Our Daughters, Our Wealth: Gender Equality for Economic Growth

Blog Post
Dec. 19, 2011

“If it could rid itself of gender discrimination, the average developing country would grow at least two percentage points faster each year.”  At least so argues Marcelo Giugale, the World Bank’s Director for Poverty Reduction and Economic Management in Africa, in a recent op-ed that likens the current state of many global economies to one in which “half of all machines [are] misplaced: tractors [are] sent to hospitals, brain scanners to barber shops, hair driers to construction sites, cranes to car factories and crash-test dummies to farms.”

Giugale believes that there has never been a better time to be a woman, and believes that “our daughters’ world…probably will be better than our sisters’”. At the same time, he points out that although more women are joining the labor force, they are occupationally segregated, which leads to a gross misallocation of resources. As he puts it, “just letting assets go where they can be most useful makes [a country] a lot more productive…removing the barriers that keep women from doing the jobs they are best at will expand the economy’s production capacity; even at the same level of investment.”

In addition to improving education, health care, family planning and laws against gender discrimination, Giugale argues that we also need to change cultures around the world to value women and men equally. One approach that we at the New America Foundation have seen getting remarkable results in promoting gender equality is social protection programs that promote educational and health outcomes for children, especially those that put money directly into the hands of female heads of households. 

In addition, many countries have launched social protection programs targeted specifically at traditional beliefs regarding the desirability of baby boys vs. baby girls. Apni Beti Apni Dhan (Our Daughters, Our Wealth), launched in 1994 in Haryana, India, gives poor families 500 rupees ($11) when a daughter is born, and if the girl reaches 18 unwed, she is eligible to receive 25,000 rupees ($500). As described in a recent article in the Daily Beast, “whether it can be tied directly to Apni Beti or not, child marriage is on the decline in Haryana, which saw an 18 percent drop in the practice between 1992 and 2006.” Although the $500 payment is "hardly a game-changing sum,” the article continues, the state is “sending a message about the worth of girls.”

Though some may cringe at the idea of paying families to care for their daughters, many women’s rights advocates such as Dr. Anju Malhotra of the International Center for Research on Women insist that “economics are one of the major drivers of tradition in the first place,” and “economics are fundamental to changing culture.” If both Drs. Guigale and Malhotra are to be believed, then, promoting growth in developing countries fundamentally involves improving the economics of being a woman.