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  • Frances Fitzgerald

The role of Gender Equality in advancing multilateralism is an economic and social imperative

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

As part of this year's inaugural US-Ireland Summit Frances had the following article published in the Business Post's US Ireland Summit 2021 Special Report.

Ireland’s role internationally has always been that of a bridge-builder. As a member of the European Union and a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Ireland continuously advocates for the advancement of fundamental human rights, respect for human dignity, freedom of speech and press, the resolution of conflict through peaceful means and increasingly the advancement of gender equality.

I believe there is a new-found sense of hope and optimism to renew and advance our rules-based multilateralism system following the recent G7 and EU-US summits. However, we must ensure that this system is underpinned by gender equality and works in the best interests of citizens and democracy.

Gender equality and multilateralism are inextricably linked. Many might not see an obvious correlation but increasingly I think that is changing. Globally, insofar as women’s rights are concerned, there is huge cause for concern.

Gender equality issues are mentioned peripherally and are rarely highlighted in high-level communications after summits, rather defence and strategic geopolitical interests take centre stage. Yet what has failed to hit home to world leaders for the most part is that gender equality is at the core of both of those: a country which seeks to roll back women’s rights and to persecute them is unlikely to be a good and reliable partner. Gender equality must be put higher up the global agenda. It is time to take the burden of gender equality off the shoulders of women and onto the shoulders of male leaders.

Unequal rights and opportunities have resulted in unfinished democracies and economies. We know that gender equality makes good economic sense, but we are still far from having an economy that works for women. According to the IMF, if women’s employment equalled men’s, economies would be more resilient and economic growth would be higher. New estimates show that closing the gender gap in employment could increase GDP by an average of 35 percent - of which 7–8 percentage points are productivity gains due to gender diversity.

Greater gender equality has clear measurable, quantifiable benefits for our economies and societies. Improving gender equality by 2050 would boost EU GDP by between €1.95 trillion - €3.15 trillion, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). Boosting women in STEM, digital & AI can potentially give a €16bn annual boost to EU GDP. These are very real returns that add real value to our economy, our society and particularly for women.

Yet we still have been resistant to facilitating these gains. For example, throughout the pandemic, in many countries, childcare was not deemed an essential service and what should have been obvious before needed to be said, that working from home is not a substitute for childcare. Why is that? Facilitating women’s work really is crucial if we are to further develop the economy as a whole and particularly an economy that works for women.

The recovery from COVID is not worth fighting for if it is uneven, unequal or unsustainable. For too long, multilateralism has been thought of primarily through the lens of economic progress but now it must be reoriented towards resilient, equal and sustainable societies.

My own experience as a Minister and as Tánaiste around the cabinet table has thought me how important it is to have increased numbers of women in the room when critical decisions are being made. I never cease to be amazed with how comfortable men can be and indeed often appear to be unaware when there are mainly male decision-making voices in a room. Thankfully, recent outcries about all male panels have begun to change this. I am proud to say that I sit in a Parliament with over 40% female representation – sadly not a claim many Parliamentarians can make, even here in Ireland.

To take real action on gender equality, multilateral organisations must think more about what they are delivering socially. Citizens are no longer satisfied with international institutions discussing only foreign policy development and “strict” economics.

To advance our democracies, we must be cognisant and aware of having women heard in every fora: in politics, at the cabinet table and on the company board. Not only is it a moral imperative but also a socially and economically wise approach.

As we enter a new period politically, with a renewed transatlantic relationship under President Biden and post-Brexit, Europe and Ireland in particular, have a unique opportunity to further exert its influence on fundamental values globally in particular on the advancement of gender equality at all levels.

Frances Fitzgerald MEP is a Vice President of the EPP Group and EPP Coordinator of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee in the European Parliament.



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