IMF provides more support to the economic argument for improving gender equality

by 22nd Jul 2016
Samia (name changed), a Syrian refugee living in Jordan, is learning laptop and computer repair through a CARE vocational training programme Samia (name changed), a Syrian refugee living in Jordan, is learning laptop and computer repair through a CARE vocational training programme

CARE’s focus on women’s economic empowerment is based on our belief in women’s rights and the key role that economic empowerment plays in the achievement of those rights, some of them inherent in economic empowerment itself and others to which economic empowerment provides a bridge. But we know that as we engage with government, donors and the private sector, it always helps to have a strong economic argument on our side, and once again the IMF have provided one.

A new IMF staff paper Gender Equality and Economic Diversification argues that gender-friendly policies could help countries diversify their economies, and in turn diversification is associated with both higher economic growth and lower volatility, particularly at the early stages of development.

The paper sets out that gender inequality decreases the variety of goods countries produce and export, in particular in low-income and developing countries. There are two reasons for this: one is that girls having fewer opportunities for their own development (eg lower enrolment in education) limits the talent pool that the economy can utilise, and the other is that the development of new ideas is impeded as the efficiency of the labour force is lower.

So, even for the most sceptical government, this is additional evidence for an instrumental justification (ie not based on women’s rights but rather on national – or even the elite’s – benefit) for gender equality.

It does of course still leave open the question of who benefits from the economic growth. As Naila Kabeer and Luisa Natali have noted:

…the relationship between gender equality and economic growth is an asymmetrical one. The evidence that gender equality, particularly in education and employment, contributes to economic growth is far more consistent and robust than the relationship that economic growth contributes to gender equality in terms of health, wellbeing and rights.

But since the IMF evidence is that the actual achievement of at least some improvement in women’s wellbeing and rights is the precursor to growth, their paper is a useful addition to the argument.

CARE’s work on women’s economic empowerment is directed towards ensuring that women have access to and control over the economic resources they need in order to achieve their rights. But having one more argument for the importance of gender equality is always helpful.

Gerry Boyle

Gerry led CARE International UK’s policy analysis and advocacy around value chains and dignified work. He originally joined CARE as the Senior Policy Adviser on Private Sector Engagement. With the advent of our new Global Programme Strategy which put a particular emphasis on women’s economic empowerment, his focus changed a little.

Gerry co-chaired the Bond Private Sector Working Group. Immediately before he joined CARE he worked for Oxfam as Head of Business Relations for about three years, but the vast majority of his career was spent as a management consultant including being a consulting Partner at Deloitte, where for a time he led Deloitte UK’s Consumer Business consulting practice, serving many major multinationals. Gerry's original degree was in Law from Oxford University, and in 2008 when he left Deloitte he did an MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy at LSE.

One good thing I've read

Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom. It provides a framework for many people’s modern understanding of what is development, based on a profoundly human-centred approach rather than anything instrumental. And to check whether one personally is doing enough to fight poverty, I recommend Peter Singer’s The life you can save: Acting now to end world poverty – it’s very clear and easy to read but very challenging! Finally, Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans: Rich nations, poor policies, and the threat to the developing world is a very readable guide to economic development which argues strongly against many of the prevailing orthodoxies.

Twitter: @gerryboyle10