International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde has called for greater attention to protecting the dignity of women and legal measures to safeguard their rights in the labour market. More participation by women in the workforce boosts global growth and reduces inequality, she pointed out in a Bloomberg interview, saying everyone has a responsibility to combat misogyny.
It’s now an established fact that gender equality and empowerment of women are key to ensuring faster and sustainable development. Denying women full participation in the economy can prove costly. Full gender equality would add 26%, or $28tn – roughly matching the US and Chinese economies combined – to global gross domestic product by 2025, according to a 2015 McKinsey study.
Qatar has made significant strides over the years to ensure women’s full participation in the wider economy. While Qatar ranks high globally on human development, it scores low on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Qatar is the highest rated Gulf country on UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index, but the nation fares poorly in the Gender Inequality Index (GII). Even among Gulf countries, Qatar has a low GII standing, according to the Fourth National Human Development Report released by the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics (MDPS) in September 2015.
Female labour force participation in Qatar, high by Gulf standards, has increased. But it is still low compared with countries at similar higher levels of economic and human development, the MDPS report said.
Women today represent about 50% of the world’s population and, for the past two decades, about 50% of the labour force. But they are only half as likely as men to have a full-time wage-earning job, according to a recent World Bank report. While women, who do have paid jobs earn as much as one-third less than men, fewer women than men are involved in trade or own registered companies, the report said.
For the first time since it was launched in 2002, the World Bank’s ease of doing business report, a globally respected gauge of a country’s competitiveness, has added a gender dimension in the ranking criteria.
True, women have advanced to the top of prominent companies, including General Motors, PepsiCo, EasyJet, Yahoo and India’s SBI. Yet the gap stays starker: Men hold over 80% of all S&P 500 board seats. One-third of Silicon Valley companies had no female directors when surveyed in 2015. In the Asia-Pacific region, women hold fewer than 10% of board seats in a 2015 study of 100 companies.
Here is a compelling economic case for investing in women: A $1 spend on improving women’s economic opportunities is estimated to add around $7 to the wider economy, mainly in health, poverty-alleviation and education benefits. And women tend to invest up to 90% of their earnings in their families, compared to 30-40% contribution by men.
While legal and regulatory measures will go a long way in ensuring women’s active participation in the economy, raising awareness and changing the mind-sets are also prerequisites to arrive at a sustainable development model.
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