"Focusing on the well-being of women and girls promotes democracy, promotes stability, creates more opportunity in societies. That’s just an absolute fact. And it is totally uncontroverted in study after study. If you want to see societies emerge from instability and conflict, you have to focus on women and girls.
If you look around the world at the areas that are unstable and are incubators of terrorism or other forms of violence, you will find women and girls being oppressed, being denied rights, being marginalized in a way that is dehumanizing... it is something that I see as Secretary of State that is absolutely integral to our approach to the kind of better and safer world that we are all trying to create."
-- Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, January 2010
Invest in Women. Improve the World.
The major security, governance, environmental, and economic challenges of our times cannot be solved without the participation of women at all levels of society. A growing body of research demonstrates that investments in women and girls positively correlate with greater prosperity, poverty reduction, and economic growth. This emerging consensus is reflected in a variety of examples:
♦ UNIFEM’s "Progress of the World’s Women 2008/2009" publication reports that women are running for public office in growing numbers, holding an average of 18.4 percent of seats in national assemblies and exceeding 30 percent of representatives in national assemblies in 22 countries. It highlights various cross-national comparisons demonstrating that higher numbers of women in parliaments and the private sector correspond with lower levels of corruption. The report also suggests that an increased proportion of women decision-makers in local governments tends to increase service delivery to women and children.
♦ The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2009 "Gender and Rural Employment" report notes that women in rural areas in developing countries are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihoods, because of their responsibility to secure water, food, and energy for cooking and heating. The effects of climate change, including drought, uncertain rainfall, and deforestation, make it harder to secure these resources. Female farmers, who make up about two-thirds of working women in developing countries and more than 90 percent in many African countries, are also extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. These women have limited access to decision-making and economic assets, compounding the challenge of adaptation.
♦ The United Nations Population Fund’s annual "State of World Population" 2009 report analyzed the relationship between women’s engagement in food production, preparation, and land use and their contributions to climate change solutions in developing countries. The report cites women as "important actors and agents of change" in adaptation and notes that female farmers in particular are "at the forefront of mitigation efforts." The report also found that women’s non-governmental organizations in low-income countries help limit deforestation and other environmentally destructive activities.
♦ The World Bank published a series of major studies, including "Engendering Development," and "Gender Equality as Smart Economics," highlighting gender equality as a critical foundation for development investment. Their reports note that investments in women and girls strengthen countries’ ability to grow, reduce poverty, and govern effectively. They show that women and girls reinvest an average of 90 percent of their income in their families, compared to a 30 to 40 percent reinvestment rate for men. And they indicate that women’s lack of economic empowerment not only imperils growth and poverty reduction, but also has negative effects ranging from poor education and health outcomes for children to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
♦ The "Global Gender Gap Report 2009," issued by the World Economic Forum, measured disparities between men and women in economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival. The report found no country where men and women were equal, but noted that where the gender disparity gap was narrower, countries were more economically competitive and prosperous. The report notes, "The combined impact of these gaps entails colossal losses to the global society and economy" and concludes that significant economic recovery and growth will not occur without the engagement, empowerment, and contribution of women and girls.
♦ According to UNICEF, women’s empowerment lifts up not only women but also their children and their communities. The "2010 State of the World’s Children Report" highlights gender equality as critical to child survival and development: "Empowering women and eliminating gender discrimination produces a double dividend – fulfilling the rights of women and also helping to save and improve the lives of children. Evidence shows that when women are educated and empowered to participate in decision-making in the household, workplace and political sphere – secure from violence, exploitation and discrimination – children and families benefit."
♦ In 2009, Ernst and Young issued the "Groundbreakers Report," which calls on the global community to draw upon the untapped resources of half the world’s population. The report notes that "At a time when our global economy is facing its greatest challenge in decades, we have to capitalize on the contributions women can make...It’s time to place renewed emphasis on women as a resource to move businesses and economies ahead."
