The year 2022 has exposed major fault-lines in the global systems with nations across the world struggling to confront various crises—that include the lingering impact of COVID-19, price hikes, and the prolonged fear of economic recession—all of which disproportionately impact women. As a result, pre-existing gender inequalities now stand widened with the vision of achieving gender parity becoming more and more blurred.
But the question that needs to be raised here is, whether a sound economic recovery is really possible without including half of the world’s population. After all, women’s economic empowerment and gender equality are the very foundation of an equitable as well as sustainable economic development. It is perhaps, time to move away from the conventional ways of solving the world’s biggest challenges and explore the unconventional methods—such as vigorously investing in women—for poverty eradication and inclusive as well as speedy economic growth.
The Prospects of Gender Equity
Women—across the globe—contribute both directly and indirectly towards economic growth and development. The most direct way is through their workforce participation that not only boosts production but also tax contributions, incomes and savings at the household, community and the national level. However, the extent of their contribution is often restricted by their lack of ownership and control over productive assets as well as limited access to education, training and health mediums.
Anecdotal evidence has time and again highlighted the crucial role education can play in empowering women. To put it simply, even with a few years of education, women can strive to achieve improved economic prospects, enjoy more secure employment and higher wages, a better chance of sending their own children to school. A 2014 World Bank Report in fact, found that “each additional year of schooling boosts women’s earnings by an average of 11.7 per cent in comparison to 9.6 per cent for men.” It is therefore, safe to say that gender inequality in education alone can majorly obstruct economic growth.
Besides, improved health and a better access to family planning services matter too. Healthy women come with higher energy and stamina to engage in the workforce; enhance their ability to work for longer hours; and, increase their chances of performing physical labour, thereby, putting them at power with their male counterparts to contribute towards sustainable development.
Similarly, family planning services can help in lowering the fertility rate, which in turn facilitates poverty reduction because as fertility begins to decline, dependency falls, enabling the society to produce more per person. This then opens up the potential for families to save and invest more, and eases the pressure of a nation to look after a swelling population, allowing the government to spend more on projects that facilitate economic growth.
And even though investing in women’s education, health and increased access to resources have a positive effect on economic prosperity individually, when combined, these investments create an even more virtuous cycle, building stronger nations as well as a sustainable and fairer world.
Concrete Steps to Support Women
There exist various options that can be pursued by countries, which are willing to invest in women, improve economic performance, and stabilise their growth trajectory.
In this aspect, creating an enabling environment for women in education provides a good starting point. Schools therefore, need to ensure infrastructure development such as gender-segregated toilets, running water, and availability of sanitary products that act as important factors in encouraging girls to attend academia. Policies also need to be rolled out for reduced school fees, imposing admission quotas and launching conditional cash transfers for school attendance, which could make girl’s education more affordable, incentivising and persuading families to send their daughters to school.
The Government of India, has in fact, set a leading example in enhancing female education through infrastructure development and changing societal perception—regarding girls attending schools—by undertaking the flagship ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ campaign. As per the recent All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-2020), the gross enrolment ratio of female students in higher education is higher than male students, standing at 27.3 per cent and 26.9 per cent respectively.
Besides education, women’s general health care needs to be taken care of. This includes offering concessions on women’s hospital bills, increasing the availability of female doctors, and providing nutrition tablets—to all women irrespective of their class, caste or religion—free of cost.
In addition, funding for family planning also needs to be enhanced to ensure easy access for women. Given that satisfying the unmet need for contraceptive services—in the developing countries—could avoid 52 million unintended annual pregnancies, investments need to be made towards supplying quality contraceptives and other medical measures. Another factor that could be helpful in this area is the implementation of policies such as raising the age bar of marriage, harsher child marriage laws, etc., which can together help in lowering the fertility rate.
There is little doubt about the fact human capital is among the country’s greatest asset. However, to utilise its full potential and reap economic benefits, the entire talent pool—including women—need to be integrated. And given the turbulent time the global economy has today set foot in, investing towards the empowerment of women is not just the right thing to do but it is in fact, smart economics.
This has been authored by Akanksha Khullar.