Economists, activists talk economic equality for women

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Sarah Haque

More than 100 human rights activists, economists, researchers and intellectuals filled Jack Morton Auditorium Wednesday to discuss gender and economic equality for women as part of the 2016 Annual Meetings hosted by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

David Lipton, the first deputy managing Director of the IMF, opened the seminar, titled “Making Macroeconomics Work for Women.” Lipton introduced women’s economic inequality as “one of the key challenges of our time” and something that if solved, could positively transform the world economy.

Sheila MacVicar, an award-winning anchor and TV correspondent, introduced the panel of economic leaders and economic experts.

Here are some takeaways:

1. Unpaid work

The experts discussed the difference between paid and unpaid work, and how women contribute primarily to the unpaid sector.

James Heintz, a professor of economics from the University of Massachusetts, discussed what he said are the two categories of unpaid work. The first is more common in developing countries, including tasks like gathering water, and the second is prevalent both in developing and developed states, like childcare and meal preparation.

“Women’s contribution in unpaid work is completely excluded,” Heintz said.

The panel agreed that unpaid work is one of the biggest hurdles to economic equality, and in order to overcome this hurdle, action must be taken to compensate women for their work.

“If all the unpaid jobs in the care economy had been paid, this would have added 13 million jobs to the US economy alone,” said Elizabeth Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.

2. Economic growth and women’s rights

There are several methods by which economies expand while ensuring women’s rights. Some panelists took a more economic approach to guaranteeing equal rights while others focused more on human rights.

Kalpana Kochhar, the director of the human resources department of the IMF, said the IMF is working to achieve equal opportunity and economic growth by “leveling the playing field” for women.

“The IMF takes a macroeconomic lens to the issue of gender inequality, but does not forget about other lenses,” Kochhar said.

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, a human rights lawyer and Goodwill ambassador, said most progress can be made by focusing on these other lenses, especially through a human rights perspective, not strictly economic.

“We need to make macroeconomics work for women, not women work for growth,” Gumbonzvanda said.

3. Leveling the playing field

The panelists mentioned a handful of actions that could give women more representation in the economy and society, like providing health care and maternity leave, maintaining transportation and workplace safety, implementing education equality and increasing wages.

Claver Gatete, the minister of finance and economic planning of Rwanda, elaborated on the case in Rwanda, where the gender gap is smaller than in the US. He said the government in Rwanda had to adjust the legal framework to better support women, like reserving 30 percent of parliamentary seats for women.

“We had to change our inheritance laws, introduce maternity leave, give access to healthcare and education,” Gatete said. “We decided that women needed to be a part of our decision-making process.”

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