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South Africa would get a massive economic boost by fast-tracking gender parity

Monday, 6 June 2016: Improving societal and work parity between men and women in South Africa will realise substantial economic benefits, but deep-rooted negative attitudes and behaviours towards women must first be addressed.

This is according to business woman, entrepreneur and author of South Africa’s best-selling book Play to Win: What women can learn from men in business, Donna Rachelson who has lauded a report released by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) that shows how advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global growth.

The report rigorously interrogated the gender inequality landscape in 95 countries, including sub-Saharan Africa. Despite accounting for 50% of the global working-age population, the report shows that women only generate 37% of global GDP. Some 40 out of 95 countries involved in the research have high or extremely high levels of gender inequality.

Rachelson explains, “This report is the first to link gender equality in society with gender equality in work. It has particular relevance for South Africa where more than 50% of the population is female. The potential of women to contribute to South Africa’s economic growth is considerable, but gender initiatives in South Africa need to more effectively tackle deep-rooted attitudes and behaviour towards women and their role in society.

“Gender inequality is a disturbing moral and social issue but also a critical economic challenge. If women do not achieve their full economic potential, South Africa’s economy will continue to suffer.

“All agencies in SA need to understand that narrowing the gender gap will significantly boost the contribution of women to the economy. Our current approach to advancing women has become ‘business-as-usual’ and far more needs to be done.”

Rachelson says the MGI report underscores the economic prize of gender parity and calls on policy makers, business leaders, and other stakeholders to address fundamental drivers of the gap in work equality. These are education, health, connectivity, security, and the role of women in unpaid work.

She believes that South Africa has made headway in the key interventions the report identifies as critical in bridging the gender gap, namely, financial incentives and support; technology and infrastructure; the creation of economic opportunity; capability building; advocacy and shaping attitudes; and laws, policies, and regulations.

“However, a lot more work needs to be done to ensure that women in South Africa enjoy the dignity and power they deserve at home and at work.”

“South Africa’s public and private companies, and civil society, should take heed of the findings of this report that highlights:

  • the economic benefits of closing the gender gap in South Africa;
  • that initiatives led by a single stakeholder are insufficient to drive change;
  • and that public- and private-sector organisations must work together to address gender issues.”

She says all role players involved in empowering women in South Africa should note the findings of this report, which show how progress in four key areas facilitate progress:

  • education levels,
  • financial and digital inclusion,
  • legal protection, and
  • unpaid care work.

Rachelson says there are many organisations involved in women’s rights and issues, and they are playing an important part, including the media.

“But, these role players would do well to align their knowledge to understand the gender inequality landscape in South Africa in sufficient detail to have a positive systemic outcome.”

Rachelson says the report has two clear messages for the private sector:

  • firstly, to pursue interventions on their own or in partnership with government, and to view these as opportunities rather than a source of additional cost; and
  • secondly, to proactively ensure companies are having a positive impact on female employees as well as on participants in their supply chains, distributors, and customers, and the broader communities in which they work.

The MGI report is entitled, ‘The power of parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth’.