Sustainable economic growth isn’t the sexiest term. And unlike ‘equality’, ‘climate change’ and ‘zero hunger’, we may not know what it entails just from its name. This isn’t surprising, given all that the term encompasses.
Sustainable economic growth means providing opportunitites not only for work, but for work that allows a decent life. Around half of the world is still scratching out an existence on the US equivalent of $2 a day. Decent work, says the UN, should not mean merely survival; rather, it should create the opportunity to escape the grip of poverty.
Additionally, given the world’s growing environmental challenges, job creation going forward will have to take into account responsible use of resources, a significant challenge in a world that relies heavily on industrial labor.
At the outset, goal 8 of the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (“Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”) presents a huge mountain to climb. Added to which is the crucial question of women.
The goal emphasizes inclusion of everyone in its wording, and a significant part of that is ensuring women are folded into reforms and programs going forward, something that is easier said than done. Women have long been shut out of the workforce, and though progress has undoubtedly been made, there’s much to be desired in terms of workplace equality.
Equality in the workplace is often interpreted as equal pay, at least in the Western world. However, across economies, women struggle with far more basic inequalities. When not outright barred from working by law, women often lack the social status, education or financial capability to enter the workforce in a meaningful way. For example:
- As of 2014, at least 15 economies allowed husbands to deny their wives the right to work.
- Other jobs are deemed ‘morally inappropriate for women’. However, specific occupations are not defined, so this is left open to interpretation.
- In places like Russia, Kazakstan and Belarus, women are deemed unfit for certain other jobs and legally prohibited from doing them, such as drivers, emergency responders, conductors, woodcutters or carpenters.
- Globally, on average, women earn 24% less than men.
Even in Germany, one of the more progressive countries in regards to women in the workforce, women on average earn half as much income as men in their lifetimes. Simultaneously, the world over, women work more than men: it’s estimated that women do 2.5x as much domestic and unpaid care as men.
The ramifications of these go far beyond affecting women themselves. More time in unpaid care and domestic work means women have less time for paid work, education, recreation or political participation, impacting families, partnerships, politics and the economy. And it’s been shown that empowering women leads to greater economic benefits and improved health outcomes, both of which are crucial to achieving other sustainable development goals. Ensuring maintained focus on women and girls in goal 8 is key to achieving other aims, a fact which governments should keep in mind as we head towards 2030.
Full accomplishment of goal 8 would mean women would get equal pay, have equal access to safe and decent work, be protected from workplace sexual harrassment, gain the ability to earn and save money, influence policy and institutions through an increased presence in the workforce. A better regulation of unpaid care work would also significantly liberate women, for personal and professional pursuits.
This is a tall order, and unlike to come to full fruition. However, the inclusion of women as part of economic growth, current gains and a continued focus on the most vulnerable populations going forward is proof of the recognition that ‘women’s work’ means all work.
The role of women in growing economies is highly complex, and more in-depth reporting on countries, trends, data and recommendations going forward can be found in The Progress Of The World’s Women Report 2015-2016.
Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.