When more women work, economies grow. A recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute argues that if all countries match the historical progress towards gender parity achieved by their best-in-region country, $12 trillion could be added to global gross domestic product in 2025. But achieving this kind of growth requires addressing the structural causes of discrimination that women face, not only in the labour market, but also in the household and in society more broadly.
Women are half of the population. Their economic security and independence are directly linked to their educational attainment and health, the welfare of families and children, as well as to their own voice, agency and community engagement. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development highlights these linkages and clearly shows that gender equality and women’s economic empowerment are essential to achieving sustainable development for all.
Gender gaps and segmentation in labour markets mean that women are concentrated in low-paid, vulnerable work. They also have less access to social protection and are more likely to live in poverty. In 2015, women’s global labour force participation stood at 49.6 per cent compared to 76.1 per cent for men, and 75 per cent of women’s employment in developing countries was informal and unprotected. Globally, on average women are paid 24 per cent less than men and spend two and a half times more time on unpaid care and domestic work.
Redressing these gaps means expanding women’s access to decent work through active labour market policies, implementing equal pay legislation, promoting gender-responsive social protection and reducing and redistributing unpaid care work between women and men and between households and the state, through improved public services and social infrastructure. It requires fostering a macroeconomic environment informed by human rights standards and concerns for the well-being of all, rather than narrowly focused on areas such as price stability and growth rates.
A tremendous opportunity
The formation of the Women’s 20 (W20) engagement group by the G20 represents a tremendous opportunity to bring gender perspectives to global economic governance. This year, under the leadership of the All-China Women’s Federation, the W20 has drafted a robust set of policy recommendations for endorsement by the G20 towards fulfilling commitments to gender equality. UN Women commends both the G20 and W20 for adopting an ambitious target of reducing the gender gap in labour force participation by 25 per cent by 2025 and urging members to integrate gender perspectives into macroeconomic policies and global economic governance.
We invite the G20 to make further commitments to recognise, reduce and redistribute women’s unpaid care and domestic work. Members need to increase investment in public goods and address the care deficit by promoting the care economy. When care work is valued and adequately paid, it benefits the care workers, through increased access to decent work, and the care receivers, through improved quality and access to care.
G20 economies can stimulate the growth of women-owned business through targets and quotas for sourcing from women suppliers and by creating workplace conditions and opportunities that take into account women’s unique needs and contributions. For example, UN Women is working with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the Markets for Change project to ensure that markets in Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory, and to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Decent work opportunities for women should extend to the green, low-carbon economy. This requires support for skills development and innovative technical education for women.
Women’s Empowerment Principles
In addition to government-led initiatives, the private sector has a central role to play and must be actively engaged. Action could include implementing the Women’s Empowerment Principles, which offer guidance to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community, as well as strategic partnerships that support the acquisition of experience. For example, UN Women is working in Brazil, Egypt and South Africa, in partnership with Coca-Cola, to provide 46,000 women with the necessary skills, equipment and access to credit to initiate and successfully manage their small businesses.
In 2016, the UN Secretary-General established the High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. I am honoured to serve on the panel along with distinguished heads of state and UN agencies, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as leaders from trade unions, civil society and the private sector. Improving economic outcomes for women entails partnerships among all stakeholders and increased investment.
UN Women is ready to contribute to the 2030 Agenda to achieve gender equality, women’s empowerment and a 50-50 planet by 2030.