Women’s Economic Development – Beyond COVID’19
The year 2020 will not be forgotten in a hurry. As the spread of the virus remodeled all our lives this year, we collectively went through phases. Panic was the first phase as we feared for the uncertainties it came with, then we began to adapt as we started to adjust and make sense of the changes we were experiencing and finally we accepted the “new normal” as we warily began to give meaning to our new lives. This new normal further led us to rethink through what we had consciously or unconsciously taken for granted, what we had accepted or tolerated and what we truly needed to change for better. However, it also revealed the ways in which our culture and society at large cause certain groups to be more negatively affected.
According to statistics, women accounted for more of the number of people who lost their jobs and means of income because of the pandemic when compared to men. This is not far fetched given that more women account for majority of primary care givers and workers in the service industry and retail, industries which were mostly impacted by COVID19 as well as running small and medium scale businesses. Unfortunately, these same women still shoulder the bulk of caregiving at home, having to care and provide for their dependents. Searching further, we find that most single parent households are women, the number of internally displaced people are also majorly women. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), women perform 76.2% of total hours of unpaid care work, more than 3 times as much as men. With all of this, we can argue that the pandemic is helping to bring to the surface, issues that have long been ignored. There is now a profound understanding of how the work done by women has remained undervalued for the longest time, the challenges of adequately juggling a successful career and family responsibilities.
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In a New York times interview by Francesca Donner, Nahla Valji, the senior gender adviser to the Secretary General of the United Nations, said that our formal economy is only possible because it is subsidized by women’s unpaid work. What I strongly agree with in that conversation was that it has become necessary to start thinking about how to rebuild in a way that is more equitable and will also ensure more resilience for future shocks. In doing this, women must be placed at the heart of it.
One pattern that emerged early on was that female leaders were seen to have handled the crisis remarkably well. From New Zealand under Jacinda Ardern to Taiwan under the presidency of Tsai Ing-Wen and Germany under Angela Merkel, female-led countries have shown examples of how to manage a crisis of this magnitude. For decades, the consideration for gender parity has existed and recently, we have seen increasing focus on the roles and the quota of women in the workforce and improvement of women’s economic empowerment. However, a report from USSIF foundation, Investing to advance women: A guide for investors, documents that women still earn almost 20% less than their male counterparts, barely 27% of CEOs are women. It is therefore necessary to correct this inequality as investing in women is salient to sustainable development. It does however become truly baffling that despite proven returns in investing and advancing women, women still have to deal with several barriers in benefiting from this development and even adding to it. These barriers range from relatively low investments in female education and continue through, with restricted access to certain services and worsened by the legal and regulatory barriers to opportunities for women. Given all these, the expected progress all over the world in female empowerment and development has not translated into commensurate gains for women.
Research from around the world has continuously demonstrated that organizations which support and value women’s leadership and societies that focus on providing economic opportunities for women, do better. According to the United Nations Girls Education Initiative, when you increase the income of an educated woman, she in turn invests about 90% of the income back into her family. This data is one of many that supports the conclusion that when you educate a woman, you encourage economic growth. The question then becomes, how much economic growth? According to an estimate from the Mckinsey Global Institute, $12 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 through gender parity. Investing in women therefore needs to go beyond merely counting women and viewing them simply as economic opportunities but should place investment decisions in a context that supports women’s economic empowerment. This will ensure that private or public investments will advance the lives of women, amplify their voices and set the stage for greater asset building and improve access to the resources women need to thrive economically.
Weyinmie is a development expert with special focus on Gender, Financial Inclusion and Enterprise Development. She has over 8 years working experience across several sectors – oil and gas, extractive sector, not for profit management, leadership, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. She is the founder of Wevvo Nigeria, a resource and community-based platform that supports single female breadwinners.