Gender Equality for Promoting Economic Development

There is an increasing understanding that gender equality is an essential precursor for promoting economic development, in addition to being central to fairness and inclusive societal development. A lack of gender equality between women and men, implies that human resources are not being harnessed to their greatest extent for the development of the economy, and society at large. In economic terms, gender equality thus broadly means utilizing everyone and letting everybody – both men and women – be assets on which to build development through e.g. employment in the labour market, higher education, research, innovation and entrepreneurship. In this issue of Nordregio News we focus on the discussions of how gender equality and economic development are related.

Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, has been quoted as saying: "The economic case for getting more women into the workforce and more women into top jobs in the EU is overwhelming [...] We can only reach our economic and employment goals by making full use of all our human resources – both in the labour market as a whole and at the top. This is an essential part of our economic recovery plans".

The so-called horizontal and vertical gendered inequalities of the labour market – including a gender pay gap – are thus taken to hamper economic and societal development, in addition to not being just. Under the Europe 2020 strategy, the European Commission has therefore highlighted the need to promote a better reconciliation of work, family and private life. Particular foci include adequate childcare, more access to flexible working arrangements, and by making sure tax and benefit systems do not penalize a second earner. Fulfilling these needs can help to make sure more women enter and remain in the labour market.

In the first article Inequalities Risk Hampering Economic Development, I take a closer look at the arguments on how gender equality contributes to economic development and discuss the concepts that support the economic innovative and business 'cases' for gender equality. This is done against the back-drop of a description of some of the gendered inequalities in the EU. The article also features examples on policy initiatives for coming to terms with gendered inequalities.

In her article Gender Aware Management for Increased Innovation Capacity, Marita Svensson deepens the discussion on how gender equality work has led to economic growth, increased innovation and attracting skilled personnel in the innovation system Fiber Optic Valley, in Sweden. Special attention has been paid to the role of managers, particularly middle managers, in the work for gender equality, as they have the power to define the conditions for work in their organizations. The case of Fiber Optic Valley has resulted in managers viewing both women and men as assets and utilizing their competencies – and also realizing that gender equality is great for developing new products.

In the last article A Renewed Focus on Gender Equality in Iceland, by Lise Smed Olsen, the lights are set on Iceland. Iceland, which was hard hit by the economic crisis in 2008, has integrated gender equality as a means of recovering. Building on interviews with the Icelandic policy makers Sigríður Elín Þórðardóttir, from the Icelandic Regional Development Institute and Bjarnheiður Jóhannsdóttir, Innovation Center Iceland; Smed Olsen shows that in regional policies for balanced development, Iceland has placed special attention on halting the out-migration of young women from Iceland's rural areas. Halting the out-migration of young women from rural communities is important in limiting the risk that such communities collapse "from within". Opportunities for distance learning and entrepreneurship are featured as a way of coming to terms with this, otherwise, unbalanced development.

Katarina Pettersson

and the Editorial Board

Back to Nordregio News Issue 2, 2013