By Priyanka Varma

Road to GEM24 Podcast graphic featuring speakers
Road to GEM24 Podcast: Progress, Gaps, and Strategies for Women's Economic Empowerment

The World Economic Forum’s global gender gap score, which measures gender parity around the world, stands at 68 percent. At the current pace of improvement, it will take 268 years to close this gap. For context, 268 years ago, the United States did not even exist. This means that in our lifetimes, our daughters’ lifetimes, and even our granddaughters’ lifetimes, we will not see a gender equal world.

In CID’s recent Road to GEM24 podcast episode, Diva Dhar from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wendy Teleki from the World Bank, and Varina Winder from the U.S. State Department outline the importance of fostering inclusive economic growth for women to close the global gender gap. Their underlying argument: investing in women is important not just for women – it also has enormous benefits for families, communities, and economies.

But what do we mean by investing in women, and how does it benefit us all?

Investing in girls’ education

Around the world, 129 million girls are out of school. Barriers such as poverty, child marriage, and gender-based violence all prevent girls from safely and effectively learning. However, girls who do receive an education are more likely to have fewer and healthier children, earn higher incomes, and build better futures for themselves and their families. If India, the most populated country in the world, achieved even a 1 percent increase in girls’ enrollment in secondary school, its national GDP would grow by $5.5 billion.

Investing in women’s time

On average, women spend three times more time on unpaid care and domestic work than men. Yet care work is undervalued and underpaid. Investing in transforming care systems would allow women to reclaim their time while creating jobs in the care sector and providing access to care services for those in need. By closing existing gaps in care services and expanding work programs, we could create approximately 300 million jobs by 2035.

Investing in resources for women

When women have access to financial resources, such as credit, banking, and financial services, they can meet their basic needs and start or grow their own businesses. Yet globally, micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises owned by women are underfunded by $1.7 trillion. Closing the global credit gap for women would result in a 12 percent increase in average annual income across all genders by 2030.

Additional access to resources, such as land, natural resources, and digital technology, would enable women to more fully develop their assets and businesses. Greater women’s economic participation is important because women typically reinvest up to 90 percent of their earnings in their families and communities compared to only 30 to 40 percent among men. This in turn can help expedite development and overcome societal poverty.

Investing in women’s security

Violence against women, either at home or in the workplace, is a human rights violation and hurts women’s physical and mental health, with both immediate and intergenerational consequences. Globally, one in three women worldwide will experience violence in their lifetime. This comes with explicit and opportunity costs. Gender-based violence prevents women from pursuing an education or earning an income to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Indeed, when women lose their jobs due to violence, it costs at least $1.5 trillion of global GDP.

So how do we invest in women?

An additional $360 billion per year is needed to achieve global gender equality, based on recent UN estimates. However, no single organization or country can take on this cost alone. According to Dhar, Teleki, and Winder, there are currently structural disconnects in how we approach women’s economic empowerment. We must break down silos in the international development community and pool together resources from the public, private, and civil society sectors to maximize investments towards women. Government agencies such as the U.S. State Department can bring women’s economic empowerment to the top of the national agenda. Partnerships with donor organizations such as the Gates Foundation and World Bank can help fund such priorities. International organizations like UN Women, with authority over global gender equality efforts, could potentially lead the charge of bringing national actors together and fostering system-wide change.

Ultimately, by ensuring that women are educated, empowered, and safe, we allow women to survive, thrive, and positively contribute to our world.

Priyanka Varma headshot

Priyanka Varma

Priyanka is a Master in Public Policy student at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she focuses on global education, gender, and humanitarian protection policy. Prior to HKS, Priyanka worked at the Brookings Institution's Global Economy & Development Program and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL)'s Global Office. Priyanka holds a B.A. in International Relations and Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.Phil in Education, Globalization, and International Development from the University of Cambridge.

Tune in to this episode and other inspiring conversations from our Road to GEM24 podcast series featuring leaders working to advance gender equity around the world.
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