With 2015 behind us and a new year on the horizon, what have we learned and where can we focus in 2016? In September 2015, the McKinsey Global institute launched a report that provided hard data to show the scale of the global economic deficit caused by gender inequality. The key finding is now often quoted: if women’s participation in the economy was on par with men’s it would add $28 trillion to the annual global GDP by 2025. This is a clarion call to action but the path is much harder to navigate. To achieve gender parity globally would require huge investments in societal and political will and resources. It would require sweeping attitudinal changes toward a valuation of women’s work (productive and unpaid) and significant leaps in investments by governments in agriculture, industry and service sectors. Serious attention would need to be paid to what the McKinsey Institute calls the enablers of economic opportunity: reproductive rights for women, physical security, legal protection and political voice amongst others.
Reducing barriers is critical but so is creating opportunities for women to participate equitably in the economy alongside men. Fortunately, this appears to be a strategy that is gaining momentum. There is increasing recognition that in the pursuit of gender equality, collaboration between private sector actors, governments and civil society can create wins on all sides. Last year, the United Nations intentionally reinvigorated the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) launched in 2010 to promote gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community. Under the mantra, Equality Means Business, the WEPs aim to mobilize corporations around the business case for gender equality. The principles are:
- Principle 1: Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality
- Principle 2: Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination
- Principle 3: Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers
- Principle 4: Promote education, training and professional development for women
- Principle 5: Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women
- Principle 6: Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy
- Principle 7: Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality
To date, 1,138 business leaders have signed CEO declarations supporting the WEPs. They have committed to revising corporate policies and practices to promote gender equality in the workplace and business environment. This includes taking action to: commit to gender parity in management and pay, provide educational and life-skills training to women staff, employ women more purposefully in non-traditional sectors, and create opportunities for women-owned businesses in global supply chains. The WEPs are sensitizing national political and corporate leaders to the work that MEDA and other international development NGOs have been doing for over a decade in the countries where we work. And thank goodness. Women’s economic empowerment requires broad partnerships, political will and bold risk-takers.
Will this new attention from global corporations bring new momentum to the movement for gender equality? Will their commitment come with resources to develop and pilot innovative partnerships? What are the risks? Momentum around Shared Value Initiatives for poverty reduction are building. If we could inject gender equality and women’s empowerment onto corporate agendas what could be the result? Imagine how quickly we could reach the Sustainable Development Goals with $28 trillion injected into the global economy? What will be your focus for 2016?