Gender equality = smart economics by Hakan Akesson*

March 07, 2012, Wednesday/ 17:10:00

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day. This offers an occasion to reflect on the situation of women worldwide, to take stock of progress made so far and to discuss the challenges ahead concerning equal opportunity for women and men.

While the most acute phase of the global financial crisis seems to be behind us, the economic situation in many parts of the world -- not least in the eurozone -- remains tough. The crisis, being global in character, has clearly demonstrated that sustainable solutions must also be global in their approach.

One of the most difficult challenges facing many countries today is how to create more growth. The correlation between increased participation of women in the labor market and enhanced productivity and higher growth is clearly established. When women are allowed to enter the workforce, productivity and growth expands. Gender equality is not only a core objective in its own right, it is also economically sound. According to the “World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development,” produced by the World Bank with the financial support of, among others, the government of Sweden, investment in gender equality is smart economics. It can enhance productivity, improve the situation for future generations and make institutions more representative.

Not taking the skills and knowledge of women into account in an economy means that it will not operate at its fullest potential. In a highly competitive global economy, no one can afford to exclude or misallocate the talent and competence of large parts of the potential labor force.

It is also demonstrated that gender inequality hampers the ability of a country to compete internationally. For Sweden, a relatively small country highly dependent on free trade, this is of great importance. The level of women aged 15 to 64 who are employed in Sweden has over the years increased to 70 percent, compared to 74 percent for men.

Increased equality also enhances the overall development of countries. Since women tend to use a greater portion of their income for education, health and family compared to men, more women in the labor market means a healthier and more educated population. Obstacles for women’s participation in the labor market therefore need to be addressed through actions such as training, mentoring and advocacy. Freeing up women’s time by providing adequate infrastructure and support and allowing both women and men to combine work with family life would also enable more women to seek employment or start their own businesses. Women also need greater input in decision-making, in the household as well as in our societies in general. Equal participation in society by men and women will be to the benefit of the whole society -- economically, socially and not least, politically. A more equal representation of men and women in policy-making means that the perspectives, knowledge and experience of both sexes will be taken into account and transformed into concrete action.

A lot of progress has been made over the last century when it comes to closing the gender gap and increasing the rights of women, and women’s empowerment. Educational participation for women and girls has improved worldwide, and life expectancy for women has increased. But unfortunately, gender inequality is still a fact -- in Europe, as well as in other parts of the world. The road to equality is long, and continuous efforts are needed.

Improving opportunities for women is not just a matter for the few or for women only. It should matter to everyone since the positive effects of greater equality between men and women will benefit all.

It should be acknowledged that Turkey has done a lot of work over the last few years concerning gender equality. For instance, the gender gap in Turkey’s education system has more or less disappeared. It is also the only country so far to ratify the European Council’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women, the so-called İstanbul Convention, although 18 countries have signed the convention, among them Sweden. Sweden and Turkey have, for a number of years, had an extensive and fruitful cooperation regarding gender equality, and we look forward to continuing this important work together.

The government of Turkey is aiming to become one of the top 10 economies in the world by 2023 -- the centennial of the republic. Given the political will and the impressive reforms already carried out in the country, I have no doubt that it can be achieved, not least if the potential of Turkey’s women is fully realized.

*Hakan Akesson is the ambassador of Sweden to Turkey.

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