On the eve of the G20 summit, Heather Arnet of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania and Kavita Ramdas of the Global Fund for Women encourage the leaders attending the meeting to remember the importance of women in any economic recovery efforts.
First, they lay out the dismal situation for women:
A main reason women are central to the global economy is they make up 60 percent of the global work force. In ordinary times, women and girls are the majority of the world’s poor and illiterate, but during recessions, the disproportionate burden is placed on women who are more likely in vulnerable jobs, are underemployed, lack social protection and have less control over financial resources.
Worldwide, women make up about 70 percent of those living on less than a dollar a day; add children, who disproportionately depend on women for their care, and you have the majority of the world’s poor.
A new report by the international agency Plan International found that the global recession is hitting girls the hardest because they are the first in their families to go without food, to be pulled from school and to lose jobs. The report forecasts that 22 million women will become unemployed, driving more girls into the sex trade.
They discuss the situation of women in Pittsburgh, the G20 host city, as being pretty much up to speed in most areas with the rest of the world: the wage gap has women making less than 70 cents for every dollar a man makes and there is a startling absence of women on many corporate boards or publicly traded companies based here. And most of the money in the economic stimulus packages went to work in repairing the physical infrastructure of our society, which is dominated by male workers.
But the authors argue that we need to invest in the social infrastructure of our society as well, in the industries of education, public health and child care, where women are disproportionately employed.
The world leaders meeting this week should also not fall into the trap of thinking of women as helpless beings who need to be served by economic policy, but as able agents making those decisions themselves:
Women need to be considered, not just as those being served by development programs, but they need to be at the decision-making tables in increased numbers. Research has confirmed that women are better at mitigating risk, and a recent study showed that banks with at least 30 percent women in senior management positions were far less likely to have made risky and unsustainable loans.
One of the only two female finance ministers of the G-20, Sri Mulyani of Indonesia, is credited for her work in putting Jakarta’s financial house in order by dismantling the cronyism that plagued Indonesia’s financial architecture from the Suharto era. Indonesia now enjoys one of the most conservative balance sheets in the world and over 4 percent economic growth — and Ms. Mulyani is credited for her role as a tough regulator.
While we cannot add more female finance ministers to the G-20 table this year, we can demand that our world leaders begin to respond to the overwhelming amount of data that points to the immediate and long-term economic gains of investing in the development, education and economic security of 60 percent of the world’s work force.