If women could fully and equally participate in the economy, global GDP could increase by 26%.
Something’s gotta give.
“We’ll never reach our goals if we don’t also address the systematic way that women and girls are undervalued,” Melinda Gates said in op-ed for Quartz published on Monday.
That’s why the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged to invest $170 million to advance women’s economic empowerment over the next four years.
“When money flows into the hands of women who have the authority to use it, everything changes,” Melinda said.
Studies have shown that when women have financial resources they tend to put their families first, leading to better health and hunger outcomes. Children of women who are able to manage their own money and have their own source of income have better survival and growth rates, according to the World Bank.
And if women were able to participate equally in the workforce and were paid equally for their work, the global annual GDP could increase by 26% — up to $28 trillion — helping to combat poverty, the McKinsey Global Institute reported.
But around the world, women are paid less than men and are more likely than men to work low-paying jobs in the informal job sector. This kind of work, including domestic work, seasonal agricultural work, and street vending, is often under-regulated and under-valued, according to the UN, and can leave women more vulnerable to abuses of their rights, including sexual violence.
Often women are relegated to such roles because of social norms that limit their education and work opportunities and systematically under-value them. According to the UN, at least 79 countries have laws that place limitations on the kinds of work women are allowed to do, and in 15 countries, a woman’s husband can prevent his wife from working.
But when women gain economic empowerment, even in small measures, these perceptions of women and their potential begin to shift.
In her op-ed, Melinda cites a recent study that found that simply opening a bank account encouraged women in India to begin working outside of their homes and began to change men’s attitudes about women working.
The Gates Foundation’s commitment to advancing women’s economic empowerment over the next four years is accompanied by its new gender equality strategy, which Melinda outlined in her op-ed. As part of this initiative, the organization will support female farmers across Asia and Africa and help to ensure that they receive fair prices for their products.
The foundation also plans to encourage women in eight different countries, including Tanzania, Pakistan, and India, to gain direct control over their finances by using digital bank accounts.
When a woman has greater control over her finances and economic opportunities, she is better able to realize her full potential and has greater control over her own life, the Gates Foundation said.