Our IDRC program GrOW has just issued a new call for research proposal, to synthesize what we know about whether and how women’s economic empowerment impacts growth. Here are my own thoughts about why this exercise is important.
This is a call for a review of evidence. This partly follows a practical consideration: primary research is expensive and takes a long time. And we know there already is much research out there – by Naila Kabeer, Ester Duflo, Akram-Lodi, amongst others – and we believe it is important we produce a good and updated summary of what we already know. The research will follow principles of systematic review, and while there has been some critique of this methodology, we believe in the basics of this: that we need apply the same rigorous principles in literature reviews as we expect in primary data collection (see the great in the Journal of Development Effectiveness on this).
That’s just the methodology. What about the subject: why do we need and want to know about the impact of women’s economic empowerment on economic growth? Isn’t it enough to identify what barriers hinder women to develop their capabilities, as is done in most of the current projects under GrOW, or at the Gender Innovation Lab? The answer to this hinges on two things.
First, has been much emphasis on the smart economics of women’s economics. This stresses the positive benefits of investing on women’s economic empowerment for societies and economies as a whole. The World Economic Forum argues that closing gender gaps is good for countries competitiveness. But these relationships are not extremely strong, and of course they are correlations not causation. They are very complex, context-dependent, and influenced by a wide range of factors. Thus even if the basic correlations holds, which it possibly does, our best research to understand these in detail can be of great value.
Second, the case for this work hinges on appreciation of the instrumental versus the intrinsic value of equality. The intrinsic value is key: we believe that all women should have equal access, and we believe that public policies should support that all should be able to fully develop their capabilities. While the fundamental rights are non-negotiable, there will always be debates about the means and resource allocations. Amartya Sen’s argument with respect to ‘freedoms’ I believe applies here: “It is indeed the combination of the intrinsic considerations and instrumental analyses that can lead the way to an adequate examination of what should be done and why.”
For me, it is because the topic is so important that we need the best evidence available. Hence, this call for proposals: http://alturl.com/6gq8d