♦ The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 2008 report, "Maximizing the Economic, Social, and Environmental Role of Women," concludes that financial assistance to mothers has greater benefits to family health than does assistance to fathers, because female-headed households spend a far larger share of their income on food, healthcare and education. Women are increasingly visible in export-oriented sectors in middle-income developing countries, where they comprise up to 90 percent of workers. Female workers around the world fill the majority of paid domestic service jobs and are growing more important to the agricultural sector. In Southeast Asia, for example, women provide up to 90 percent of the labor for rice cultivation, and in Africa, women are two-thirds of the workforce in the horticultural sector.
♦ In 2009, Center for Global Development published the "Start with a Girl: A New Agenda for Global Health" report. The report notes that in sub-Saharan Africa, three out of every four new HIV infections are among young women ages 15 to 24 and HIV prevalence among young women is more than four times higher than among young men of the same age group. The report underscores that improving the health of adolescent girls in the developing world is "the key to improving maternal and child health, reducing the impact of HIV, and accelerating social and economic development."
♦ A 10-country World Health Organization "Women’s Health and Domestic Violence Against Women" study reports that the social and economic costs of violence against women have ripple effects throughout society. To combat violence against women, the report calls on governments to increase their efforts to raise the status of women, both in terms of awareness of their rights and through concrete measures in fields such as employment, education, political participation, and legal rights. To combat all forms of violence against women, the report states, "education is in itself protective." The report concludes that solutions should focus on the economic empowerment of women and enlistment of men as partners against gender-based violence.
♦ The importance of girls’ education is underscored in the World Bank’s 1994 "Investing In All People" report produced by Larry Summers. The study finds that education correlates positively with economic growth. Summers notes, "Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world…he question is not whether countries can afford this investment, but whether countries can afford not to educate more girls." A recent report, "Girls’ Education in the 21st Century" notes the "strong business case for investing in female education" as a human development, economic growth, and poverty reduction tool.
♦ Goldman Sachs’ research in 2007 concludes that "Closing the gap between male and female employment rates would have huge implications for the global economy, boosting U.S. GDP by as much as 9 percent, Eurozone GDP by 13 percent and Japanese GDP by 16 percent." Their 2008 report notes that greater investments in female education could yield a "growth premium" that raises trend GDP growth by about 0.2 percent per year. Narrowing gender disparity in employment could accelerate income per capita as much as 14 percent by 2020 and as much as 20 percent by 2030. In Africa, the effects of gender inequality in education have resulted in actual per capita income growth that represents only half its potential level.
♦ A 2009 Center for Global Development report, "Girls Count: A Global Investment Action Agenda," highlights the systematic disadvantages faced by young women and girls in developing countries in areas ranging from health, education, and nutrition to workforce participation and the burden of household tasks. According to the report, countries that do not address these significant disparities risk perpetuating a "cycle of poverty" within their populations; in contrast, by investing in girls, countries can reap significant benefits in the spheres of political and economic development. The report declares that "At the macroeconomic level, the size and competitiveness of tomorrow’s labor force will be shaped by today’s girls’ education and skill-building and by how much these girls use their education and skills in formal and informal economic activity."
♦ The Council on Foreign Relations has issued a series of reports calling girls’ education in the developing world "the key to global prosperity and health." The education crisis is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East, where the majority of out-of-school children are concentrated, and girls’ achievement and completion of even a basic education lags far behind that of boys’. A single year of primary education correlates with a 10 – 20 percent increase in women’s wages later in life; each year of secondary education yields an increase in the 15 – 25 percent range. An extra year of a woman’s education has been shown to reduce the risk that her children will die in infancy by 5 – 10 percent. A CFR study of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa found that from 1960 to 1992, more equal education between men and women could have led to nearly one percent higher annual per capita GDP growth.
The mounting evidence supporting the positive returns on investment in women and girls presents a significant challenge and opportunity for the global community. The world should seek to harness and accelerate the potential of women and girls to grow the global economy and improve the lives of millions of people everywhere through job creation, better health and education outcomes, more effective governance, and freedom from violence.