NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Encouraging more women into the workforce can boost economic growth, and governments and corporations should do more to remove barriers that deter women from the job market, Hillary Clinton and Christine Lagarde said at a women’s rights summit in New York.
Speaking at the fifth annual Women in the World summit, Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, said cultural and economic barriers - such as entrenched sexism and higher taxes that women workers often pay as second earners - can hold women back.
"If you bring more women into the job market you create value, it makes economic sense and growth is improved," Lagarde said. "There are countries where it’s a no brainer."
She cited Japan and South Korea as examples of countries where an aging population had slowed economic growth and said that measures to allow more women to access the workforce could significantly increase wealth.
"If you look at what the Netherlands has done - encourage part-time (work), remove all discrimination - that has improved the situation of Dutch women accessing the job market," Lagarde said.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed Lagarde’s remarks and said making an economic argument for empowering women was an effective way of persuading governments to promote the rights of women in general.
"For many of us the argument for women’s rights was first and foremost a moral argument and a political argument," Clinton said. "But I think where it is now as an economic argument is in many respects maturing the case that women’s rights are human rights."
"When women are more equal (to men) you have less instability, fewer conflicts and greater democracies."
Clinton said remarkable progress had been made since the 1995 Beijing Declaration that laid out a platform of action for the equal economic, political and social participation of women. But the former First Lady said much more needed to be done to achieve full gender equality.
"There are still some horrific situations, there are still girls who are born and not registered at birth," Clinton said. "Girls are still the last to be fed, still forced into labour, unable to go beyond primary education… married at very young ages."
Clinton said she would advise young women to fight for gender equality and change attitudes by trying "not just to score a point but also to change a mind."
Lagarde said men could feel threatened by the promotion of women’s rights.
"Women are better equipped than men to deal with all sorts of situations…We are a threat to men so we (need to) affirm ourselves without threatening them," she said.