If you believe that it’s only in emerging economies like the Philippines that issues such as double standards, gender-related salary imbalance, and the glass ceiling still exist, think again.
Globally, in both developed and developing countries, “girls and women battle commonly held views and beliefs that limit their opportunities and potential,” including myths such as “women are better suited for baby-making than money-making,” says Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver, a global advocate for investing in the health, rights, and well-being of girls and women.
“The truth is, women around the world are resourceful economic agents, overcoming persistent, gender-based barriers every day,” says Iversen in a recent article for the World Economic Forum entitled “7 Myth-Busting Reasons We Should be Investing in women.”
She adds that women have demonstrated they can build informal and formal businesses out of very little capital, create networks to maximize limited resources, all while shouldering the traditional responsibilities placed upon them, duties like child- and home-care.
“Women succeed in spite of laws, policies and institutions that hold them back, but it is a constant struggle. It is time to create supportive environments for women to thrive economically, and bust these myths once and for all,” she declares.
In her article, she cites several myths that continue to “rob women of their power to advance themselves, their families, their communities, and ultimately, their nations.”
The myth: investing in women doesn’t pay off
The truth: closing gender gaps will actually lead to an increase in global GDP
Iversen references a recent McKinsey Global Institute report that found that if women play an identical role in labor markets to that of men, as much US$28 trillion or 26% could be added to global annual GDP by 2025.
The myth: women’s income is not used any differently than men’s income
The truth: a greater percentage of women’s income is reinvested in their families and communities
This spending drives improved access to education, nutrition and healthcare, says Iversen. Evidence also shows that it is not merely a woman’s increased income, but rather her control over that income that helps her achieve economic empowerment.
A study in Brazil indicated that the likelihood of a child’s survival increased by 20% when the mother made financial choices. But Iversen notes that economic decisions by women are “intricately wrapped up” in cultural and social issues relating to gender, age, ethnic background, health or physical status, and overall social hierarchy.
The myth: women choose to work less than men
The truth: women shoulder a greater burden of unpaid work, and have fewer paid work opportunities
Women don’t work less than men; in fact, they often work more, Iversen stresses. The issue, she adds, is that their work is unpaid and often unregistered—rearing children and caring for the elderly rarely produces a paycheck. In some regions like South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, women shoulder up to 90% of unpaid care work. “It’s time to balance the scales,” says Iversen.
The myth: inequality ends as women’s income increases
The truth: it’s giving women control over income that ends inequality
Iversen points to evidence showing that it is not merely a woman’s increased income, but rather her control over that income that helps her achieve economic empowerment.
“When a woman holds the strings to the family purse, that family is more likely to thrive,” she says.
She notes how Brazil’s Bolsa Familia Program, which is like the Philippines’ own Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program but which provides cash transfers directly to the female head of households, was able to account for up to 25% of Brazil’s reduction in inequality and 16% of its drop in extreme poverty.
The myth: women’s groups are not necessary for economic development
The truth: women’s groups—including cooperatives, collectives, farmer groups, business associations, and trade unions—are often the only path to sustainable economic development for many women around the world
Says Iversen: “Women’s groups can offer a safe haven in which women of limited means can pool and maximize resources, manage risk, innovate and experiment, build skills and capacity, mentor and learn from one another, organize and advocate for rights, share care responsibilities, build confidence, and receive key information on everything from market information to nutritional guidance, family planning and reproductive health.”
The myth: family-friendly, gender-responsive policies are not worth the investment
The truth: In the US, every $1 invested in family planning results in $7 of savings; in developing countries like Jordan, $1 can result in as much as $16 in savings. The Copenhagen Consensus showed that every dollar spent on modern contraceptive methods will yield $120 in overall benefits.
In the case of the Philippines, the country enacted five years ago the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10354), or the Reproductive Health Law or RH Law, which guarantees universal access to methods of contraception, fertility control, sexual education, and maternal care. However, the law’s full implementation remains on hold as critics continue to raise strong opposition to the decree.
Iversen also comments that companies that invest in family-friendly, gender-responsive policies have found high returns on their investments, including reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.
The article says that harmful myths like these “continue to limit women as they seek careers, advance in the workplace, and seek access to capital—especially in the most economically disadvantaged parts of the world.”
It further observes that such myths do not just impede women on a personal level, they also hinder their collective progress. “The data and research above tell a different story about the exponential power of women. Growth is possible. Prosperity is possible. And it becomes a reality with women in the driver’s seat,” says Iversen. – RCA
Photo: Tamaki Sono