Author: Patricia Ahanda

* Patricia AHANDA is a Consultant, Founder of Lydexperience, an expert on issues of equality, leadership, and female entrepreneurship, and a French Politician.

Women represent half of the world’s population and thus half of the world’s economic potential. Gender equality is a necessary foundation for the establishment of peaceful societies with sustainable development. In this context, the empowerment of women and the strengthening of their rights positively and effectively benefit productivity and economic growth. McKinsey Report, titled Win-win: How empowering women can benefit Central and Eastern Europe found that stepping up efforts to close the gender gap in CEE could unlock as much as €146 billion in annual GDP by 2030—an 8% increase over a business-as-usual scenario. However, women’s voices are absent in the CEE region, as GLOBSEC’s Report on Absent Voices: Missing Female Perspectives in CEE has highlighted. The COVID-19 crisis, additionally, has had a greater negative impact on women in CEE and globally, especially in terms of reduced activity and job loss and, thus, setting back the narrowing of the global gender gap with a whole generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.

Women bring new skills, they are sources of talents and innovations for the labor market, therefore, gender diversity is beneficial to economic growth and productivity. Obstacles linked to the participation of women are more expensive for the economies of CEE countries than a sustainable investment for better inclusion of women in the labor market and in policy-making. Moreover, greater gender diversity is likely to increase men’s income. In CEE a drive towards gender equality can be the engine of post-pandemic economic growth.

The pandemic has accentuated gender inequalities, and recent studies from the IMF have argued that the crisis is causing a “she-cession” where women’s labor market outcomes and prospects have deteriorated disproportionately. Simultaneously, however, through new digital tools, during the pandemic women were able to participate in more international meetings, not constrained by travel hurdles. This crisis, therefore, can present an impetus to take action and to enable an inclusive system of transformation and innovation in the region.

In CEE the participation of women in the labor market and leadership is not linked to a question of ambition, nor of capacity or skills but often to cultural and structural brakes which slow down the affirmation of women’s leadership. The cultural change involves individual and collective responsibility, public and private sectors strategic collaboration, clear communication, and policy changes.

Recommendations (not exhaustive)

  • Evaluate the systems already in place in CEE countries. Reform the legal framework to introduce policies that are sensible and supportive, not barriers.
  • Take individual responsibility to fight entrenched social norms, by speaking up from a leadership position, being a mentor, be a sponsor.
  • Change the negative view around gender equality and place it at the same level of importance as new trends, such as digitization or climate change. Affirm gender equality as a winning solution for economic growth and a development policy in its own right.
  • Fight stereotypes and cultural breaks through open and constructive dialogue, communicating clearly and with purpose the benefits for the society and economy.
  • Ensure that the dialogue between the public and private sectors is meaningful, constant, and solution-oriented.
  • Correct structural obstacles by introducing some restrictive measures like quotas or sanctions, while keeping in mind that this measure might be necessary but not a sufficient mechanism to achieve gender equality.
  • Safeguard balanced participation of women and men in political decision-making by incorporating a political commitment from the highest levels.
  • Support positive work is undertaken by civil society and make initiatives for equality in the public and the private sector more visible. Launch communication campaigns and helpful tools like CEEHer Database.

The key message

When women win, men win and the whole economy and society wins.