What’s Blocking Gender Equality?

BERKELEY – One year ago, the United Nations adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), one of which aims for true gender equality by 2030.

Empowering women and girls is morally right and economically smart. Several recent studies confirm that there are substantial economic- and human-development costs associated with pervasive and significant gender gaps in economic opportunities and outcomes.

A recent report by the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel, which we authored, identifies actions that governments, businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and multilateral development agencies can take now to close these gaps and accelerate progress toward achieving the SDGs’ overarching goal of inclusive economic growth. The report shows that greater gender equality in a country is associated with better education and health, higher per capita income, faster and more inclusive economic growth, and greater international competitiveness.

A widely cited McKinsey Global Institute study finds that closing gender gaps in labor-force participation rates, part-time versus full-time work, and the composition of employment would add 12-25% to global GDP by 2025. Other studies, using a variety of methodologies, find similar prospective gains, especially in low-fertility countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Germany, and in countries (for example, in the Persian Gulf) with low labor-force participation rates for women.