Double-whammy: young women and the potential for progress

With attention focused on the launch of the Global Goals in New York, let’s put the spotlight on gender inequality and how companies can profit from parity.

Among the 17 new sustainable development goals, it’s no coincidence that women are the only demographic group to have a single goal dedicated to them. Goal #5 pledges gender equality, and calls out the role of young women in particular.  That’s because empowerment here will unlock progress on many of the other goals.

Despite some recent improvement on legal rights, the economic disparities between men and women remain stark. To cite just one piece of evidence – from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – if women had the same access to productive resources as men (and they comprise 43% of labour force on developing country farms) food yields would rise by 20–30 percent. That’s a lot more mouths fed and families lifted out of poverty.

It’s no surprise then that some companies have made empowering women one of the main pillars of their approach – such as Coca-Cola, under the tagline #5by20. Coke says the role of women is one of the three issues “that will more shape or define the 21st century” than any others. It has committed to enable “the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs across the Company’s global value chain by the year 2020”.

Walmart – the world’s largest company by revenue and biggest private employer – has gone further and committed to source $20 billion of products from women-owned businesses in America. Go online in the US and you can select your shopping basket from women-owned suppliers.

Unilever has long recognised that young women – schoolgirls in particular – are a key agent for delivering its health and hygiene programmes such as Lifebuoy handwashing and for meeting its one billion goal. And last year it added a new pillar focused on women’s livelihoods to its legendary Sustainable Living Plan.

Just last month the McKinsey Global Institute took a look at the subject – and put a price tag on the opportunities being missed. Its report, The Power of Parity,  estimates that advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global growth. Actually, that number isn’t even at the top end of its number-crunching estimates. India and Latin America stand most to gain.

And here at Corporate Citizenship, we’ve just published our own advice on what the global goals mean for business, From My World to Our World, the culmination of a 17 week odyssey of analysis in the run-up to the New York launch. If companies want a double-whammy of benefit, focusing on goal number 5 is a great place to start.

This article also appeared at Responsible Business blog

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