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Gender Equality Vital To Prosperity, State's Russell Says

Published on 12 March 2014

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by Jane Morse


Washington, D.C.

Helping women around the world access decent-paying jobs would increase economic prosperity for all, says Catherine Russell, the U.S. Department of State’s ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues.

Russell spoke February 20 at the launch of the World Bank’s Gender at Work report, which she lauded as providing “a comprehensive road map” for encouraging women’s economic empowerment.

According to Russell, in the second half of the 20th century, the entry of women into the workforce propelled substantial growth for most of the world’s developed economies. In the United States, for example, women now own 30 percent of small businesses, generating $1.2 trillion a year in sales.

In Europe, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that the narrowing gap between male and female employment accounted for a quarter of the continent’s annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP) over the past two decades, Russell said. And in Latin America and the Caribbean, the World Bank found that poverty would have been 30 percent higher in 2010 without female contributions.

The World Bank report found that despite accumulating evidence that economic empowerment benefits women, families, businesses and communities, women’s labor force participation has stagnated over the past 30 years, dropping from 57 to 55 percent globally.

Women worldwide, according to Russell, represent nearly 60 percent of all unpaid work and half of all employment in the informal sector. “This means,” she said, “they are less likely to be protected by existing labor law, to be able to organize or negotiate higher wages, and to benefit from social protection schemes.”

The report also notes that women in many countries are constrained by lack of mobility, lack of skills, and exposure to violence.

Russell said the World Bank report on gender equality in the workforce is important because “it looks at ways to level the playing field through government action, and takes into account the lifecycle of a woman — from childhood to productive age to the elder years — in long-term policy planning.”

In addition, the report looks at steps the private sector can take through proactive leadership and innovation, Russell said. “With the private sector supplying the largest number of formal-sector jobs in most countries,” she said, “the importance of making gender equality, along with respect for the full range of rights at work, a priority throughout internal and external business operations is crucial.”

Russell said Secretary of State John Kerry has made economic empowerment a centerpiece of American foreign policy. She noted the many initiatives the Obama administration has launched to help women and girls. Some examples are:

The Equal Futures Partnership, a multilateral initiative now with 25 member countries committed to legal, regulatory and policy reforms to ensure women fully participate in public life and benefit from economic opportunities.

Tech Girls, which provides technical training to aspiring computer scientists in the Middle East.

The Fortune Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership for women business executives.

Women Entrepreneurs in the Americas, aimed at providing training, mentorship and access to financial services for women-owned small and medium enterprises.

African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, which empowers African women entrepreneurs by expanding opportunities for exports and U.S. investment in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Achieving shared global prosperity is only possible if — and this is a big if — if we make dramatic progress in reducing gender gaps in the world of work,” Russell said.

“Our shared economic potential is bright, but in order to achieve it, we need to encourage, cultivate and harness the untapped talent and productivity of women across the globe. It must happen in every country and on every continent,” she said.

The full text (PDF, 2.5MB) of the World Bank’s “Gender at Work” report is available on the World Bank website.



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Posted 2014-03-12 10:52:00