The EBRD’s Board of Directors has approved the Bank’s first Strategy for the Promotion of Gender Equality to encourage advancement of equal opportunities for women and men in all its activities, in both public and private sectors.
In the strategy, the Bank sets out challenges women face as entrepreneurs and employees in its region of operations, and pledges to increase support in terms of financing, access to know-how and training, and policy dialogue.
In response to these challenges, the Bank will expand its Women in Business programme, under which up to €500 million are currently allocated to women-led SMEs through local partner banks to cover all the countries where the Bank works.
The programme, supported by international donors, aims to provide financing and business advice for up to 25,000 women entrepreneurs.
The Bank will also increase its work with corporate and municipal clients to support more diverse workforces and enhance their service delivery. The EBRD will look for opportunities to invest in safe transport and water access – sectors where women worldwide are generally more affected and could benefit from such projects, which could reduce their burden or increase their safety.
At an institutional level, the strategy introduces tracking of the promotion of gender equality to the EBRD’s Corporate Scorecard, providing for institutional incentives.
EBRD President, Sir Suma Chakrabarti, said: “The EBRD’s new gender strategy is part of the Bank’s response to the new Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN’s 2030 Agenda. For the first time, in this agenda, goals are also set for the private sector. We will be helping our clients, in both the public and private sectors, to promote greater equality of opportunity. It is the right thing to do and it makes good business sense.”
Women and growth
The EBRD’s Chief Social Counsellor, Michaela Bergman, says: “Numerous studies confirm the macroeconomic case for equal opportunities. But one doesn’t even need to rely on these to realise that there is a need for greater equality. Women comprise half of the world’s population, half of the world’s talent and capacity, and are society’s driving force of survival in times of crisis. Today, no country can be competitive globally without using female talent in business, be it in the public or private sector.”
Projections made by the EBRD and others show that equality of opportunities would result in noticeably higher growth. A higher share of women at top management levels means better performance for companies. It also makes business sense to cater to female customers: women are responsible for 70 per cent of consumer spending globally.
According to data quoted in the strategy, gender inequality has direct macroeconomic costs for EBRD countries: A recent EBRD study on the Kyrgyz Republic shows that the decline of women in employment by 4 per cent since 1990, to 40 per cent of the total workforce, has cost the country up to 0.4 per cent of its GDP growth annually.
Gender credit and employment gaps
While most EBRD countries of operations have laws aimed at protecting women’s rights, in practice women are hindered by cultural norms, lack of finance, corruption and issues such as access to safe transport and affordable childcare.
The global gender credit gap is estimated at US$ 285 billion, and over 70 per cent of women-led small and medium-sized enterprises across every region are believed to be financially underserved or unserved.
Despite high education levels in the SEMED region and Turkey, women’s employment levels there are among the lowest in the world. In those regions, and also in Central Asia, access to finance is hindered by a lack of collateral due to inheritance laws and social norms which favour men over women.
Law and the business climate
While women and men in the same jobs often receive equal pay, cultural norms about ‘male’ and ‘female’ professions (well-paid industries for men, low-paid work in education and service industries for women) and legal prohibitions in certain professions contribute to massive overall pay gaps: 63 per cent in the Kyrgyz Republic, 53 per cent in Azerbaijan, 50 per cent in Tajikistan, 40 per cent in Georgia and 38 per cent in Egypt.
Many countries, including some in the EBRD region, still have laws—which may have been meant originally to protect women’s health—that prohibit women from taking on hundreds of jobs, some of which are no longer hazardous. These roles are mainly in well-paid industries such as mining, metals and oil.
Access to finance remains a significant hurdle for women in places such as rural Albania, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, where issues of property and finance are often determined by traditional justice rather than by law.
In order to thrive, businesswomen need a better business climate. Studies show that bureaucracy, red tape and corruption affect women-led enterprises more, as women are more often targeted for bribes.
Michaela Bergman sums up: “There are ample opportunities to give female talent a larger role in our region. Many of them—like the fight against corruption or more diversity in the workplace—also benefit men, and all of them benefit economies as a whole.”
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