Looking at the Global Economics of Gender

A GW panel discussed tactics to empower women globally to be active participants in their country’s economy.

Women's Economic Empowerment
From left, Arturo Herrera, Nancy Birdsall, Danny Leipziger and Benigno Lopez discuss solutions that would globally empower women economically. (William Atkins/GW Today)
October 22, 2019

By Briahnna Brown

In the midst of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) annual meetings, George Washington University brought the issue of women’s economic empowerment to the forefront of discussion.

On Wednesday afternoon, School of Business professor Danny Leipziger moderated a panel with finance ministers Benigno López of Paraguay and Arturo Herrera of Mexico, as well as Center for Global Development founder Nancy Birdsall. The panel, which was sponsored by the Growth Dialogue and the Institute for International Economic Policy at the Elliott School of International Affairs, brought economic thought leaders together to discuss ways to encourage women’s participation globally in the economy.

Dr. Leipziger, who is also managing director of the Growth Dialogue, said that there has been some progress in narrowing gaps in educational attainment for women, but there is still a need to reduce impediments to women’s economic involvement in the economy, such as increasing labor force participation rates and access to credit to encourage entrepreneurship.

In looking at the economics of gender, Dr. Leipziger co-authored a paper that analyzed combining economic growth diagnostics and gender diagnostics to make the topic more attractive to finance ministers, who would potentially influence systemic changes that empower women to be economically effective.

In Mexico, Mr. Herrera said, less than half of women participate in the economy. Because the issue is intersectional, he said, it is hard to find solutions to tackle problems related to security and transportation—along with the added constraints for women who become mothers because they need more flexible resources—which appear to be some of the larger barriers to women’s economic participation.

"This is not only an issue of social justice, this is not only an issue of equity, this is an issue for global economies," Mr. Herrera said.

Any solutions to these issues require cooperation between local and federal governments, Mr. Herrera said, which can be difficult. A solution Mexico is starting to look at would involve having more women drive for rideshare companies such as Uber and offer credits from government banks to finance cars for women interested in driving. This would be an economic solution that would aid in issues related to security, access to credit and flexibility, Mr. Herrera said.

In Paraguay, Mr. López said, solutions to similar issues are focused on encouraging STEM educations for women to prepare them for the technology jobs the country plans to create. There is also a focus on promoting cultural change, which includes a push for more women in leadership positions. To do this, Mr. López said, men need to be incorporated in the conversation to help normalize discussing gender issues and promote gender inclusivity on a cultural level.

Dr. Birdsall said during the panel that government leadership has a role in changing social norms, and one way to do so is by institutionalizing gender budgeting. This includes adding subsidies for childcare up to pre-K. With shrinking middle classes in Latin American countries, she said, it is necessary to change social norms to provide women with real choices to enter the formal labor force.

"I don't think we have a very good understanding as economists about how to change social norms,” Dr. Birdsall said, “but I do think leaders in economics can have an influence indirectly on that aspect."

Dr. Leipziger concluded the panel’s discussion by reminding people of the bumper-sticker of the World Bank’s gender Action Plan that he initiated in 2006, which was “Women’s Economic Empowerment is Smart Economics.”

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