The other G20

Article Date

05 September 2013

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

I will be watching closely as G20 leaders gather in St. Petersburg, Russia, to see what policies will come to fruition from the agenda they set. One of the most pressing issues for me is whether and how are they going to include women and girls in their economic development strategies.

Consider that the Asia and Pacific region alone is losing between $42 and $46 billion each year because of restricted job opportunities for women, according to a United Nations report. If efforts to include women in emerging jobs and investments are not initiated, nations worldwide can never truly reach the pinnacle of their potential economic growth. It is therefore imperative that G20 countries include women as a major factor of economic development.

Although I have always been passionate about women’s empowerment, my interest in the economics of it grew substantially after attending the G(irls) 20 Summit in Moscow this past June. I was fortunate to represent India and, with other delegates, to present our communique to President Vladimir Putin’s chief G20 secretary. Our statement provides recommendations for the G20 leaders on how to economically and socially empower women.

I firmly believe that this kind of empowerment happens when women receive a good education, achieve economic stability and attain the position they deserve in the work place. Access to a quality education helps foster an upward spiral of growth and development for women. This, in turn, leads to economic stability. Only by empowering women and making them a crucial factor in our developmental endeavors, can we truly create a world where every citizen realizes peace and happiness.

I am not suggesting that all we need is a hike in literacy rates. In many developing countries, the literacy rate of women is significantly higher than the rate of their inclusion in the work force. For instance, India has a women’s literacy rate of 70 percent while only 8 percent of women engage in entrepreneurial activities, according to an International Labor Organization report. If women’s labor participation were closer to that of men, it would contribute $1 trillion to GDP in emerging economies like India. Moreover, India also ranks fourth among countries with the highest rates of crime against women. According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, an estimated 44.5 percent of Indian women are married before the age of 18 – which is considered a human rights violation and to many, an act of violence.  Add to this, horrifying cases of rape, molestation, domestic violence, sexual harassment at the workplace and other crimes against women. There is obviously a disconnect between education (literacy rate) and the social and economic situation of women in my country. This disconnect clearly signifies the need for an education system that goes beyond the walls of a classroom and helps girls and women to fully realize their potential.

What our world requires today is an education system that firstly, engages women in the work force effectively. One way towards this is to encourage and train girls to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, which are in desperate need of skilled female talent. We also need to connect girls to various organizations through internships and trainings immediately after they graduate from high school.

Secondly, our education system needs to sensitize both men and women about the basic human rights that every woman is entitled to. In many countries, women are bound to social, cultural and traditional expectations, and often are unaware of their rights. They need further training, counseling and awareness about their human rights along with the support of men in their life — husbands, fathers, brothers. Only through a holistic education system, can we hope to see women become pioneers in their professional fields and change makers in their local communities.

My week-long experience in Russia really inspired me in more ways than one. Over all, it helped me believe that a single individual is capable of creating change and that women’s empowerment is not just a social issue, but an economic one too. And in case you’re wondering why I titled my blog “The Other G20,” it comes from something that happened during the G(irls) 20 Summit: The organization’s president, Farah Mohammed, fondly referred to delegates such as myself  as the “real G20.” She called the annual meeting of world leaders the “other G20.”

To that I say, why not? After all, don’t women hold up half the sky?