With 2015 behind us and a new year on the horizon, what have we learned and where can we focus in 2016? In September 2015, the McKinsey Global institute launched a report that provided hard data to show the scale of the global economic deficit caused by gender inequality. The key finding is now often quoted: if women’s participation in the economy was on par with men’s it would add $28 trillion to the annual global GDP by 2025. This is a clarion call to action but the path is much harder to navigate. To achieve gender parity globally would require huge investments in societal and political will and resources. It would require sweeping attitudinal changes toward a valuation of women’s work (productive and unpaid) and significant leaps in investments by governments in agriculture, industry and service sectors. Serious attention would need to be paid to what the McKinsey Institute calls the enablers of economic opportunity: reproductive rights for women, physical security, legal protection and political voice amongst others.
Reducing barriers is critical but so is creating opportunities for women to participate equitably in the economy alongside men. Fortunately, this appears to be a strategy that is gaining momentum. There is increasing recognition that in the pursuit of gender equality, collaboration between private sector actors, governments and civil society can create wins on all sides. Last year, the United Nations intentionally reinvigorated the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) launched in 2010 to promote gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community. Under the mantra, Equality Means Business, the WEPs aim to mobilize corporations around the business case for gender equality. The principles are: