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My colleague and great friend Sarah Bibler wrote this week’s post.  She’s an expert in how gender issues fit into a nation’s economic growth, and how U.S. foreign policy can do both good and ill for women around the world. She turns her focus towards the U.S. in this piece, and explains how we could use our public policy to empower women and invigorate the economy at the same time. Welcome, Sarah!

It’s worth repeating: gender equality is good for women, men and our economy. In his recent NYT article The Case for Women, former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson echoes the now widely understood (but less widely practiced) mantra that women are “central to the process of economic growth and development.” It’s true!

As the article argues, investing in quality child care and parental leave and eliminating our discriminatory tax policies would all drastically increase American women’s labor market participation and help offset the cost of an aging demographic. We must also know that American women are under represented in corporate board rooms, despite clear evidence that gender balanced boards yield substantially greater profits.

So what’s stopping our gender equitable tax policies, affordable child care, and all around equal participation in economic and political processes? Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, asserts that “not enough people are outraged at the lack of full rights of women in many countries,” including our own. Well, if you’re not outraged about tax policy or child care, maybe you’ll be inspired by this:

On June 26th, UN Women launched its global call to make gender equality a top priority on the international development agenda. Citing persistently high rates of maternal mortality, high gender wage gaps, women’s weak representation in parliament, persistent violence against women and girls, and inadequate access to reproductive health services for women and girls around the world, UN Women makes a compelling case for why gender equality is a development priority.

This call for action might conjure up images of women in the developing world. In Afghanistan, barriers to education result in an 87% illiteracy rate among women and girls; sexual and gender based violence has reached ‘epidemic levels’ across the DRC; and there is an 82% gender wage gap in Pakistan, to name a few.

But these human rights violations apply to the US too, and failure to address them undermines economic growth. Consider these outrageous examples:

  • U.S. maternal mortality rates are amongst the highest of the OECD countries, despite the fact that our prenatal care is the “costliest in the world.”
  • Gender wage gap persists with women making an estimated 82 cents on the (male) dollar, a reality that is fed by the fact that college aged women are far more likely to have unpaid internships than their male counterparts.
  • The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that does not have laws providing for paid maternity leave.
  • American women hold only 18.3% of congressional seats, which is marginally less than the absurdly low global average of 1 in 5.
  • While U.S. foreign assistance programs invest more in combating gender based violence worldwide (thank you Hillary!), Congress stalled reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act for EIGHTEEN MONTHS before its passage in March.
  • In June alone, new abortion restrictions went into effect in Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi and South Dakota, and despite Wendy Davis’ filibustering efforts, the Texas House passed stricter abortion rules on July 3rd.

This week, as we celebrate our country’s independence, take a moment to reflect on the gaps in justice that still need to be closed, and the positive impact that greater gender equality would have on our country. We need guaranteed reproductive rights and access to reproductive health services from North Dakota to Texas to Virginia. We need policies that ensure paid parental leave. It’s also time for the U.S. to move beyond discriminatory tax policies, and provide social security credits or other mechanisms to encourage caregiving. We need equal wages for men and women, affordable childcare, and quality, affordable maternity care, to name a few.

And although we need greater numbers of women voting on corporate boards and in Congress, we also need to recognize gender equality is not *just* a women’s issue.  We need male and female allies on all sides who understand that gender equality is a sure path to economic growth and stability. Now who wouldn’t get behind that?

‘Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington

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