Gender equality boosts economic growth and stability, IMF says

The Ukraine war, Covid-19, higher food and energy prices, and climate change have widened already-large gender gaps

Gita Gopinath, first deputy managing director of the IMF, said eliminating gender disparities that hold women back 'is the right thing to do'. AFP
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Working towards gender equality can help the world economy recover more quickly from recent crises and drive more sustainable growth going forward, a senior International Monetary Fund official has said.

The Russia-Ukraine war, the Covid-19 pandemic, higher food and energy prices and climate change have widened already-large gender gaps, disproportionately affecting women’s jobs, incomes and security, Gita Gopinath, the IMF first deputy managing director, said in a speech on Tuesday.

"Eliminating gender disparities that hold women back is the right thing to do. Ensuring equality in opportunities and potential to participate in the economy can be catalytic for a faster recovery from recent shocks, and a strong engine of growth for more resilient, sustainable and inclusive economies going forward," Ms Gopinath said.

"Gender equality goes hand-in-hand with macroeconomic and financial stability, can stimulate economic growth, boost private and public sector performance, and reduce income inequality."

The comments come after the IMF in June adopted a strategy to better integrate gender policies into its work as global crises have disproportionately affected women and further exacerbated inequalities.

It will now take more than 130 years to close gender gaps worldwide, up from about 100 years before the pandemic, according to the World Economic Forum. The Middle East and North Africa had the second-widest gender gap in the world, ranking below only South-East Asia, with 115 years to close the gender gap.

The coronavirus pandemic, higher inflation, the climate change emergency and large-scale conflicts and displacement are stalling progress towards gender parity, the World Economic Forum said in its Global Gender Gap Report 2022 released in July.

About 64 million women globally lost their jobs during the pandemic, twice as many as men, because women are more likely to work in informal, temporary and part-time jobs, according to the IMF. These are the types of jobs employers tend to cut first in a downturn — with lower pay and less social protection. And an estimated 80 per cent of people displaced by climate change are women, according to the UN Development Programme.

The IMF's comprehensive Strategy for Mainstreaming Gender starts from the premise that gender equality has positive macroeconomic benefits, Ms Gopinath said.

However, the strategy also recognises that economic and financial policies affect women and men differently, often unintentionally, she said.

The framework will integrate gender into the core of the IMF's work. This includes its economic surveillance and policy advice, the design of IMF-supported programmes, and capacity development such as providing training on topics like gender budgeting.

"In these ways, we can better support our member countries as they harness the economic dividends of reducing gender inequality," Ms Gopinath said.

"The IMF has [been] producing research on gender issues for some time. But a systematic approach has never been more urgently needed," she said.

The strategy will provide IMF staff with better tools to systematically assess the macroeconomic consequences of gender gaps, evaluate the gender-differentiated impact of shocks and policies, and provide granular and tailored macroeconomic and financial policy advice, she said.

"While the vision of the strategy is ambitious, the timeline for its implementation is expected to be gradual and measured," Ms Gopinath said.

"We will take the time needed to get this right. But we are confident that we will succeed in formulating the right policies on gender issues for the benefit of our membership, and especially for women."

Updated: September 28, 2022, 9:07 AM