Lessons for World Leaders from Young Women

Empowering girls and women through education and entrepreneurship can help grow the global economy, argues Farah Mohamed.
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March 7, 2014

What do Christine Lagarde, the Aga Khan, Ban Ki Moon, Malala, Melinda & Bill Gates, Cate Blanchett, Prime Minister Abe, President Clinton, and 3.5 billion others have in common? 

They all understand that to reach, perhaps even exceed global growth targets, combat poverty, and ensure access to safe food and water we must economically empower girls and women through education and entrepreneurship, providing them an opportunity to thrive.

In its Women, Work, and the Economy report, released last fall at the Clinton Global Initiative, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated that closing the joblessness gap between women and their male counterparts would yield an increase in GDP. For the Arab Emirates, GDP would expand by 12 percent, in Japan by 9 percent, and in the United States by 5 percent.

Two year’s before, the World Bank declared that giving women the same access to non-land resources and services as men could increase yields on women’s land by up to 30 percent, raise total agricultural output in developing countries by up to four per cent, and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million.

Because women are more likely than men to invest a large proportion of their household income in the education of their children – 90 percent compared to 30-40 percent for men, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has said that “women’s work, both paid and unpaid, may be the single most important poverty-reducing factor in developing economies.”

Last week, while meeting with G20 Leaders the first woman to run the IMF, Christine Lagarde, took the position that if global economic growth targets are to be met, both genders will need to contribute. In making this comment, I suspect that Christine Lagarde was thinking as an economist first and a female second.

In sum, we clearly have the data to back up the case for economically empowering girls and women.

The question is, do we have the forum for doing so?

Collectively, G20 economies account for around 80 percent of world trade and two-thirds of world population.  Its top priorities are economic: to strengthen growth and create jobs.  If real change is to come, however, it needs to be led by G20 leaders in collaboration with social enterprises and the private sector.

Fortunately, G20 leaders have already promised to, “identify the remaining key obstacles to be addressed and reforms needed to achieve stronger, more sustainable and balanced growth in our economies.” It is now our job to hold these leaders to account.

So what are these obstacles?

The most obvious one is labour force participation. Over the past two decades, the global women’s labour force participation has stagnated, declining from 57 percent to 55 percent. Put simply, men are nearly twice as likely as women to have full time jobs.

What reforms are necessary to overcome this obstacle? 

Education is a start, but education alone is not enough.  To maximize the talents of women and meet global challenges, G20 leaders must focus on a number of solutions that work best in concert with one another. 

This includes, but is not limited to: investing in entrepreneurship training and access to capital, incentivizing programs that encourage high-quality business skills and development training, increasing access to affordable technology, changing land ownership laws so women can own land rather than rent it, placing value in informal work, fixing pay disparities (women in paid work earn on average between 10-30% less than men), enforcing child marriage laws and equitable inheritance laws, extending maternity and paternity leave, and, finally, putting in place affordable child-care programs.

We all have a role to play in making this happen.  It would be too easy and somewhat irresponsible to leave it up to government or even a combination of governments.

G(irls)20 is committed to doing its part concerning economic empowerment.  This coming August, G(irls)20 will hold its fifth annual Summit. Designed according to G20 Architecture, G(irls)20 brings together one girl, aged 18-20, from each G20 country, in addition to a representative each from the European and African Unions. In 2014, new delegations from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the MENA region will also be included.

By working the same agenda as the G20 leaders and seeking input from our stakeholders (private sector, social enterprise, and academia), delegates debate and design solutions to advance the interests – both political and economic – for girls and women to the benefit of the communities and countries they live in.  These solutions are prepared in the form of a communiqué presented to G20 leaders for their consideration. After the Summit, delegates return home and put their ideas into action by designing and executing their own initiatives or partnering with local social enterprises with the hope that their endeavours empower others in their community and contribute to the public good.

If 18-20 year old girls can do it… so can our global leaders.