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Emerging Voices: Henriette Kolb on Gender Equality and Economic Growth

by Guest Blogger for Isobel Coleman
October 16, 2013

A woman works at a brick factory in La Paz Centro, Nicaragua, March 2010 (Courtesy Reuters/Oswaldo Rivas). A woman works at a brick factory in La Paz Centro, Nicaragua, March 2010 (Courtesy Reuters/Oswaldo Rivas).


Emerging Voices features contributions from scholars and practitioners highlighting new research, thinking, and approaches to development challenges. This article is from Henriette Kolb, head of Gender Secretariat at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector financing arm of the World Bank. Here she discusses how gender equality can boost economic growth.

Worldwide, women’s labor force participation is lower than that of men. Moreover, women often work in the informal economy and are more likely to be unpaid for their work or face significant wage gaps. A recent report, “Women, Work and the Economy,” published by the International Monetary Fund, highlights how this gender inequality in the work force hurts economic growth.

The report reveals that closing gender gaps in the labor market would raise GDP in the United States by 5 percent, in the United Arab Emirates by 12 percent, and in Egypt by 34 percent. The economic benefits of gender equality are particularly high in rapidly aging societies, where boosting women’s labor force participation could help offset the impact of a shrinking workforce.

Similarly, another recent report, “Investing in Women’s Employment,” published by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), confirms that better employment opportunities for women can also contribute to increased profitability and productivity in the private sector. Companies that invest in women’s employment often find that it benefits their bottom line by improving staff retention, innovation, and access to talent and new markets.

Last fall, several global companies, including Anglo American, Mriya, Odebrecht, and Rio Tinto, came together to learn how they could boost women’s employment in their firms. These private sector actors partnered with IFC’s Women in Business (WIN) program, which aims to generate ideas, best practices, and peer-learning around women’s employment. The resulting WINvest coalition – comprised of business leaders and IFC investment and advisory leaders — have identified a number of concrete interventions, including targeted training, childcare support, health services, and alternative work arrangements,that can enhance business performance and improve working conditions for women and men alike.

When companies invest in women, it pays off. For example, after Nalt Enterprise, a Vietnamese garment factory, established a kindergarten for workers’ children, staff turnover fell by one third. By encouraging more women to apply to its pre-hire engineering and construction skills training programs, Odebrecht, a global corporation, was able to recruit more workers, engage with local communities, and provide women with a foothold in the construction industry.

Overall, better jobs for women benefit individuals, families, communities, companies, and economies. With more income and financial independence, women can increase household spending on children’s nutrition, health, and education. The potential for social and economic change is too good to pass up.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Lara

    In Europe a lot of women earn more money then man. The western world change, the next part came.

  • Posted by Prosie Kikabi - Uganda

    i completely agree with the research study. As a woman i would definitely work for a company that understands my concerns. for any woman, if the children are well catered for, then trust me the productivity will be high and the turn over will be minimal. i would suggest that on the personal benefits companies offer, they should add daycare programmes especially for your mothers near the workplaces. In Africa we leave our children with house-helps who sometimes are not very caring, so the child will get infections and get sick, so definitely i will stop the office work immediately to go and attend to my sick child and even stay with it another two days to ensure it is well and administer the medication. Yet all this could be avoided with a professional daycare. even if the child gets sick, i will use my break tome to go and monitor its health yet am productively managing my work load. the result of not being comfortable at work has led to so many your women refusing to get married or even giving birth after marrying. This has increased family wrangles and break-ups.
    Something must be done to assist young mothers who are still volunteering to motherhood yet they need this job badly to support their families. In Uganda many young women are the source of happiness to their extended families who are deep down in the villages and cannot cope up with inflation and its consequences. The men mainly think of developing themselves or even waste all the money to impress nice looking women, they rarely think of the parents and siblings who need assistance back in the villages. Women on the contrary have that heart to think of the rest of the family members and their well-being.

  • Posted by Balkrishna Sharma

    Status in Nepal:
    1. Female members of the households whose male members have migrated for employment are compelled with additional responsibilities and work burden. Similarly, there is high prevalence of sexual gender based violence (SGBV) and domestic violence amongst girls and women from rural community in Nepal.
    2. People from remote VDCs in Nepal still need to walk long distance to reach financial services where women’s and DAG’s movement is comparatively thin due to their occupancy in their daily routine household work and “hand to mouth” earning activities. Hence, most of the people from these groups are not aware about the financial as well as entrepreneurship enhancement related services and take advantage of such services.
    3. Various cultural and political practices were found to make girls and women vulnerable to food insecurity. Lack of mobility for women, access to education and family property, and customs putting women in a lower position was found to make them vulnerable to food insecurity.
    4. For female entrepreneurs, the risk bearing capacity is relatively low because of male-dominating practices in economic activities, an example- if a male fails in one enterprise he can try another enterprise without facing family objections. If a female fails in an enterprise, she is largely discouraged to undertake another venture. Women in Nepal are taking thin amount of loan in group collateral. Because of lack of female-ownership of fixed assets that they require taking large amount of loan and are not able to access in the absence of tangible collateral.

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