The overwhelming consensus among the 80+ thought leaders at Chatham House’s Gender and Inclusive Growth Initiative series of virtual roundtables was that, if we catalyse the economic power of women and act with urgency, we will accelerate the rebuilding of economies in disarray from the COVID-19 pandemic. Appropriate interventions can simultaneously further efforts to create a more gender-equal world in which all people benefit, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, education, wealth or geographic region.
The pandemic has laid bare the world’s social and economic inequalities and vulnerabilities. Inclusive rebuilding is an imperative, not an option. The first, most critical step is to significantly increase investment in the social infrastructure necessary to eliminate the barriers to women’s equal participation in the economy. Studies have shown that investing in social infrastructure and family-friendly policies will do more to boost individual and community economic self-reliance than any cost-cutting austerity policies.
Governments, still predominantly male-dominated, tend to view infrastructure from a physical aspect, and often believe the key to solving unemployment lies in construction programmes. Such solutions often place a heavy burden on the public finances yet do not necessarily yield a long-term benefit. In contrast, when governments fund social infrastructure, it provides a productive investment in the community that brings long-term socio-economic benefits. As Chatham House Director Robin Niblett said in the opening session of this series of roundtables, ‘We need to change such male-centric language as “shovel ready” to “care ready” to ensure inclusive, long-term recovery from the pandemic and a more gender-equal world.’
Women must have equal access to the resources, skills and education they need to activate their entrepreneurial mindset and thrive as employees or entrepreneurs. This process of skilling, reskilling and upskilling is not a singular endeavour. It is incumbent upon businesses and all levels of government to collaborate to recognize the talent and resourcefulness of women, and to create opportunities and a welcoming environment grounded in inclusive policies for the labour market and workplace. These investments will be rewarded with increased productivity, engagement and profitability.
Interestingly, ‘economy’ is derived from the ancient Greek word oikonomia, meaning household management. Women have been overseeing household responsibilities (budgeting, scheduling, procuring supplies, cooking, raising children and caring for elders) from the earliest times. As mentioned earlier, women know how to improvise and make the most out of the resources at their disposal. No one is better equipped to resolve the social, health and economic challenges of COVID-19 and build a more resilient and equitable world. The time to unleash women’s talents is now.