Gender Equality and Human Capital: Let's Value People, rather than their Economic Contributions

The sun has just set on day four of the IMF & World Bank Annual Meetings here with the Global Voices delegation. As usual, we have had an engaging, diverse, chaotic, exhausting, and rewarding day. Today marked International Day of the Girl. It was an incredible day to watch discussions, summits, launches and panels discussing the importance of addressing and investing in women and children, particularly girls.

Human capital has been the buzzword on everybody’s lips at the World Bank Meetings, and technology seems to be the catchword for the IMF side of the talks. Bringing them together were two particular events – a panel discussion on Harnessing Technology for Inclusive Growth, and a World Bank Summit launching the Human Capital Project. I was fortunate enough to hear many inspirational and powerful women speak today at the IMF & World Bank Meetings, but three stood out for their focus on gender inequality and human capital.

At Harnessing Technology for Inclusive Growth, the CEO of the World Bank and former Vice-President of the EU Commission, Kristalina Georgieva, spoke to the importance of valuing people themselves, rather than simply their economic contributions. She made the powerful statement that two thirds of the wealth of our planet is its people, which makes them our most valuable asset. On the same panel, Melinda Gates (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Pathways for Prosperity Commission) warned the room against the assumption that innovation spreads evenly, and cautioned that if people don’t program innovation specifically around women, it simply won’t reach them. 

Sri Mulyani Indriwati, the Finance Minister for Indonesia, spoke later in the day at the launch of the Human Capital Project, and very powerfully articulated the statement that human capital investment is the key to reducing poverty and inequality around the world. Human capital is, in essence, all about investing in children – and particularly girls. The Human Capital Index measures the prevalence, quality, and access to health and education for the young people in every nation, then translates that data into an annual international ranking that compares how well governments are investing in the future of their young people.  

Melinda Gates spoke again at this launch, stressing the importance and power of disaggregating data along gender lines in the Human Capital Project. She stressed that we are off to a great start making gender-sensitive investments in human capital, which ensures an inclusive, equal future. However, we must take a renewed focus on education, health, and economic empowerment for women and girls.

For organisations that have long been criticised for their perpetuation of inequality in society, these statistics, projects, and discussions demonstrate huge progress for the World Bank and IMF. As a first-time delegate and newcomer to the economic policy space, it is encouraging to see. I am very keen to tune into more talks about impact investment, inclusive growth, and private sector development financing, accompanying a broader discussion of the need to use every tool at our disposal to achieve international development goals.

By: Darcy Nidd, Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs, Murdoch University