González: world must unleash economic potential of its ‘third billion’
ITC Executive Director Arancha González has called for greater effort by the world’s governments and the private sector to unlock the potential of women who are currently excluded from the full spectrum of economic opportunity.
Speaking at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Affairs (NUPI, after its Norwegian acronym) on 29 January, Ms. González said that a window of opportunity on the international policy front coincides with growing recognition of the untapped productive potential that women represent.
‘The last few years have seen a sea change in the way that business view women’s participation in the world of work,’ Ms. González said. ‘Most of us have heard about how the billion-plus populations of both China and India are transforming the global economy. But how many of you have heard of “the third billion” poised to make at least as great of an economic contribution as these two countries?’
This third billion is, Ms. González said, refers to projections that over one billion women around the world could enter the economic mainstream as producers, consumers, employees and entrepreneurs during the next decade. It is helping to mobilize huge investments by leading corporations from Goldman Sachs to Coca Cola to Google into initiatives that promote women’s economic empowerment.
The Executive Director pointed to current flows of economic development aid, saying only 2% of this is allocated to policies that explicitly target gender equality. ‘Only by increasing this can the full potential of women and girls be unlocked,’ she said, adding that ‘this year, during the post-2015 discussion, we can finally address this staggering imbalance.’
Ms. González noted that 2015 looked to be a momentous year for women’s economic empowerment, referring to the 20th anniversary of the UN’s Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing + 20) – the defining policy framework and blueprint for advancing gender equality and women’s rights -- as well as the post-2015 development framework set to be adopted in September by the UN General Assembly.
‘This year offers us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to place gender equality and women’s economic empowerment at the forefront of global economic development policy,’ she said.
Ms. González also praised Norway for its efforts to promote women’s empowerment at home. ‘Norway, of course, has been a pioneer in the use of policy to promote full participation by women at every level of the economy. Norway’s oil gets lots of attention, but realising the potential of its women has been a big part of its economic success,’ she said.
She highlighted Rwanda as a developing country that had followed in Norway’s footsteps, having made great strides in promoting gender equality. ‘[Rwanda] is the only country in the world where more women than men hold parliamentary seats; and one of the few countries where men and women have equal representation in the workforce,’ she said. ‘Last year, the country placed 7th place in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, ahead of countries such as Germany, France, the US and Australia. It is no coincidence that Rwanda has averaged economic growth of over 8% in the last decade.’
Ms. González pointed out that both Norway and Rwanda hold a very important message for a world economy still searching for growth. ‘Countries that succeed at harnessing the economic force of their women have a clear edge,’ she said.
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