Do women hold the key to economic growth in the Developing World?

PUBLISHED: 10:59 23 May 2014 | UPDATED: 11:22 23 May 2014

A Rwandan woman talking about her basket weaving business during the event at Warwick University

A Rwandan woman talking about her basket weaving business during the event at Warwick University

Archant

Sarah Windrum discusses gender inequality in the workplace - and how enabling women to work could hold the key to economic growth in the developing world

Justine Greening addressing Warwick UniversityJustine Greening addressing Warwick University

I was lucky enough to hear International Development Minister Justine Greening speak at Warwick University recently. She addressed the issue of gender inequality as ‘the greatest unmet human challenge of the 21st Century’ and, as well as the social responsibility argument, there are also very compelling economic reasons for tackling this difficult issue.

Justine Greening began by identifying her goal to change the way girls are defined and treated by their families from the moment they are born in order to give all women choice, voice and control in their lives. Shared by the UK Government, this aim is not just because it is morally or socially the right thing to do. Greening believes the way to change the UK’s relationship with the developing world from aid to trade is by allowing women to become economic agents - and her argument is strong; with women’s potential currently under-utilised it does suggest that changing the outcomes for women is the strongest way to improve a country’s economic future.

We can see this working here in the UK. I started my own business 18 months ago in the technology industry which is still quite heavily male-dominated. I was on the panel at a recent event entitled ‘The Power of Women in Business’ and my research revealed some interesting statistics. Businesses across all sectors that have women on their board of directors perform up to 56% better than those that don’t have any female representation at board level. Think of what the UK would be if all women were forced to give up work tomorrow. As Justine Greening remarked, no country can develop if it leaves half of its population behind.

I run my own business and own my own property, but if I was a woman in parts of the developing world I wouldn’t even be able to have a bank account. Greening and the UK Government are working closely with groups like The Nike Foundation’s Girl Hub which is focused on engaging with girls, women, men and boys to encourage changes in the perception of women through positive role models. There is also the Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund which concentrates on giving women access to finance and property rights as well as business support.

And there’s little doubt that much of the solution lies in education. Girls who receive more than 7 years education not only show a marked decrease in the mortality rates of the children they have but also a substantial boost in their long-term economic productivity. In fact, for every extra year of good schooling a child receives (male or female) the country’s yearly economic output is boosted by 1%. As a result, heavy emphasis has been placed on education by governments, foundations and charities working in the developing world. The Department for International Development has vowed to ensure an extra 9 million children will be in primary school education by 2015, with an extra 2 million completing secondary school, as well as a focused effort on an additional million of the poorest girls.

After listening to Justine Greening, there is no doubt in my mind that the future for economic growth in the developing world lies in the future of women reaching their full potential. To find out more information on the Department of International Development’s work you can visit: www.gov.uk/government/policies/improving-the-lives-of-girls-and-women-in-the-worlds-poorest-countries

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