If you want economic growth, invest in women

AUSSIE DIPLOMACY MATTERS - Steven J. Robinson - The Philippine Star

An important part of my job is to help deepen commercial links between the Philippines and Australia. That often means working with business people and attending events that promote more trade. Stronger economic ties are vital to creating jobs for both our countries.

There’s another important, but under-appreciated, factor that drives economic growth: gender equality. Put simply, research shows that if countries want economic growth, they must invest in women. Greater gender equality is critical for growth, development and social cohesion. It’s why promoting gender equality is a major feature of Australia’s development cooperation programs with all our partners.

The good news is that the Philippines ranks as the number one country in Asia for gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2020. The report puts the country’s overall global ranking at 16th, which is a strong result, although this represents a slip from 8th place in the previous report. This means there are solid foundations from which to build lasting economic and social development in this country.

I’m proud to say that Australia is a reliable friend to the Philippines as it strives to make progress. We’re working across several areas to empower women and girls. In basic education, women make up almost 90 percent of the workforce yet male teachers tend to rise faster through the ranks to senior positions. So with the Department of Education, we’re supporting teachers and administrators to overcome barriers to women teacher’s professional development and career advancement opportunities. This is so that schools and students benefit from having better trained and more productive educators.

In the complex issue of resolving conflict in Muslim Mindanao, we’re applying lessons that show that equal participation of women and men is essential to sustain long-term peaceful development. Through civil society partners in Mindanao, Australia has helped thousands of women to engage with and contribute their perspectives to what eventually became the Bangsamoro Organic Law. On top of this, Australia’s humanitarian work has supported the distinct needs of women and girls affected by the Marawi conflict and is helping to promote their participation in the city’s recovery. 

Gender equality matters in the defence and security fields too. We’ve supported training opportunities for the women in the Armed Forces of the Philippines and I’m pleased to say that a delegation led by the AFP Chief of Staff will participate in the Women, Peace and National Security conference in Australia in April this year, which will be hosted by the Chief of the Australian Defence Force.  

Another program I’m very enthusiastic about is our work on education and scholarships.  Since 2018, Australia has provided postgraduate and management scholarships to 40 Filipino women scientists and researchers to help them take on leadership positions within their organisations. Similarly, through the prestigious Australia Awards scholarship program, more women are taking postgraduate degrees in Australia in 2020.  I encourage more women and men to apply for the Australia Awards 2021 intake which will close on 30 April 2020, to advance their careers and make a difference in their fields on their return.

Lastly, our Investing in Women program supports Philippine employers to promote workplace gender equality, including by collecting and analysing data on issues such as the gender pay gap and the need for more women in senior corporate leadership roles. Australia’s own experience has shown that by having such data, companies can narrow gender gaps and reap the benefits of more diverse teams.

I’m highlighting these programs as we celebrate International Women’s Day with the global campaign called #EachforEqual. It means everyone – from individuals to nation states – can take part in making the world healthier, wealthier and more harmonious by taking action for gender equality.   

The Philippines is well placed to gain from the economic and social benefits that come from striving for gender equality. As always, Australia stands with you.

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(Steven J. Robinson AO is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. Follow him on Twitter @AusAmbPH)

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