Inequality, women’s rights and inclusive growth
A few days ago I attended a lecture given by the executive Director of Oxfam International Mrs. Winnie Byanyima who gave the Audrey Richards Commemorative Lecture at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University.
I decided to write about what she said since it was a very interesting and inspiring lecture given by a woman that has achieved so much and has done so against many odds. 
Her speech focused on the necessity to correct the gender imbalances and to reward women for the work that they do which often goes unaccounted for, unpaid and unappreciated, e.g. the work of caring for people and for the natural environment (often the ones in most developing countries that have the responsibility for growing the family’s food). Gender inequality begins at the local level and its problems are reflected in what happens at the national level.
She described the world as dangerously unequal. The 85 wealthiest people in the world have as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people in the world.
There is something seriously wrong with the current world – at the same time you have mothers that are watching their children die for the lack of a few pennies to take them to the hospital and milliners’ that had more money that they could spend in a 1000 years.
The key to equality is education for both boys and girls and a transformed labour system should allow girls and boys equal access
According to the IMF since the 2008 global economic crisis – women’s employment has drastically decreased:
– Indian women employment – drastically declining
– In US – most of the workers are going to be in retirement before the new law for equal participation takes place
If gender employment gap were to be closed then the GDP of countries would be much greater. In the USA it would be 9% greater, in the EU 13% and in Japan 30% higher.
Agriculture is a key sector for improving the life of women and for promoting women’s rights since there are 1.6 billion women who depend on agriculture for their food and that work in agriculture. Ensuring land rights for women is very important.
A transformed economic system – must redistribute and give value to the unpaid and unrecognised work of women. On average women spend more than twice the time as men working and it is almost all uncounted for and unpaid (cook – take care of house – get water etc.)
Both public and private sector solutions are needed and economic activity should be defined from the perspective of human well being.
A transformed economic system should address the following :
- discriminatory social roles and norms
- avoid sex selection at birth. It is estimated that more than 100 million unborn girls are the result of abortions due to the sex selection practices in Asia. This also reflects the low value that is given to a girl child.
- 603 million women still leave in countries that violence against women is not illegal. Changes in the economic system is linked legal systems
- Almost 90% of the 193 economies of the UN according to a study from the WB discriminate against women in law
i. 79 countries exclude women from certain types of law
ii. progress on parental leave – equal remuneration – happening but not fast enough
- Changes in customary law are needed
- challenge political capture
- When wealth is so concentrated it creates economical realities that lead to the exclusion and marginalisation of those at the margins of economic wealth.
- There is the idea that wealth and equality go hand in hand and most now agree that inequality is bad for growth, inequality makes bad economics since it wastes human talent and potential. The growth and development agenda needs to be only inclusive with women and men having equal rights
During the question and answer session, Ms Byanyima was asked if African women now had more power since they were more represented in the national Parliaments. Her reply was direct and powerful. She noted that in the case of Uganda, 30% women in Parliament and in the case of Rwanda, more than 60% of the parliamentarians were women – but that is not where the power is. But those parliaments do not have any real power. She said “we need not just to fight for increased numbers but for more women in positions where the power is.”
A truly inspirational speaker.