Calling for an Industrial Revolution 2.0 – powered by women

by 24th Sep 2015
Road maintenance workers in a village in Sindh Province, Pakistan Road maintenance workers in a village in Sindh Province, Pakistan

On Friday 25 September, together with DFID and UN Women, CARE will bring together government, international organisations, business and civil society at the ‘Transforming Economies: Empowering Women and Girls’ event (during the UNGA summit to approve the new Sustainable Development Goals). Participants come in their roles as leaders, decision makers, and activists. On Friday hopefully they will also come as change makers.

Because although the importance of women’s economic empowerment runs as a red thread through several goals and targets in the new SDGs, it is clear that achieving economic empowerment of women will not happen automatically post the General Assembly signing off on the SDGs.

As last minute preparations are being ticked off and commitments from participants are coming in, it is time to think about the parts/ingredients needed to create the change.

One thing we should start with is to work together to create a new Industrial Revolution. Not powered by fossil fuel but by a completely changed attitude to women and work. To women and markets. Let’s call it Industrial Revolution 2.0.

A revolution, because a small nudge simply isn’t enough: progress is too slow. Across the world, too many women find themselves in precarious, low wage, informal employment with much less control than men over income and assets, greater levels of financial exclusion, and at a substantially lower pay rate than men – 24 percent less than men globally, and even (quite shockingly) in a country like Germany where women during their lifetime earn half as much income as men, as pointed out by the Progress of the World’s Women report.
Business needs to play a major role driving this. Not just smashing glass ceilings and getting more female FTSE100 leaders and tipping the balance in board rooms all over the world, however important that is. But also seriously considering the millions of women whose often unrecognised labour on family farms puts the quality into cocoa, who pick the tea we drink, migrate to the big city to produce the clothes we wear and look after our families as domestic workers, or scrape a living from a multitude of small enterprises driven by necessity rather than opportunity.

Industrial Revolution 2.0 must recognise women’s contribution, ensuring that they are valued equally to men with equal opportunities and fair rewards. Let’s have dignity in work, and dignity through work, for women all over the world. Let’s make sure women reap fair rewards from their engagement with markets.

The change needed for Industrial Revolution 2.0 will also need to look beyond the workplace. Sticky issues outside of work that hold women back must be tackled. A fresh view on ‘women’s work’ is needed. Women spend 1-3 hours more a day on household work, 2-10 times more a day on caring for children or the elderly. That doesn’t leave much time for making a living.

Governments can alter the playing field significantly through, for example, affordable childcare options. Within wider society, a change is needed to deep-seated gender stereotypes around perceptions around women’s productive, reproductive and care roles. This requires working with both women and men.

It ought to be do-able. After all, greater economic empowerment of women will support both men and women (and their joint families) to achieve their (economic) aspirations. Plus it gives men the opportunity to pursue new roles and balance between family and work and thereby expand their role in society.

At a recent meeting with a very large donor, the (quite senior) person I was with said to me that “women’s economic empowerment is the best message we can put forward right now”. (Yay, this is going well, I thought.) But it was rather disappointingly followed up with “we need to get going, we’ve got a five year window, you know, on this women thing...”

Thousands of years of women trailing men in the economic sphere/women being held back economically/economic exclusion... and five years “on this women thing” is the attention span we can hope for?

Finding better ways for half the world’s population to fulfil their economic potential and ambitions just cannot be a short-term donor/development fad – though I agree that we can no longer wait for things to shift. At CARE, we’re setting out to support 30 million women to gain greater access to and control over economic resources, assets and opportunities.

Quite simply, because economic empowerment is necessary to accomplish equality between women and men, achieve social justice and overcome poverty.

Christine Svarer

Christine Svarer was formerly Head of Women’s Economic Empowerment and Private Sector Engagement at CARE International (until April 2016). Christine and her team led CARE’s work to economically empower 30 million women by 2020 with particular emphasis on financial inclusion, entrepreneurship, dignified work, women and value chains and economic empowerment in fragile contexts.

Before this, Christine headed up CARE’s work on Private Sector Engagement overseeing innovative partnerships with global companies such as Barclays, Mondelez and Anglo American. She has previously worked in a number of NGOs and for the UN on business and market development and leadership training for sustainable development.

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