Gender equality: Essential for sustainable growth

 

If we are to come out of this crisis in a sustainable way, we are going to need to use all the human talent available. As societies across the world face problems ranging from population ageing to massive youth unemployment to increasing pressure on the environment and scarce natural resources, we need all hands on deck to find solutions and meet new challenges.

 

We know that greater educational attainment has accounted for about half of the economic growth in OECD countries in the past 50 years – and that owes a lot to bringing more girls to higher levels of education. So when the Taliban shoot a girl on a school bus in Pakistan to deter girls from going to school, it is not just an unpardonable act of violence against one person or community; it is a blow against growth and development for a whole economy.

 

But once you have your education, you need to be able to use it to reap the full economic benefit, both personally and globally. In OECD countries, more women than men are now graduating from university, and yet women still earn 15% less than men and hold only 10% of boardroom seats in major listed companies -- even though more diverse boards can help improve corporate governance. Women also spend fewer hours in paid work than men, and many more hours in unpaid work – cooking, cleaning, caring for children and ageing parents – and are more likely to end their lives in poverty.

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Many of these issues are linked – since earnings to a large extent determine pension levels in many countries, the fact that women earn less and work less over their lifetimes means that they receive lower pensions. But as populations age, societies may find it increasingly difficult to cope with the financial burden of supporting many old women living in poverty.

 

But women are a solution rather than the problem. If we create the conditions for women to fulfil their economic potential, they will not only earn more and contribute more to government coffers during their working life, they will also build up adequate savings for retirement. As Norwegian Labour Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said ahead of the launch of the OECD’s new report on gender equality, "Our societies must aim towards higher employment of women. We cannot afford to waste any talents. Reconciling work and family life goes hand in hand with gender diversity in business organizations."

 

The reasons for continuing gender inequality in the workplace are complex. Lack of affordable childcare may make it economically impossible for both parents to continue working full-time when they have small children, for example. But other factors come into play when deciding how childcare responsibilities are shared. If benefit and pension savings systems are dependent on full-time work, it is more likely that one parent will continue working full-time while the other reduces their hours or stops work. But workplace culture may frown on a father wanting to take time off or reduce his working hours to care for his family, seeing him as uncommitted to his career.

 

Policy clearly has a role to play in creating the conditions that make it possible for women and men to contribute fully to the economy and society. If affordable childcare is available, both parents can continue to work full-time. If family-friendly policies really are family-friendly, rather than mother-friendly, and if tax systems do not penalise a second earner in the household, women and men will be able to work, earn, pay taxes and build up appropriate pension savings. Gender equality is essential in economic and human terms, all that remains is to make it happen.

 “Closing the education gap is a powerful prescription for economic growth. But all over the world girls still face enormous obstacles to getting an education,"

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in a message to a UNESCO event promoting the right to education for girls, 10 December 2012, find out more.

 

“If we want to maintain our competitiveness and stay ahead of demographic changes, we need more women at work, especially highly qualified women.” 

European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding, ahead of launch of OECD report on gender (Find out more about the launch event)

Find out more:

OECD Gender Forum, Paris 17th December 2012

OECD work on Gender


 

 

 

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