IMF links tackling sexism to improved economic performance

4 Mar 19

Countries could boost their economies by as much as 35% if they tackle sexism and get more women into work, IMF head Christine Lagarde has said.

In an interview with the Guardian to mark International Women’s Day on Friday, she said places which rank poorly on gender equality, such as Turkey, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, could boost their economies by an average of 35% if they tackled workplace sexism.

Citing IMF research, she said women boost productivity and bring new skills to the workforce, a trend she said had been particularly noticeable in banks.

“What we have observed is that when there are women, the banks’ capital buffers are larger, the number of non-performing loans is smaller and the risk indices are lower,” she said.

“It is not causality, but it is a strong correlation.”

Lagarde added that countries that rank highly in gender equality, such as Iceland, Norway and Sweden, benefit from “higher growth” and generally have stronger economies.

She added that 88% of countries had some restrictions against women in the workplace embedded in their constitution or law.

“Some forbid women from doing specific jobs, 59 countries have no laws against sexual harassment in the workplace and there are 18 countries where women can be legally prevented from working,” the IMF chief said.

The IMF has been criticised for its loan conditions, which have been called anti-poor and anti-women by civil society groups. 

But Lagarde said the fund has tried to keep social protections in place. She said: “In most countries there is a social spending floor under which the authorities are not allowed to go.

“We have conducted studies on whether health and education budgets have been reduced and found that health budgets have been maintained and education budgets have increased slightly. In some countries, such as Egypt, Jordan, Niger and Mongolia, gender specific policies have been part of the reform package.”

Lagarde also called for more advanced countries to improve, for example for France and Germany to tax women and men separately rather than jointly when they live together.

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