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Go figure how women make a difference

GENDER

At the current rate of progress, it will take more than 200 years to achieve gender equality and female empowerment at work.

In many countries, girls are still forced to marry young, which limits their access to education and future employment. Child labour is also common and almost a third of the world’s women believe that domestic violence is a justifiable punishment for some things, such as burning meals.

Legal frameworks enshrine these values.

Today, 10 countries still allow marital rape, and nine permit rapists to avoid punishment by marrying their victims. Around the world, the absence of paid maternity leave, childcare facilities or family-friendly job policies prevent women’s participation in the formal economy. Even when women do manage to have a career, they still assume three-quarters of household responsibilities.

Promoting a more equal, gender-inclusive world is justified not only on moral grounds but also in economic terms. According to our estimates, if countries eliminated gender-based discrimination and granted women greater access to education and jobs, global gross domestic product (GDP) would increase by $6-trillion over the next decade. Although the rationale for change may be strong, countries often struggle to develop gender-based policies rooted in solid data and evidence.

To address this gap, in 2009 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) developed the Social Institutions and Gender Index (Sigi) with data for about 180 countries. With the Sigi policy simulator, which was launched this year, governments can assess how inclusive their gender policies are, identify areas for reform and evaluate the programmes they implement.

The data have already yielded important insights. Consider Germany. Although it ranks high on world gender-equality indexes, Sigi shows that it could enter the top 10 with a relatively simple change: legally mandating equal pay for equal work. The absence of this costs Germany the equivalent of 1% of GDP, according to the most recent OECD Economic Outlook.

In Chile, granting married women the same property rights as married men would increase total investment by 1%. In Vietnam, helping women access the same professional opportunities as men would increase labour-force participation by 1%.

In many countries, only mothers are entitled to parental leave. But this reinforces the perception that unpaid care work is a woman’s job, which in turn skews the distribution of domestic duties. Women in Pakistan and India spend, on average, 10 times longer on housework than men do, which means less time to participate in market-related activities, studying or simply relaxing. Nor is this trend unique to South Asia.

So how can governments use Sigi to change laws and advance gender equality? The best way is to learn from the experiences of others.

In Liberia, a law passed in 2015 entitles women to receive equal pay for equal work. In 2000, Ethiopia repealed language that gave only men the right to administer family assets. In 2015, Bulgaria eliminated male-only professions. And in 2002, Sweden sought to balance childcare responsibilities between parents by increasing the “father’s quota” in the parental leave law from one month to two.

Data and planning made these initiatives possible, and the OECD’s new datasets are designed to help other countries to follow suit. Ultimately, such action will help to create equality for both women and men, and to build sustainable, respectful and peaceful societies. We now have the data to help women to fulfil their potential — and to see what happens when we fail to do so. — © Project Syndicate

Gabriela Ramos and Mario Pezzini both hold key roles in the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development

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