We have learned much over the past several decades about the connection between gender inequality and economic growth, particularly when we talk about inequalities in education and employment. Inequalities in education, for instance, artificially reduce the pool of talent which societies can draw from; by excluding qualified girls from the educational stream and promoting less qualified boys, the average amount of human capital in a country will be reduced and this will have an adverse impact on economic performance. We also know that the promotion of female education leads to lower births per women, not only because educated women will have greater knowledge about family planning but also because education creates greater opportunities for women that may be more attractive than childbearing.
Yesterday I went to the London launch of UN Women’s new flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-16, in the slightly incongruous setting of the Institution of Civil Engineers – walls adorned with portraits of bewigged old patriarchs from a (happily) bygone era (right).
The report is excellent. These big multilateral publications are usually a work of synthesis, bringing together existing research rather than breaking new ground. And that’s fine; it’s really important that a UN body has pulled such an excellent range of research together and made it accessible to policy makers. Gender and development debates suffer from a fair number of unsubstantiated claims and pretty dodgy stats (don’t get me started), and this report feels like something you can trust – I hope someone will go through it and pull out every major stat and graphic.
But the overall approach is both new and exciting, in that it applies an explicitly human rights approach to economic policy. Laura Turquet, UN Women researcher and report manager, summarized this as ‘bringing together human rights and economic policy-making to ask ‘what is the economy for?’’
This is a big deal, because the normal approach to gender and economic policy is incredibly reductive and instrumental – educate girls and get women into the workforce because it boosts growth! It ignores whether that will improve the lives of the said women or just pile more burdens onto their pre-existing roles as carers (of children, old people, neighbours), home maintainers etc etc.
If you’re in the private sector, and if you somehow imagine that social issues don’t have anything to do with your business, then you’d better think again. The dollars-and-cents costs of chronic social problems and dysfunctional behavior have a direct impact on private-sector productivity and profitability.
As Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter told a World Bank Group audience not long ago, explaining his theory of “creating shared value”: If business leaders are serious about ensuring future private-sector-led growth – and about the long-range stability of the economy – then the corporate sector had better prioritize pro-active steps to address serious social issues as a significant part of their strategy.
Social issues might not readily rise to the top of corporate leaders’ in-boxes, since many hard-headed businessmen – and I use the suffix “men” advisedly – might presume that “soft” human concerns aren’t central to day-to-day business operations. Yet the painful human toll inflicted by social dysfunction is everybody’s business. Corporate executives who truly aim to fulfill a positive leadership role in society, to which they so often aspire rhetorically, have a duty to raise their voices about the many kinds of social trauma that impede socioeconomic progress.
If a sense of social responsibility isn’t enough to get corporate leaders thinking pro-actively, they should at least consider their business’ long-term enlightened self-interest. A workforce that’s de-motivated or demoralized – or, worse, physically injured or emotionally abused – will suffer lower morale and higher absenteeism, will trigger higher health-care costs, will be distracted from seizing new business opportunities, and will fall short of fulfilling its full productive potential. That economic reality should spur the private sector to take constructive, preventive action.
An event on Wednesday at the World Bank Group will offer a reminder of how one vicious form of extreme antisocial behavior – violence against women and girls – acts as a drag on society, a drain on the economy and an impediment to achieving every development priority. The 2 p.m. event in the J Building auditorium will launch a new World Bank Group report – the “Violence Against Women and Girls Resource Guide” – that surveys a wide range of analyses on the human suffering and social pain caused by gender-based violence.
Jointly sponsored by the Bank Group, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Global Women’s Institute based at George Washington University, the afternoon event will follow a morning panel discussion – at 10 a.m. in GWU’s Jack Morton Auditorium – featuring the authors of a landmark series of analyses of gender-based violence in The Lancet, the UK's pre-eminent medical journal.
Recognizing gender-based violence as a medical and public-health emergency – and reinforcing the World Health Organization’s recent declaration that gender-based violence is a global threat “of epidemic proportions” – The Lancet’s special edition is blunt about the grim toll of violence that deliberately victimizes women and girls: “Every day, millions of women and girls worldwide experience violence. This abuse takes many forms, including intimate physical and sexual partner violence, female genital mutilation, child and forced marriage, sex trafficking, and rape.”
Yet the special edition of The Lancet asserts that this social scourge is preventable. The analyses “cover the evidence base for interventions, discuss the vital role of the health sector in care and prevention, show the need for men and women to be involved in effective programmes, provide practical lessons from experience in countries, and present a call for action with five key recommendations and indicators to track progress.”
In a parallel, practical initiative, the government of the United Kingdom – through its Public Health England arm – has published a “toolkit” to help businesses identify, analyze and take protective action for those who may have been victimized by domestic abuse, psychological trauma or gender-based violence. PHE’s toolkit and awareness-building initiatives redouble the efforts of the UK’s Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence.
In the spirit of the United Nations’ recent observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – and occurring amid the current “16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence” campaign – the Wednesday discussions with experts from The Lancet, the Global Women’s Institute, the IDB and the World Bank Group will help highlight the pervasive gender bias that hardens social inequality, and that can take the extreme form of violence targeting women and girls.
Corporate leaders who aim to take a leadership role in society have an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment: by rededicating their organizations to activist steps to mend a society too often torn by violence and the causes of violence: economic insecurity, social-class stratification, winner-take-all rapacity, misogyny, discrimination and exclusion – all of which threaten the ideals of eradicating extreme poverty and building shared prosperity.
Wednesday’s forums on gender-based violence will remind us that building a stronger, safer, more inclusive society is everybody’s business. That challenge should inspire private-sector leaders to include the long-term welfare of society as one essential factor as they calculate their bottom-line summation of success.
Speaking ahead of the upcoming World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings, Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim called on the international community to seize the historic opportunity presented by favorable economic conditions in developing countries and end extreme poverty by 2030. This is an exciting goal, and success in achieving it has become possible. Kim pointed to the International Development Association, or IDA, the Bank’s fund for the poorest, as central to the tremendous effort needed to make this happen.
Every three years, development funders and borrowing country representatives meet to deliberate and agree on IDA’s strategic direction, financing, and allocation rules, and we just kicked off this process for the 17th “replenishment” of IDA (which provides development financing for the period July 1, 2014-June 30, 2017).
Two days of open discussion in Paris on March 20-21 with both investors and borrowers covered the complex development agenda faced by IDA countries, as well as the fund’s strategic approach to dealing with these issues. We worked to chart a way forward for IDA to most effectively improve the lives of the roughly 1 billion people in IDA countries still living on less than $1.25 a day.
Guest post from Carron Basu Ray, (right) who coordinates Oxfam’s ‘My Rights, My Voice’ programme
The Ngorongoro area of Tanzania is regarded as the birthplace of humanity, a vast, strikingly beautiful part of the world. The Maasai pastoralists who live there are among the most marginalised people in the country and their children, especially the girls, have little access to quality education. I was in Tanzania a couple of weeks ago, meeting representatives from partner organisations and Oxfam colleagues who are implementing a dynamic education project that works with marginalised children and young people, their allies (parents, teachers, community leaders, etc) and many others on education issues and youth empowerment. The work is part of Oxfam’s eight country My Rights, My Voice global programme, funded by the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
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Gender inequality comes in many shapes and (depressing) colors. A recent trip to Haiti showed me and my colleagues, perhaps its ugliest and most damaging face: violence against women of all ages, including babies. But as ugly as it is, can we make it our business?
I think the answer is yes. Here is why.