Sophie McBain picks up politics, business and international development stories from around the globe

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Gender inequality is costing the global economy trillions of dollars a year

A UN report released today has found that progress made towards reducing poverty is at risk of being reversed because of widening inequality and a failure to strengthen women's rights.

Women working at the Bank of America in 1970. In 2014, there is no country in the world where women have equal political and economic power to men. Photo:Getty.

According to a recent UN report, the progress made in the past 20 years towards reducing global poverty is at risk of being reversed because of a failure to combat widening inequality and strengthen women’s rights. The UN’s ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Report, has found that the number of people living in developing countries has more than halved from 47 per cent in 1990 to 22 per cent in 2010, but argues that many of the 1 billion people living in the 50-60 poorest countries will be left behind as the rest of the world gets richer.

Around the world, different groups are marginalised and discriminated against, but discrimination against women is universal. It’s a shocking thought that in 2014, there is no country in the world where women have equal economic and political power to men. As well as holding back billions of women from achieving their full potential, and asserting their right to live full, healthy lives, this is having an impact on the global economy too. Is, as the UN suggests, the reason for global wealth creation shifting from the West to fast-growing Eastern economies in part due to women’s increased economic participation? Most certainly.

According to the IMF, closing the gender gap in the labour market would raise the GDP of the USA by 5 per cent, the UAE by 12 per cent, Japan by 9 per cent and Egypt by 34 per cent. Using TradingEconomics figures for 2013, I calculated that this means gender equality is worth $784.2bn for the US, $536bn for Japan, $43.2bn for the UAE and $96.2bn for Egypt.

IMF also estimates that 853m women worldwide have the potential to contribute more to their economies, and 812m of these live in developing countries. In wealthier countries, more women in work can offset some of the negative effects caused by an ageing and shrinking workforce.

Bringing more women into work creates a positive cycle: as today’s UN report points out, poverty often hits women hardest. In the world’s poorest countries, women are more likely to die in childbirth, for instance, and are disproportionately affected by the grind of unpaid, physical domestic chores like food production and collecting water.  Across many countries, single mothers are among the poorest sector of society. Poverty is a both a cause and a consequence of inequality. Both globally and within countries, the gap between rich and poor is widening - more than half of the gains in global income since 1988 went to the richest 5 per cent-   a fact that will have an outsize impact on women.

Worldwide, 97 per cent of countries report having programmes and policies in place to address gender inequality, but with the lack of real political will, this still hasn’t levelled the playing field for women.  The economic impact of this global policy failure is just one reason for supporting women’s equality – but it is a good way of pointing out one obvious, but often overlooked point: when women gain, the whole of society benefits.