Women’s participation vital for economy

Kathmandu, October 19

A two-day ‘Regional Conference on Women, Leadership and the Economy in South Asia’ kicked off here today with the speakers stressing on the need for equal participation of women to boost the economy.

Addressing the inaugural session of the conference, Nepali Congress President and former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba said that patriarchal system across South Asia has suppressed women’s dignity, rights and opportunities for centuries and narrowed their economic possibilities. While South Asian nations are moving forward and enabling greater economic contribution of women, ‘more needs to be done’, according to Deuba.

Citing McKinsey Global Institute’s recent report, the former prime minster said women’s equal participation in economy will increase global output by $30 trillion by 2025, which is the combined economic size of the United States and China today.

“To realise these gains, we must pursue a shift in our social norms, expand quality education and build enabling environment and reform the institutions,” he stated.

The country, in this regard, has been serious and conscious, as per him. “Nepal is proud of its gradual march towards an inclusive economy and through the new constitution we have guaranteed equal rights for women, like right to property, safe motherhood and protection from violence. Moreover, in terms of proportional representation, the new constitution has ensured at least one-third of national and provincial parliament would comprise women.”

According to Deuba, this culture will help foster women’s participation in public sphere and help usher in positive changes in governance as well.

He also stressed on the need for integration of small and medium enterprises run by women to the value chain with big scale producers to ensure the market for their goods. Women have been playing a very important role in production of major export goods like pashmina, handmade carpets, jewellery and handicraft, among others.

Similarly, Minister for Foreign Affairs Prakash Sharan Mahat opined women’s contribution should also be taken into account while calculating the gross domestic product of the country.

Also addressing the inaugural session of the conference organised by South Asian Women Development Forum (SAWDF) — a specialised body of SAARC for empowerment of women — Melissa Williams, senior rural development specialist in agriculture global practice South Asia said that the World Bank has prioritised gender and women empowerment as its core agenda.

“In South Asia, what women most need is better jobs,” she said, adding that the World Bank estimates over a million new workers would enter the South Asian economy every month for the next three decades, which could pose an immense challenge for the region in ensuring better jobs for both men and women.

Citing a report by UN Women, which revealed limiting women in the workforce in Asia Pacific region costs the regional economy $89 billion every year, Williams said, “We should harness the power of women and get them to actively participate in economic activities for growth.”

In South Asia, less than 10 per cent women run small and medium enterprises. According to Williams, the World Bank has prioritised building skills of women and pushing for reforms in the policies that hinder their participation to increase their number in productive sector.

Pramila Acharya Rijal, president of SAWDF, highlighted that the conference will provide an opportunity to build a common strategy for promoting women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship in South Asia for deepening regional cooperation.

Women from 20 organisations, chambers and federations across South Asia, including parliamentarians and political leaders are participating in the conference.