Our Perspectives


Eliminating discrimination: a way to mobilize the trillions needed for the post-2015 agenda

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Woman carrying solar panels in HondurasLabour force participation of women is lower than men almost everywhere. Photo: UNDP in Honduras

In this blog series, our experts share their thoughts and lessons learned on key financing for development issues, in the run-up to the UN’s Financing for Development conference in July.

While world leaders are focused on adopting a new set of sustainable development goals at the United Nations in September, a debate that has received far less attention is also raging: how to finance the new goals? A new paper (PDF) by the World Bank, IMF and other multilateral development banks argues that the new global development agenda will cost trillions of dollars, not billions. How can these trillions of dollars be mobilized? The scale of the challenge calls on us to have a broader and more sophisticated approach to financing.

One way to mobilize these trillions of dollars is by eliminating discrimination against women.

Yes, that’s right, eliminating discrimination is not only a matter of social justice. Discrimination and inequality of opportunity is also wasteful, because people are not enabled to contribute with their talent, creativity, and full potential to society and the economy.

Consider this concrete illustration (PDF). In the United States, 94 percent of lawyers and doctors working in 1960 were white males. By 2008, this was reduced to 62 percent. The progressive incorporation of women and non-white man in professions where they could fully utilize their talent represents 15 to 20 percent of the economic growth per worker in the United States over this period

A report released by UN Women recently shows the huge costs that gender inequality imposes on countries and the world. Much of the costs are manifested in economic growth rates lower than the potential of economies and societies, were they to fully utilize their labour force. For instance, labour force participation of women is lower than men almost everywhere. Closing this gap would increase economic growth rates and productivity.

UNDP research (PDF) shows than in Africa alone, closing the effective labour force participation gap (that is, adjusting for differences in education and skills) would generate an additional $255 billion a year. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, the annual benefits would be of $60 billion a year – more than the aid that flows annually to Africa. Extrapolating to other regions, with larger economies but often with similar, if not higher, gender gaps in labour markets – it is not difficult to see how eliminating gender inequality would bring about benefits in the trillions of dollars.

Labour force participation is only one of the manifestations of gender inequality – there is also the huge amount of unpaid work typically carried about by women, unacceptable differences in pay between men and women, lack of access to economic inputs and credit, and other barriers that limit women’s participation in the economy.

Economic arguments are not the only reason to eliminate gender inequality – and they may not be the most important. It is intrinsically wrong and unjust to discriminate based on gender. But it also happens that eliminating gender inequality would take us a long way forward in finding the trillions needed for the new development agenda.

In July, the international community will gather in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at the 3rd International conference on financing for development to develop a financing framework for the new sustainable development agenda. Concrete commitments to reduce and eliminate gender discrimination need to be part of the conversation. UNDP will be working hard to ensure a financing framework as ambitious as the goals themselves.

Development Finance Gender equality Inclusive growth Sustainable development Agenda 2030

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