By Anwesha Bhatta

Edited by Nandini Bhatia

“…investing in women is not only the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do. I am deeply convinced that, in women, the world has at its disposal, the most significant and yet largely untapped potential for development and peace. “

—Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and leading development institutions. These goals include promoting gender equality and women empowerment and are all to be achieved by 2015. The UN is one step closer to achieving its MDGs but far away from the finish line.

We live in an era of growth and development, of progressive-thinking and open-mindedness; yet the economic and political power accorded to women is far lesser than that given to men. A series of ads, developed for UN Women by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai, uses Google searches to reveal the sexism and chauvinism that plagues women worldwide. The following picture, one of the many published by UN, shows how the general attitude towards women hamper the process of gender equality.

In the wake of the existing discrimination against women, we need to realize that those who are shunned by this patriarchal society are the ones who have the most potential to contribute significantly towards greater development of the world. Why do activists, leaders and politicians constantly stress on gender equality? Why does the United Nations have an entire organization dedicated to gender equality and empowerment to women? This is because gender equality is not just the birth right of every woman but it also benefits humanity as a whole. It helps combat the problems of poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy and domestic violence that have been preying upon nations across the world.

Failure to combat this ever widening inequality and ineffectiveness of policies aimed at strengthening women’s rights have put to risk the progress made in the last twenty years towards reducing global poverty. Gender inequality has also led to the loss of billions of dollars in form of GDP. IMF reports establish that the losses experienced by some countries due to gender inequality equal 5% of USA’s GDP, 9% of Japan’s and 12% of UAE’s. That is almost $1400 billion lost in just three countries.

If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family. This proverb has underlying economic implications. Educating women has positive externalities: an educated individual participates more in the labour market and an educated mother tends to provide better health care and education to their children. Malnutrition, often believed to be a direct consequence of poverty, is a disease that haunts most developing countries. Reduction in malnutrition between 1970 and 1995 to the tune of about 44% has been directly linked to the education of the mother.

According to FAO findings, if women had the same access to the productive resources as men, they can feed an extra 100-150 million people worldwide. This could reduce the number of hungry people by 12-17%. Discrimination at work prevents women from working in certain occupations with a loss in output of about 25% per worker.

To address the problem of gender inequality, governments need to focus on the issue at the grassroots. First and foremost, the government should ensure that a girl child has proper access to basic amenities; education and safety being the two most important things a government can guarantee a girl. Health, sanitation, safety and education are the building blocks of a society where men and women stand at par.

The UN is a lot closer to achieving gender equality through its various campaigns than any individual nation may ever be. I urge you all to join the HeForShe campaign and stand with almost 200,000 men willing to fight for gender equality. Launched in 2008, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign is a multi-year effort aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls around the world. By joining these campaigns you can influence government policies and even general public opinion towards gender equality. Yes, you. YOU can usher in a new era. An era which knows not of gender.

Anwesha is a first year Economics student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women. She has a passion for writing and traveling; it is her lifelong dream to go on a backpacking tour across Europe and start a travel blog simultaneously. She considers herself to be a foodie and loves German and Japanese cuisine. Her favourite pastime is escaping into the magical world of fiction. She is always ready to make new friends and explore new horizons. 

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind