Photo: Chau Doan/UNIDO
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Women construction site workers in Vietnam.
The unequal gender division of labour, in which women perform a disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work, can also support GDP growth as currently measured. Many benefit from women’s unpaid labour, including care for others, performed in households. Firms, for example, rely on the human resources that are produced and sustained through such work. The unequal distribution of the costs of care therefore supports economic growth, since those who benefit from these investments in the next generation do not pay the associated costs. Overall, the evidence on the relationship between economic growth and gender equality or inequality is mixed and the causal relationship can be unclear. Does gender equality contribute to higher rates of growth? The World Bank has examined this relationship and concluded that improving gender equality is ‘smart economics’, that is, it contributes to growth and economic development. In
fact, whether greater gender equality or greater gender inequality is associated with economic growth depends on the specific indicator used. Measurements of equality that emphasize women’s productive activity or attributes – such as narrowing of the gaps in labour force participation and educational attainment – are generally associated with faster growth. In contrast, when the indicators are based on the returns to women’s productive activity, such as wage rates, gender inequality can contribute to growth. Conversely, it is often assumed that economic growth will lead to greater gender equality. But growth that is predicated on enhancing global competitiveness by reducing costs can actually reinforce gender inequalities by lowering labour costs or transferring the costs of unpaid care and domestic work to women. In addition the benefits of growth may be distributed in such a way as to
reinforce the existing patterns of economic power, gender hierarchies in employment and patriarchal norms. For example, the welfare arrangements under the Republic of Korea’s development strategy from the 1960s to the early 1990s, a period of rapid growth, depended on households and families to provide care services rather than on government programmes financed by taxation, reinforcing a highly unequal gender division of labour. Gender equality is an important goal in its own right that cannot be seen as purely instrumental to economic growth. For macroeconomic policies to advance substantive equality, they need to look beyond economic growth and include a broader set of goals and targets. l Excerpt from Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming economies, realizing rights. UN Women (New York, 2015). http://progress.unwomen.org