Monday, March 9, 2015

How using only half our human capital hurts our global economy

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently released a letter stating that investment in women's and girls' education and health is a key means of achieving growth for nations and communities around the world. I wholeheartedly agree. According to at least one report, women's increased participation in the workforce in the last few decades has resulted in more economic growth globally than has China's entire economy. Considering the fact that many women and girls worldwide remain uneducated and do not receive the same opportunities as males with regard to employment or labor, how much more advanced would our global economy be if women and girls were allowed to realize their educational and economic potential?

For instance, women do at least half of the farm work in Africa, but agricultural education in African countries is largely geared toward males. As a result, women's farms are not nearly as productive as those of their male counterparts. By including women in agricultural education programs and providing them with the same kinds of technology provided to many male farmers (such as mobile phones that enable farmers to access weather reports and market prices), the African farming industry can significantly increase its productivity and even achieve food security for Africans by 2030. Last year, the World Bank reported:
[i[f women worldwide had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30%...Gains in agricultural production alone could lift 100 to 150 million people out of hunger.
Moreover, education is considered a basic human right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among other international treaties. Countries that exclude girls and women from education and the workforce impede the growth of their own economies by allowing only half their labor force to participate in the economy in a meaningful way. The World Bank estimated in a 2012 study that there are at least 31 million girls that are not in school. However, over 25% of economic growth in OECD countries in the last 50 years can be attributed to girls' increased educational attainment.

The World Bank also found that average wage gaps between men and women in the workforce are about 20% worldwide. However, at least one report has shown that females could collectively increase their global income by up to 76% if the wage gap and employment participation gap between males and females were closed. This translates to a global value of $17 trillion.

Moreover, according to evidence from several countries worldwide, women who are in control of household income are more likely to spend that income on ways that benefit children, by spending, for example, on food, health, and education. Further, women who received an education are more than twice as likely to send their children to school compared to mothers who did not receive an education.

It is abundantly clear that communities and nations worldwide have much to gain from educating their women and girls, and allowing them to participate in employment opportunities. For a further discussion on the denial of women's rights abroad, read this post. For a discussion on how restrictions on female education and employment worldwide predisposes women to violence, read this post.


Jessica S. said...

I think many people still do not know these numbers, or fail to see the extent of the problem. After all, many individuals completely deny sexism or gendered division of labor plays any part whatsoever in how our world functions. Also, most people can get short-sighted or self-interested, and the goal of bettering us all does not appeal to them.

Hart Ku said...

Very interesting. But moreso than the statistics about the global economic effects of increased female participation in the workforce, I'm drawn to your discussion about how women who contribute to - or have control over - the household income are able to improve the relative power and welfare of both themselves and their children.

It reminds me of when I studied the early microfinance movement in Bangladesh with the Grameen Bank. Originally, the Grameen Bank ONLY lent to women. Why? According to Grameen's founder Muhammad Yunus:

"Based on our experience in Bangladesh, money going to the families through women brings much more of a benefit than the same money going through a man. Women want to build it up for the future, they have a longer term vision. Women look at the family situation, improving the children’s situation, unlike the men, who try to concentrate on immediate gratification and enjoyment of life. We saw the same thing in other countries where the idea of microcredit has spread. It has to do with women culture, not country culture. Women and men both work in factories, but when they get their wages, men go to the pub and women buy groceries and go home..."

Although plenty of feminists have attacked Yunus' philosophies, what had left an impression on me during my research was how wives/clients were able to take greater control over their household and upend the pre-existing household balance of power.

And beyond the desirable social effects, it was more profitable to lend to women. The rate of repayment was near 100%. This supports the assertion that giving women a bigger say in the global economy will pay dividends.

But generally, I wonder if there is too much talk about imposing feminism in the law, corporate policies, the media, etc., and way too little about how we can impose feminism within the household, where perhaps it would be the most effective.

Jessica S. said...

Yes, that is a good point. Although changing the law and corporate policies would put limits on some forms of discrimination, there probably is not enough cultural change, and change on gender roles in the home. But it is like a vicious cycle- we don't see women as earners, we don't compensate them enough, then they don't have a say at home, and it comes back to not seeing them as earners. I guess we have to start somewhere, even if it's not the best point at which to intervene.

Sara said...

There are many convincing statistics presented in your blog post. Hopefully, more and more countries will see the economic and social benefits of educating women, allowing them to join the workforce, and giving them power in the home. I also agree with Jessica's point. While I think it is important to introduce feminism in the household, I question whether this type of broad cultural change may be possible in many countries without the necessary nudge from the law and employer policies. It goes back to the question of which comes first: broad cultural changes or legal requirements forcing those cultural changes?

Rebecca F. said...

Ahva, I think your opening question - "how much more advanced would our global economy be if women and girls were allowed to realize their educational and economic potential?" - is an incredibly important one and one I wish more people took seriously. Limiting the success of half of our global population undoubtedly has serious consequences on our global economy, just as the statistics you and Hart have highlighted demonstrate.

Figuring out what to do about the underutilization of half our global population is certainly a challenge. And it seems to inevitably lead to this frustrating chicken or the egg kind of discussion. Honestly, I'm not sure which should come first: legal requirements, social pressures, or household changes. Although sometimes it seems like nothing in particular has to come first – as long as enough incremental change happens in some of those areas, broad cultural changes can follow.