on managerial or strategic roles, bridge skills shortages and lead to productivity gains. Together with a change in corporate culture and attitudes through trainings as well as digital and social media, this will create a more dynamic business sector which views gender parity as an opportunity and not a cost.

The potential for collaboration between public and private sector players to reshape perceptions, break gender stereotypes and drive change more aggressively is a strong case to bridge the nexus between gender inequality and business profitability. If Pakistan collectively believes and channels initiatives towards the empowerment of women, there is huge potential to overcome the opportunity cost and seize the GDP lost. With sustainable strategies in place, the stage will be set to reach for the $28 trillion anticipated globally by 2025, which is not only a moral and social victory but an economic success.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2017.

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