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Investing in Women and Girls is Investing in the World

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Last year, estimates show that there are 100 women for every 101 men. Women then comprise roughly half of the world’s population. However, globally, compared to men, women suffer more and multiple challenges including socio-cultural marginalization, gender income disparity, and lack of voice and agency. How is it that we are not considering it a global emergency that women and girls are not receiving the support they need to thrive and achieve their full potential? We are talking about almost half the population of the world.

 

A glimpse at the World Bank’s Human Capital Index (HDI) of 2018 shows that in most low income economies women have lower HDI than men, which means that women are less likely to achieve their full potential because of their education and health, or lack thereof.

 

What exactly do women and girls, especially in lower income countries go through? In many cases, women are culturally excluded from having gainful employment. There are also some sector-specific regulations that keep women from certain kinds of jobs such as some manufacturing, mining, and construction. While 75% of men above 15 years old are employed globally, only 49% of women are.

 

Women are also over-represented in the informal sector. Informality is a double jeopardy for women. Aside from lacking opportunities in job market mobility for being low-skilled, women and girls receive lower incomes than men for the same amount of work. There is a deeply entrenched gender income disparity among men and women for which women are always at the losing end. Women and girls do unpaid work at home and community, and thus more often excluded from social protection measures often attached to formal work.

 

These already grave challenges will be compounded with the disruptions being caused by globalization and the changing nature of work. Retraining and re-skilling are only two of the solutions being offered to buffer the impact to lower-skill workers for their mobility in the rapidly transforming job market. However, more girls than boys are still not able to attend school. Or if they do, they attend less number of years than boys. And if girls drop out of school, there are higher chances of them getting married and/or having children before they are 18, which almost automatically excludes them from gainful employment or ties them to informal or unpaid work.

 

But given the cultural roles of women as carers at home and at work, the low level of social protection they receive cascade to their children, family, community, and country. The more women are excluded from social assistance and social insurance, the deeper the impact to the health and education of their children, perpetuating a cycle of marginalization and poverty. This also holds true for women’s education. The less years women attend school, the less they are able to access formal work, thus automatically excluding them from maternity benefits which contributes in the critical development phase in the first 1000 days of a child through proper care during pre and postnatal periods, more time to care for children, possibly even breastfeeding and other stimulation provided in the early years of a child.

Young mothers in Cambodia given information during the World Breastfeeding Week. Photo courtesy of Let Us Create Futures- Cambodia.

What does the world lose when women lose? Women contribute only 38% of human capital wealth globally. In lower income economies, they contribute a third, or even less. Assuming women would earn as much as men, the loss of human capital wealth due to gender inequality is a staggering 160.2 Trillion which is twice the global GDP.

 

By empowering women, raising their economic participation, and providing them the same income as men receive, the world gains by increasing human capital wealth by 21.7 percent globally, and total wealth by 14.0 percent with gender equality in earnings.

 

An additional year that women attend school gives them more access to information, services and resources from pregnancy to childbirth which positively affects how they raise their children. The more educated mothers are, the less stunting of their children, in turn giving children a fighting chance to escape the poverty that their parents experienced.

 

Providing women social assistance have proven helpful in improving education and health of their children. Initiatives such as the Universal Basic Income (UBI), an unconditional cash assistance provided regardless of employment status will ensure that women of low education and skills, and even women in unpaid domestic work will have access to critical support that they are often excluded from.

Typhoon Haiyan survivor in Ajuy, Philippines supported with cash transfer and entrepreneurial support proudly shows off her group saving book. Photo courtesy of PRC-BRC Haiyan Recovery Project

The World Development Report says that building human capital is a project for the world. Half of this project is investing in women and girls, and allowing them the opportunity to increase the returns not only for themselves, but for the society and economy as well.

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