Women, work and the economy

10 October 2013 | Minutes

IMF/WB Civil Society Forum

Thursday 10 October 2013


  • Kalpana Kochar; Deputy Director Strategy Policy and Review Department IMF
  • Prof Jennifer Klein, Adjunct Prof of Law, Georgetown University
  • Chair: Nisreen Farhan, IMF


Kalpana Kochar – Presentation on the Macro Gains form Gender Equity

How can IMF work on this – acknowledging how circumscribed IMF is in terms of its core mandate.

Female labour force participation rates remain low in many countries, and have stagnated at low levels worldwide on average.

Gender gaps in participation rates remain high, looking at 1990 to 2010, though the gender gaps have declined in that period for the majority of regions.

Often the cause of narrowing gaps is actually the decline in male participation rates, which is hardly the best way to reduce the gender gap.

Why is this an IMF issue? Because low female participation rates can have significant macroeconomic stability implications.

Through the IMF surveillance process in Article IV reports, we have pointed out where the gender gap remains large, such as recent cases in Japan, S Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Because of the access that the IMF has to country authorities, we know we can contribute to the gender equity agenda by bringing the big picture by not involving more women in the labour force and levelling the playing field.

We can also work with the Bank, ILO and others to generate the relevant data. Currently the impact of policies is not sufficiently measured in a way that delineates gender.

Third, we can help on fiscal policy – apart from macro this is a core area of IMF work.

ILO estimates suggest 865 million women can contribute more fully to national economies.


Higher female labour force participation could boost economic growth by mitigating the impact of a shrinking workforce. Greater opportunities to control and earn income amongst women suggests that – based on extensive evidence – leads to higher school enrolment for children and stronger human capital. Equal access to inputs can improve productivity in female owned companies. Equally based employment of women leads to a general improvement in the talent pool.

Evidence from WB’s gender WDR showed huge income losses due to gender gap in different regions, e.g. MENA 27%, the lowest being Sub-Saharan Africa which is still high at 12%.

Japan is a key case. Its population is aging very rapidly, which seems to be on the verge of a declining population. Despite very high educational attainment amongst women, there remains very low participation rate. Were the participation rate at the OECD average it would yield 4% increase in GDP, and if it had the N European average its gains in per capita income would be almost double that.

This has led to the PM in Japan make increasing labour force participation a key plank of his growth strategy.

How can policies work?

An integrated set of policies is needed, though IMF focus is on the core expertise of the Fund, fiscal, but this is not to suggest that other key factors are not as if not more critical. Note that cultural factors are at play, but the potential and economic inefficiency is still present, e.g. in Saudi Arabia women’s educational attainment far outstrips that of men.

Tax Measures

Replace family income taxation with individual income taxation.

Secondary earners are mostly women. Female labour supply is more response to taxation than male labour supply.  Female labour supply is more responsive to taxation.

Expenditure Measures

Publicly financed parental leave schemes – e.g. Brazil may be a great example of this. Greater parity in paternity and maternity leave.

Improved access to comprehensive, affordable and high-quality child care

Pensions: ensure spells from maternity leave do not penalize via lower pensions. Higher spending on education of women, and improvements in rural infrastructure. The latter is supported by Bank and other evidence shows that access to infrastructure ends up freeing up time previously occupied by time-consuming basic tasks which are low-productivity.

Prof Jennifer Klein

Focus on the constraints facing women seeking to enter the labour force. In addition to those set out already there are economic constraints, from access to capital, skills and women’s leadership.

The pay gap remains a huge issue, in the US it remains 76 cents to every dollar men earn, which hasn’t changed in a decade. In OECD states it is a 16% gap.

Health disparities also prevail, and the number one killer of girls from 15 to 19 remains complications related to childbirth.

These issues are therefore broad, and not just in the realm of the IMF.

There are changes afoot, and gender equality and status of women and girls is increasingly discussed.

Under-secretary of state Clinton, the first attempt at gender integration in foreign policy, which led to a real examination of what the department and US AID was doing. Policy guidance led to examination of gender in multiple areas, such as gender assessments in strategic planning.

The record of Secretary Clinton, dating back to 1995, is extensive and very focused on ensuring the engagement of the private sector.

This issue remains a moral imperative, and an issue of fairness. What’s changed perhaps in the last 5 years is that it’s increasingly seen as a smart policy, for security, stability, and prosperity.


Elaine Zuckerman, Gender Action

For the last dozen years, we’ve critiqued the IMF across these issues, and I do feel a huge sea change given the IMF is discussing things such as equal parental leave. The IMF has finally gone beyond the Consensus it occupied.

What I hope that Article IV and advice to LICs and other states begins to incorporate this into its work in programme countries

Pam Gomez, ITUC

The work is very useful and the efforts made are thoughtful, and the policy implications remain very well thought out, so we welcome this paper.

Thinking about the IMF, at the moment there remains only one woman on the IMF board – what are your thoughts on that and other institutions’ leadership?

Sargon Nissan, Bretton Woods Project

What are the plans to operationalise the lessons in this paper, in particular in assessing and developing gender disaggregated data in terms of programme countries.

Kalpana Kochar

This work is linked to the broader agenda of jobs and growth.  A major board paper was issued in Feb/March this year, with an accompanying guidance note which sets out how to take gender into account. WE will issue a guidance note to staff, and plan to do some ‘in-reach’ which takes this work to the departments which conduct missions, but also reflect to them what data is already available, despite the gaps that do persists, including Bank studies about issues of women and the law and rights to property.

One effective method of persuasion is to compare and contrast countries’ performance. This is difficult for us to achieve, except perhaps in terms of programme countries.

Regarding women’s leadership, this partly reflects pipeline problems in recruitment that has only recently become fully balanced. One approach is to champion the progress of women into leadership.

There was a previous period when we did very well in recruitment but not so well in seeing their progress through the ranks, so this was brought to the attention of management and HR practices began to adjust to reflect this.

Nisreen Farhar

Regarding leadership, the Exec Directors are elected by governments and they are choosing to send so few women.