By Christine Lagarde
Lagarde is a French lawyer and Union for a Popular Movement politician who has
been the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund since 5 July 2011
I invite all of you to celebrate International Women’s Day. Let’s celebrate the
incredible progress women have made over the past decades in different parts of
society, playing a key role in economic life that our grandmothers worked for
and dreamed about. Today, although men still dominate the executive suites in
most professions, women all over the world hold high positions in the private
sector and in public office. Women are no longer the Second Sex Simone de
Beauvoir wrote about.
far too many women face the most fundamental challenges: the right to safety
and to choose the life they want.
the globe, fewer women than men are in paid employment, with only about 50
percent of working-age women participating in the labor force. In many countries,
laws, regulations and social norms still constrain women’s possibilities to
seek paid employment. And all over the world women conduct most of the work
that remains unseen and unpaid, in the fields and in households.
who get paid for their work earn less than their male colleagues, even when
doing the same work, which economists call the gender wage gap. Across the
advanced and emerging economy countries that are members of the Organisation
for Economic Cooperation and Development, the gender wage gap is about 16
percent. Many women take career breaks or work part time to take care of
children and elderly family members, and therefore get lower pensions—a problem
in itself, and one with implications for public finances. And tax regimes often impose a higher tax on
so-called “second earners” in the family, reducing the incentives for women to
economic crisis has only complicated this picture. In developing economies,
girls’ school completion rates have dropped more rapidly than those of
boys. In advanced economies female
unemployment has been on the rise—for instance in Portugal and Spain. If these
trends were to persist beyond the crisis, they could spell further trouble for
women’s participation in the labor market.
have huge talents. Employers who don’t offer equal opportunities to women
simply ignore a large part of the skilled workforce. In many countries, growth
could be much higher if more women were in paid employment. In Japan, for
example, raising the female labor force participation rate to Northern European
levels would permanently raise per capita GDP by 8 percent. Women also have great entrepreneurial
potential. For instance, women-owned
companies represent between 30 and 40 percent of formal small and medium-sized
enterprises in emerging markets. Also,
raising women’s incomes will improve education levels, as research shows that women spend a larger share of
their income on the welfare of their children.
will take changes in a wide range of areas, and let me mention a few I think
can begin to make a difference.
can change legislation to provide equal opportunities for women to own
property, get credit, and work outside the home. And equal access to health
services, education, and vocational training will prepare women for paid
employment. Better infrastructure, transportation, and child care will also
allow more women to seek paid work. In rural South Africa, for example, access
to electricity gave women the opportunity to work less in the household and
more outside the home, increasing women’s labor force participation by about 9
percent. And in Mexico, the federal daycare program for working mothers has
helped low-income mothers.
advanced economies, more women will work if they have access to parental leave
and affordable child care. Sweden is a good example of this, with a difference
in labor force participation rates between men and women of only 6 percentage
points, compared to 25 percentage points in Japan. Breaking down the barriers
between part-time and full-time work contracts also encourages women to join
the work force. For example, in the Netherlands the female labor force
participation rate increased from about 35 percent in 1980 to more than 80
percent in 2008, largely as a result of more attractive part-time work options.
And flexible work arrangements help women to juggle their many responsibilities
and to achieve a better work-life balance.
can help. The International Monetary Fund is in continuous dialogue with its
member countries on how to achieve stability and growth. Women’s labor force
participation is one part of this equation—all the more so at a time when many
countries are struggling with the fiscal impact of aging populations and high
public debts. Access to financing for
small and medium-sized enterprises is another key issue. We are not experts in all the complex
elements at work in this area, but we can flag issues and draw on the expertise
of others. In addition, we can use our fiscal expertise to look into ways to
assess whether tax regimes and the allocation of public resources contribute to
gender equality and better opportunities for women.
on International Women’s Day, we see both amazing achievements and formidable
challenges. But I am an optimist and see beyond these challenges; our daughters
and granddaughters will have even better opportunities than women have today.
And let us always remember that when women are allowed to develop their full
potential, it is not only women who gain, but the whole world.
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