Door Marja Bijl op 11 januari 2016

Inclusive growth and fighting inequality

Als vicevoorzitter van de PvdA bezocht Marja Bijl afgelopen december het Progressive Alliance Forum in Santo Domingo over ‘Democratic and Equitable Development for Everyone – The 2030 Agenda’. Lees hieronder haar bijdrage aan het panel over inclusieve groei en de strijd tegen ongelijkheid. 

As progressives the fight against inequality has always been our driving force. One of our former party leaders had the famous quote that we should strive for an equal distribution of knowledge, wealth and power. This is still very much true and needed today. Looking at this perspective I would like to focus –as is probably by now expected from me- on the position of women. Why? because we make up half of the population of the planet, and last time I looked, we produced the other half. Which doesn’t mean, as we are probably are all aware of, that we share 50% of the burden of inequality, the share of women is far more.

All around the world, women are often the driving force in securing basic income for the family. Investing in gender equality and decent work means not only investing in dignity and independence of women, but it also means investing in the future of their children. Even better; securing gender equality and decent work is not only in the interest of women and their families. It is also in the interest of society as a whole. Recent estimates by the International Labour Organization show that gender inequality in employment across Asia alone, is costing 45 billion dollars a year. 45 Percent of working-age women are outside the labour force compared to 19 percent of men. If female employment was to match male employment, per capita, the GDP would rise 19 percent in Southeast Asia and 27 percent in the Middle East and North Africa.

So to be clear:

If we want –inclusive- growth we have to have gender equality and decent work for women as well as for men. And if we want to change the world, which is what we want, we need to act. And if we’re serious about making progress we need to stand together.

How? In our manifest on gender we said it like this:

Progressives stand for the realisation of decent work for all worldwide (in line with our political and ideological principles and ILO conventions and standards). We should stand up for secure, socially just and regulated employment protecting workers rights in the formal and informal economy. This implies a disaggregated approach to targeting the most vulnerable, excluded worldwide, women being a majority in these groups. Education and training of tangible skills are important to improve chances of women on the labour market. Equal pay for equal work is not a choice but a must.”

Lots of women work in the so called informal economy. They have no security, no rights, and their income is usually far below the living wage. Reaching out to those in the grey and hidden economy is not an easy task, but one thing is clear. If we want more women to be able to earn a living wage, we need to bring in more basic security. We need to formalise the informal economy.

Factories and companies provide jobs and play a crucial role in making sure these jobs are decent. They can help to alleviate poverty. Just like we politicians can. Together with unions we must invest in making sure that -through negotiations- with all actors, yes, employers as well, all work becomes formal, with decent working conditions and at least a living wage for all. Research and good examples show that this contributes enormously to the growth of the economy.

I was very impressed by what our sisters and brothers in Uruguay have done in this field. As we learned last year when we were in Montevideo, they turned a vast amount of the informal jobs into formal jobs by what we in my country call ‘polderen’; getting trade unions and organisations of employers at the table to negotiate living wages and good working conditions. Countries like Uruguay show us that the economy as a whole as well as workers and employers will benefit from stabilised conditions. I am fully aware that the road to get to that point where everyone is willing to sit at that table is a tough one, but that has never stopped any of us in the past!

What is needed? Of course legislation to define the rights and legal position of informal workers. Without clear legislation women –and men- working in the informal economy will stay invisible and vulnerable. Legislation is the starting point for policies that can really make a difference.

Secondly, we need strong trade unions that are able to stand up for basic worker’s rights. Not only do we need more members of trade unions, also we need them to focus more on people working in the informal sector.

Thirdly, but not unimportantly, we need strong progressive movements and parties that can really make a difference. When we are united we can push for legislation and policies that really improve the situation.

And last but not least we need to work on the other two aspects of our former leaders quote, we need to work on a more equal distribution of knowledge and power between men and women. We need to educate our girls better and we need to give women more power, on every level. Not just because we feel that is the right thing to do, but also because it will lead to more, and inclusive, growth that will benefit all.

Marja Bijl

Marja Bijl

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