violence from an intimate partner. Women who enjoy parity in education are more likely to share unpaid work with men more equitably, to work in high-productivity professional and technical occupations, and to assume leadership roles.
To reinforce such progress, legal provisions guaranteeing the rights of women as full members of society should be introduced or expanded. Such provisions have been shown to increase female labour-force participation, while improving outcomes according to several social indicators, including violence against women, child marriage, unmet need for family planning, and education.
Improved access to financial services, mobile phones, and digital technology is also linked to higher rates of female labor-force participation, including in leadership roles, and decreased time spent doing unpaid care work. And, as it stands, women spend a lot of time on such work, accounting for 75% of it, on average, worldwide.
Unpaid care work – which includes the vital tasks that keep households functioning, such as looking after children and the elderly, cooking, and cleaning – obviously amounts to a major hurdle to more active participation in the economy. If men shared such responsibilities more equitably, businesses adopted more flexible and “care- friendly” work schedules, and governments provided more support for childcare and other family-care functions, female labor-force participation rates could rise significantly.
It is certainly in the interest of companies to do more to support gender equality, which expands the pool of talent from which they can select employees and managers. Moreover, more women mean more insight into the mentality of female customers. And, perhaps most important to a company, a growing body of evidence suggests that the presence of women in executive and board positions can increase corporate returns.
One of the highest barriers to gender parity, however, may be deeply held beliefs and attitudes. As Anne-Marie Slaughter emphasises in her recent book, both men and women undervalue care work relative to paid work outside the home. Likewise, surveys indicate that sizeable shares of men and women worldwide continue to believe that children suffer when their mothers work. And numerous studies document continued implicit biases against women in hiring and promotion processes, triggering growing interest in Silicon Valley startups that use technology to mitigate such biases throughout their human-resources operations.
Clearly, reaching gender parity will be no easy feat. But it remains vitally important, both to improve outcomes for women and girls, and to advance economic development and prosperity for all.