Tapping into women’s potential win-win for empowerment, economy: IMF Chief Economist Gopinath

Washington, DC: Tapping into women’s huge potential is a win-win situation for their empowerment and inclusive global economic growth, IMF’s Chief Economist Gita Gopinath said as she warned that the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to roll back years of hard-won economic and social gains for the community.

The top Indian-American economist made the comments in her keynote address on Monday at the Inaugural Dr Hansa Mehta Lecture which is named in the memory of the pioneering Indian reformer and educator.

We are meeting amidst a global health and economic crisis which threatens to roll back years of hard-won economic and social gains for women. Women have been affected disproportionately by the pandemic because they work predominantly in sectors such as restaurants and hospitality that have been hit hardest by the lockdowns, and as the main caregivers at home, they have had to drop out of the labor market as schools closed, Gopinath said.

The lecture was organized virtually by India’s Permanent Mission to the UN and the United Nations Academic Impact on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

Mehta had served as the Indian delegate to the UN Commission on Human Rights from 1947 to 1948 and is widely known for ensuring a more gender sensitive language in the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

She is credited with making a significant change in the language of Article 1 of the UDHR by replacing the phrase All men are born free and equal to All human beings are born free and equal.

Gopinath pointed out that in developing countries, women are over-represented in the informal sector where they face lower pay, less job security and lower social protection. In these countries, girls have dropped out more from school to help in households and there is a disturbing fact that violence against women and girls has intensified since the outbreak of the pandemic.

As countries around the world struggle to grow their economies grappling with ageing populations, and buffeted by trade shocks, social unrest, weather-related disasters and now, the worst peacetime crisis in a century tapping into the huge potential of women is unambiguously a win-win for both women’s empowerment and inclusive global economic growth, she said.

Even as the pandemic demonstrated excellent contributions of women as leaders, health professionals, first-responders and caregivers, it is concerning that women have been hit disproportionately hard by this crisis, Gopinath said, adding that much more needs to be done to achieve gender equality.

Elaborating on how gender equity can lead to inclusive and stronger global economic growth, she underscored that gender equity in the labor market can deliver significant gains to national income as she cited research that said if women were to participate in the labor force to the same extent as men, national income could increase significantly.

With female labor force participation falling in many countries during the pandemic, targeted policies such as hiring subsidies may be needed to swiftly bring about the reintegration of female workers into the labor force, she said.

Gopinath further stressed that better economic opportunities and equal pay for women not only lowers gender inequality but also lowers income inequality and women’s empowerment enhances economic resilience.

Gopinath called on governments to use fiscal policy to assist with the advancement of women in education, health, financial inclusion and economic empowerment.


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