Want to know how to add at least $12 trillion to global growth?

In 2015, McKinsey released a report in which it estimated that even a relatively conservative push towards gender equality could yield an 11% increase in annual GDP by 2025. If there was an even more concerted push, the figure could rise to $28 trillion being added to annual GDP by 2025.

None of this is news for Irene Natividad, who has been championing the cause of women’s leadership and gender equality to truly know how far women have progressed, and how far we still have to go.

“Economic empowerment is still elusive for a lot of women, globally,” says Natividad, who is the president and driving force behind the annual Global Summit for Women, which has been described as “Davos for women”.

“We don’t have equal pay; we don’t have equal rights to leadership roles. There’s been some progress, but we haven’t reached it. I keep hoping we can get this all done and we don’t need a Global Summit for Women anymore,” she says.

The summit has been held annually since 1990 and has become a meeting place for leaders from the worlds of government, business, and civil society. This year’s summit is being held in Sydney and among the stellar array of participants will be Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who Natividad says she has been chasing for a few years. Sheikh Hasina is a trailblazer for women in South Asian politics and has been lauded for achievements in advancing access to education for girls and women in her country.

Based in Washington DC, Natividad has been driven by her mission to empower women to become leaders and to make themselves financially independent at least since the early 1980s when she took up the role of president of the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) in the US.

Founded by Gloria Steinem in 1971, the NWPC is an influential multi-partisan group that recruits, trains and supports women to run for political office. Natividad worked with the highest echelon of US politicians while she was at the NWPC and it gave her a solid grounding into the practical realities of making change happen. Which is why she says, it’s so important to be able to bring together people from government, business, and civil society to have a dialogue that crosses traditional boundaries and orthodoxies.

She says women encounter the same issues now that they did back then, with different degrees of progress being made around the world. “No country has equal pay for women; no country has solved women’s struggle with work and home; no country has solved sex discrimination in the workplace,” she says.

For Natividad, the economic empowerment of women is the key to real change. Whether it is through equal pay in the workplace or better access for female entrepreneurs to capital to start and grow businesses, she says women need to have the same opportunities as men to be financially independent. Once this is the case, women can not only better their lot, but also the wellbeing of those around them and the economy more generally.

“The former chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, said that America’s prosperity from the 1950s to the present was due to women going to work. And it was an amazing statement because bank regulators normally don’t talk in such terms,” says Natividad.

“But what she said is true for every country in the world, where women now make up 30-50% of the workforce. It means that more people bringing money home, your GDP rises, your overall income of the community rises, as well as that family that woman belongs to. So when you don’t give equal pay to women it isn’t just the woman missing out, it’s her family and the community.”

The economic empowerment of women is still a work in progress. This battle is being waged on multiple fronts across the world, from breaking the glass ceiling for female executives to financing women-led businesses in developing nations and all points in between. Irene Natividad has played a crucial role in making that change happen over the past 30 years or so, and her Global Summit for Women has provided a valuable forum for people to advance gender equality and women’s leadership.

If we do achieve the gender equality and empowerment talked about in things like that McKinsey report, we will be able to thank women like Irene Natividad for getting us there.

The Global Summit for Women is being held in Sydney from April 26-28.

 

Kate Stevens

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