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The role of women in sustainable economic development

By Katie M. Scholz  | 04 October 2012

A discussion about sustainable development is not complete without a conversation on gender equality. Since women account for half of any country’s talent base, empowering their participation in the workforce greatly enhances productivity and fosters economic growth.on Reuters) In fact, World Bank studies show that development strategies focusing on gender equality see stronger economic growth than gender-neutral strategies. Throughout the world, women represent a substantial, underutilized force for sustainable development. In Asia, for example, women are responsible for 50% of agricultural output, while nearly 80% of the agricultural labor in Africa market is female. Unfortunately, many of these women lack access to necessary agricultural resources, which, if freely accessible, could decrease global hunger by 12-17%.

Extreme poverty presents a large obstacle, as women and girls comprise 70% of the 1.3 billion people living on less than a dollar per day.  Empowering women to take part in the workforce is not a simple problem to solve. For many women, there are physical and psychological consequences for entering the workplace – harassment, discrimination, violence and shame. Moreover, women across the globe still require investment in basic health and education. A crucial part of the solution is getting resources for these working women to access to these working women to access, allowing them to thrive in their economic environments so that they may, in turn, foster the success of local communities. However, the solution must fit both the lifestyles of women and their cultures. For example, in indigenous societies women are custodians of traditional knowledge relating to resource management; providing access to modern technology presents a perfect opportunity for both empowering local women and encouraging sustainable development.

The strategy for economic empowerment, according to the WorldBank is twofold: (1) making the market work for women and (2) empowering women in the market. Supporting the economic empowerment of women is not just good company policy; it actually benefits the corporate world. Firms that employ women in leadership positions have better performance and higher profits. And, contrary to what might be believed, supporting female employment actually has a positive impact on family life and encourages women to have more children. Countries with family-oriented practices and government funded healthcare have both more working women and higher birth rates than those without gender equality policies, an important consideration for countries with aging populations.

Gender equality is not just a lofty aspiration anymore; it is the necessary missing link for sustainable development. Women, on average, reinvest up to 90% of income into their households. Reducing gender inequality gives women more money to spend on food, housing and education – crucial components for reducing poverty and promoting sustainable development. The corporate world increasingly realizes the importance of gender equality policies, with more firms looking for guidance on voluntarily reporting and improving their gender equality policies in the workplace, the supply chain and the community. The consensus is growing: getting more women into the workforce is the cure to many economic ills and imperative to sustainable development.



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