Invest in women to accelerate development for all: UNCTAD chief

07 March 2024

Ahead of International Women’s Day, Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan outlines how investing in women builds more resilient and sustainable economies and societies.

Women in Fiji sell crafts to tourists
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© Shutterstock/Photos BrianScantlebury | Women making and selling crafts to tourists in Fiji.

  • Recent crises across the world have rolled back opportunity gains for women

  • Business-as-usual means closing the gender gap will take over 130 years

  • But investing in women will create millions of jobs and boost global GDP

As the world marks International Women's Day on 8 March, UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan calls for bolder efforts to invest in creating equal opportunities for women and girls across the globe.

They often get less access to education and health care, are paid less than men and are more likely to leave work to care for families.

Even more worrying, Ms. Grynspan says, is that recent crises have rolled back hard-won gains.

It’s now projected that closing the global gender gap will take almost 132 years – about 30 years more than estimated in 2019. According to the United Nations, accelerating the pace to achieve gender equality by 2030 would require an additional $360 billion each year.

Speaking on a special episode of UNCTAD’s Weekly Tradecast, Ms. Grynspan underlined the pivotal role that investing in women plays not only in achieving gender equality but also in building stronger, more resilient and sustainable economies and societies for everyone.

According to the UN, for example, closing gender gaps in employment could boost GDP per capita by 20%. Meanwhile, reducing gaps in care and expanding services with decent jobs could spark almost 300 million jobs by 2035.

‘Shapers’ not just users of new technology

Ms. Grynspan underscored the importance of stronger support for women and girls in science and technology.

The digital revolution has offered unique opportunities for women across the globe to advance. But she says women need to shape not just use new technologies. Otherwise, they could shape our future world in a gender-biased way.

In cutting edge fields such as artificial intelligence, only one in five professionals is a woman.

AI algorithms, trained on data steeped in societal biases, risk perpetuating and also amplifying these prejudices, embedding them deep within the code of new products and services.

For example, translation software has tended to give professions a gender when a language has masculine and feminine nouns, translating “the doctor” from English into “le docteur” (masculine) in French, and “the nurse” into “l'infirmière” (feminine).

‘Agents of change’

In the interview, the UNCTAD chief challenges the narrative that women are “a vulnerable group”.

“We are agents of change, agents of good, agents of community building, of economy building, of society building,” she says. “Women are vulnerable because their rights have been weakened.”

Ms. Grynspan says she remains hopeful as she sees women persist across the world.

“I really see everywhere young women coming through the ranks of politics, through the ranks of society, fighting for their rights, making a difference,” she says. “So despite this very difficult moment for the world, I feel optimistic in my belief in the new generations.”

As we mark International Women's Day on 8 March, this episode of The Weekly Tradecast looks at the importance of investing in women with special guest Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, the UN’s trade and development body.