I recently participated in the 'Symposium on Gender Inequality in Emerging Markets', at Green Templeton College, Oxford, with 50 leaders from government, public and private sectors, civil society and academics. Attendees included Jane McAuliffe president of Bryn Mawr College and an important voice in efforts to connect women's education with global gender equity, as well as H.E. Shaukat Aziz, who served as Prime Minister of Pakistan.
During the symposium it was overwhelmingly agreed that gender inequality is likely to be more acute in the emerging markets and this demands both national and international action.
There are a number of ways that gender inequality can be addressed. But now is the time to stop talking and move to take action. The issues are global and the need for action in the emerging markets is crucial.
There are a number of areas where women's roles can be improved and supported within these countries:
One of the key issues is to ensure that girls have equal access to education; this reduces economic inequality by enhancing girls' employment and productivity. We need to encourage girls' access to primary, secondary and tertiary education, ensuring that girls enjoy safety and privacy, including access to segregated sanitary facilities, the lack of which is widespread and is an impediment to girls' attending and continuing their long-term education.
Governments and the private sector must be encouraged to create internships and mentoring for girls who finish secondary schools.
Technology plays a very important role in alleviating gender inequality, by liberating women from isolation. The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women have pioneered this and shown that expanding women's use of mobile telephones not only creates opportunities but can also open communication channels for women. Access to technology can also address gender imbalances by providing open access to information. By enabling further access to mobile phone applications, women will be able to access information for healthcare, legal rights, security and banking, offering women a new independence.
Empowering Women in Communities
Many women in emerging markets spend a great deal of time taking care of their families and on commercial activities in communities. Recognising the potential importance of communities as incubators of positive change, governments and civil societies should support community education programmes, centers for community development and social activities that empower women and help to bridge the gender gap.
Human and Sex Trafficking
The first step to combatting human and sex trafficking is for global leaders to recognise that it is a global crime. More enforcement laws are needed in the emerging markets prohibiting sexual and labour exploitation of women and men through domestic, international trafficking and slavery. Further work needs to be done in countries that are sources of demand for trafficking. By strengthening the controls and increasing the number of convictions against the trafficker gangs, it will start to send a message of zero tolerance. It should not be forgotten that this is now a billion pound business and linked to so much other criminal activity, including terrorism and money laundering.
Access to Finance
No one doubts that without access to finance women's economic empowerment and gender equality is not possible. In June 2012, the communiqué of the leaders of the G20 declared 'We recognise the need for women to gain access to financial services and financial education, and call for the GPFI and OECD/INFE to identify additional barriers women may face.' Governments from the emerging markets must give leadership to encourage the banks in their countries to incorporate gender equality conditions in loan and credit agreements. Facilitating access to finance is a major part of securing gender equality, without finance women cannot take the steps to secure independence.
Emerging market leaders need to focus on these key areas to enable true economic development, by empowering women and not only focusing on their rights to health care and education. Access to technology, finance, supporting community projects and combatting human trafficking are all areas that need to be addressed and supported by country leaders to really deliver development and ensure that women are not only receiving the opportunities they deserve, but also have the opportunity to contribute to their economies.