Despite recent studies confirming that gender equality in the workplace is beneficial both in economic and social terms, the global gender pay gap in 2018 is still reported to be as high as 23 percent.

“There is overwhelming empirical evidence that women manage resources more effectively and that investing in women leads to higher economic and social returns” Monica Carco, UNIDO’s Senior Industrial Development Officer, said during a recent interview.

This is not a new concept, as the Credit Suisse Research Institute has reported that diversity in a company’s management team has a positive influence on corporate productivity and has even helped in the recovery following the 2008 financial crisis.

But in 2018, the gender pay gap is still high, with women earning on average 23 percent less than men. Everywhere in the world the former are more likely to hold insecure, minimum wage jobs. This rift is seen at all levels, as women constitute only a small minority in top management positions.

The pay gap is further exacerbated by the two sexes’ attitude towards unpaid care work, of which women do two and a half times more than men. Every day, women spend disproportionately more time cooking, cleaning, and caring for their loved ones, resulting in less time to dedicate to their careers.

The study conducted for the OECD in 2014 concluded that unequal distribution of domestic care work predominantly stems from discriminatory social institutions and rooted stereotypes of separate gender roles. According to the authors, the first step towards achieving gender equality is challenging gender norms entrenched in society.

A 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report found that a staggering $12 trillion could be added to the global GDP if countries were to match the progress towards achieving gender equality similar to that of the fastest developing country in the region.

If women and men played identical role in labour markets, $28 trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025, the report states.

Leaving the monetary aspect aside, economic empowerment of women and gender equality are essential components of basic human rights and are as such protected by international conventions on human rights and labour and by domestic legislation.

On a supranational level, both are an indispensable part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Economic empowerment and gender equality are at the same time a separate goal and also a part of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  UNIDO is one of the most active UN international organizations in this field, implementing projects on the topic across the world.

One successful example is the technical assistance project ‘Promoting women empowerment for Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region’ which started in February 2015 and will soon come to an end.

The results of the project at the macro-level exceed the expectations of the original goals. A policy dialogue was triggered at national and regional levels by exchanging ideas and data between stakeholders.

An important outcome of this project was the amount of data and information gathered by the two research projects on challenges, perceptions and expectations of women when starting entrepreneurship activities. These projects entailed the interviewing of over 1400 entrepreneurs in seven countries of the region, the results of which can be of further used when implementing new projects or changing national strategies.

With UNIDO’s support, the task forces identified priority areas for the promotion of national reforms, as entrepreneurship is considered to be one of the best ways to reduce unemployment.

Despite the successful preliminary results, the changes to the state policies were not formulated as envisaged; only a handful of countries have introduced real changes in their laws in order to favour women entrepreneurship.

But this is not the end, as the challenges faced will be addressed in the second phase of the project which will be jointly implemented with UN Women and FAO.

Without better institutional networks for female entrepreneurs, the goals of achieving gender equality and reducing poverty cannot be achieved. The results of the surveys should be used to better engage women in the economy and should be published in order to promote international acceptance for the notion that women entrepreneurship is a crucial step to combating unemployment.

The goals of achieving gender equality should not only be relevant for international organizations, but also for non-governmental organizations, the private sector and individuals. Adopting gender based policies could have the positive effect of mitigating risks, opening new markets and achieving higher standards of living.

Equal and indiscriminate employment gives women more freedom, more opportunities for education and a higher quality of life; it strengthens their position within the family and allows them to better contribute to the welfare of their loved ones.  It is something which we should all be fighting for.