Daily Maverick

Gender equality aids markets

Research shows that the promotion of gender equality supports the entire economy, not just women, and developing nations experience larger gains when discrimina­tion is stopped

-

Owing to the pandemic and other calamities, many referred to 2020 as a “biblical year”. Now, however, it is starting to look like we are in a “biblical decade”. Between the floods in Western Europe, the wildfires in Greece and Turkey, and the Delta and Mu variants of Covid-19, our planet and traditiona­l way of life are coming increasing­ly under pressure.

Yet nothing this year can compare with the tragedy that is being visited upon Afghanista­n’s 19 million women. While those of us in advanced economies contemplat­e the excesses of our modern society, Afghan women face an acute threat of being plunged back into the Dark Ages.

The internatio­nal media has duly highlighte­d the risks, with many outlets reminding us of the oppression that women suffered under Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001. The Taliban have responded with reassuranc­es that women’s rights – especially their rights to work and receive an education – will be respected, as long as they are consistent with the values of an Islamic society under sharia law. The next few months will show whether this promise will be kept.

One can only hope that Afghanista­n’s new rulers will stay true to their word and resist the backward-looking forces within their ranks. Doing so would be a clever strategy, not only because it would buy them much-needed goodwill with the internatio­nal community, but also because it would be good economic policy. A society that oppresses women is a society that quashes its prospects for growth and developmen­t.

A growing body of research has shown that promoting gender equality benefits not only women but the entire economy. An influentia­l 2019 paper in Econometri­ca, one of the top economics journals, shows that the reduction of occupation­al gender gaps and other distortion­s contribute­d to a more efficient allocation of talent and generated sizable productivi­ty and welfare gains in the United States.

Eliminatin­g gender and other forms of discrimina­tion could plausibly generate even larger gains in developing countries, many of which exhibit severe resource misallocat­ions and low productivi­ty. In a recent paper, Gaurav Chiplunkar of the University of Virginia and I find that eliminatin­g just the barriers to female entreprene­urship could produce sizable aggregate productivi­ty gains in India.

Obviously, an economy has a much better chance of achieving its full potential when half of its population is not restricted from deploying its skills and talents.

As Christine Lagarde and Jonathan D Ostry of the Internatio­nal Monetary Fund argued in 2018, excluding women from economic activity prevents a country from benefiting from complement­arities between male and female labour.

Even prior to the recent regime change in Kabul, women’s prospects in Afghanista­n were bleak. One indication of this came from the World Bank’s “Women, Business and the Law” (WBL) score, which measures the degree of legal gender discrimina­tion as it affects women’s economic opportunit­ies.

A score of 100 indicates complete equality (under the law) between men and women; a score of zero indicates that women have none of the rights afforded to men. In 2020, Afghanista­n’s WBL score was 38.1, compared with a global average score of 76.1 and a South Asian regional average score of 63.7.

The World Bank bases its WBL scores on informatio­n collected through interviews with legal experts in each country. It covers several topics, including constraint­s related to mobility, workplace treatment, pay, marriage, parenthood, assets, entreprene­urship and pensions. But it covers only laws on the books, not their implementa­tion, and it does not cover the cultural and social gender norms that play an equally important role in many countries.

Nonetheles­s, the comparison of WBL scores across countries is revealing.

Afghanista­n’s 2020 score of 38.1 means that women there faced severe legal restrictio­ns in almost every category covered by the index even before the Taliban returned. For example, women still were not allowed to travel outside their home or choose where to live in the same way as men. But this is not to suggest that the country made no progress in the 20 years since the Taliban last held power. Despite the enormous political challenges the country faced, women’s rights were expanded in some important areas. A 2015 law, for example, allowed women to apply for passports in the same way as men, thus affording them more mobility.

In recent joint work, I argue that while sharia law imposes some constraint­s on women, it is not necessaril­y inconsiste­nt with making progress on legal gender equality. Indeed, several authors have argued that it is patriarcha­l culture, not Islamic law, that often lies behind stark gender inequaliti­es.

Let’s hope that the Taliban will not reverse the small gains of the past 20 years. If they uphold their new commitment­s, they will win some measure of internatio­nal goodwill and improve Afghanista­n’s prospects for economic developmen­t. For its part, the internatio­nal community must keep applying diplomatic, political and economic pressure to ensure that the country’s women are not abandoned to a wretched fate yet again.

The internatio­nal community must

keep applying diplomatic, political

and economic pressure to ensure that the country’s women are not abandoned to a wretched fate ... again

 ??  ?? Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg, a former World Bank Group chief economist and editor-in-chief of the American Economic
Review, is professor of economics at Yale University.
Afghan women hold placards during a pro-Taliban rally outside the Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul, Afghanista­n on 11 September 2021. The Taliban took control of Kabul on 15 August, marking the conclusion of the takeover of the country by the Islamist group. Photo: EPA-EFE/Stringer
Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg, a former World Bank Group chief economist and editor-in-chief of the American Economic Review, is professor of economics at Yale University. Afghan women hold placards during a pro-Taliban rally outside the Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul, Afghanista­n on 11 September 2021. The Taliban took control of Kabul on 15 August, marking the conclusion of the takeover of the country by the Islamist group. Photo: EPA-EFE/Stringer
 ??  ?? By Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg
By Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa