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Putting women at the centre of economic transformation: a certain winner post-2015

New blog by Clare Coffey, Policy Adviser at ActionAid UK.

We know that closing the gender gap in employment would boost global GDP, improve family nutrition and increase agricultural productivity. For example, if women were able to contribute equally, the Eurozone could increase GDP by 13%, Japan by 16% and the US by 9%.

So addressing gender equality in the economy must surely be one of the single biggest things we could do to boost not just economic development, but inclusive economic development.

Without women’s economic empowerment, a country’s development will be sluggish and shallow. Women – purely because they are women – face huge inequalities the world over. In terms of the economy, women do 66% of the work and yet earn 10% of the income and own 1% of property. This is not only unjust to women; it is also blocking global development.

So what’s needed to get from here to there?

A new ActionAid briefing identifies the need for actions to address a number of critical barriers.

They include

  • freeing up women’s time by reducing their unequal responsibility for unpaid care work
  • ensuring women can own and control assets, including land but also their own earnings
  • ensuring they need to have decent paid work and on an equal basis to men


  • Women must be able to organise themselves should their rights be compromised
  • Their workplaces must be free from violence and free from the fear of violence
  • They have to be healthy and appropriately skilled to be able to do the work

I am writing from Monrovia where it is not difficult to find women like Patrice Juah who provide vivid accounts of the challenges they face if they want to get ahead. She told me that as a small business women, she sees her own staff trying to hold down a precious job whilst also taking care of their young children.

So, if we know there is huge potential in addressing women’s economic rights, why don’t we fix it?

The simple answer may be power; those with the power to decide on our economic policies have an interest in maintaining the status quo. Why change a system that often goes unquestioned by society, that ‘takes care of’ the undesirable side effects of neo liberal economic policies, and that supplies ever cheaper, if not free, labour? if we start addressing women’s economic rights, we can also start questioning the dominant economic policies and institutions that have sidelined women to date.

While the quantified economic benefits of gender equality are persuasive, ultimately this is about women’s economic rights. Women – 50% of the population – have rights that are spelled out in multiple international laws, including the Declaration on Human Rights. Surely that should be enough to make governments move on this issue, and ensure businesses move too.

Maybe what is needed is a little push from the post 2015 framework. The High level Panel is meeting in Monrovia this week, under the banner of economic transformation. If the panel really wants to tackle poverty through economic development, then unleashing the potential of women to transform economies worldwide would be an obvious and winning bet.


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January 1st, 2016

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