Levelling the playing field for women: the IMF perspective

The IMF have spoken: in a staff discussion note published a few days ago, entitled ‘Fair Play: More Equal Laws Boost Female Labor Force participation’, the authors outline research which supports women’s involvement in the workplace in all countries of the world. Their main finding is that “less legal discrimination against women is strongly associated with higher female labor force participation”; moreover, the evidence suggests that when more women participate in the workforce, the country thrives economically. The report reminds us of the conclusion of the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Report, namely that a positive correlation has been found between gender equality and per capita GDP and the level of a country’s competitiveness, as well as the human development indicators for which we all should be striving.

The authors of this recent report express their findings cautiously, not wishing to offend: “In recommending equal opportunities … this study does not intend to render a judgment of countries’ broadly accepted cultural and religious norms”; when they speak of the power of removing legal obstacles to gender equality in the workplace, they temper their conclusion: “legal changes enable women to enter into economic activity, which may change social attitudes. It should also be emphasized that the policy recommendations in this note with respect to creating equal opportunity should be considered against the backdrop of countries’ broadly accepted cultural and religious norms.”

Understandable though this is – a natural desire not to upset, perhaps, or a more subtle move towards evolution rather than revolution – it is nonetheless unfortunate that the authors could not be stronger in their recommendations. All the evidence they cite demonstrates clearly that economies and societies thrive with greater gender equality. No country is free of bias or prejudice; the authors of the report are certainly not advocating following a particular model. Their conclusions point strongly, though, to the – surely now indisputable – fact that when men and women are treated equally, the world is a better and more prosperous place, in every sense.

This is a message we all need to hear, repeat, and work to translate into reality. The IMF’s conclusions help us along this path.

 

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