Vocational Education and Training Authority (VETA) students in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo courtesy of Kwetu Studios.

As we approach International Women’s Day 2020—the theme of which is “I Am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”—the issue of women’s economic participation continues to be critically important. Indeed, it will be a core issue at this year’s G7 summit. Recently, I took part in a panel event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to discuss how best to equip young women with the skills and opportunities they need to thrive in the labor force—and other areas of life. Based on that conversation, below are four recommendations that should be considered as we in the development space, and leaders in other sectors around the globe, strive to transform the world of work into one that supports equity and equality.

  1. Start with equal access to training and education. The title of the CSIS event was Empowering Women Through Skills & Workforce Development, and this certainly hits on one important piece of the solution—women, especially young women, should have the same learning and skill-building opportunities as their male counterparts. More than that, though, educational institutions and training facilities should offer the right skills—in other words, skills that address the real demands of the labor market, which may differ depending on region and often change over time. At IYF, we work hand-in-hand with local educational and training systems and employers in high-growth industries to identify skills mismatches between young people – and women in particular – and economic opportunities.
  2. Include life skills as part of training and education curricula. As Kathryn Kaufman of the Development Finance Corporation noted during our CSIS conversation, socio-emotional skills are as important as other technical skills. These skills—like communication, problem solving, conflict management, teamwork—equip people to effectively navigate their environment, relate well to others, advocate for themselves, and achieve their goals. In fact, the most recent LinkedIn Global Talent Trends report indicates that 92 percent of hiring managers consider these skills increasingly important. As with other skill training, it’s important that life skills training be designed and delivered in a way that addresses young women’s needs and challenges. IYF’s Passport to Success® Traveler—launched in partnership with PepsiCo—was produced by a women-owned company and extensively user-tested by young women across the globe to ensure it resonated with them.
  3. Address barriers to education, training, and career pathways for women. Even in places where young women and men have equal access to skills development and other opportunities on paper, the reality can be different. That means programmatic efforts to create training opportunities must also address a variety of barriers that could prevent young women from accessing transformative opportunities. For example, cultural biases such as the prioritization of boy’s education over girls’, the expectation that girls take on household responsibilities instead of studying, or the perpetuation of stereotypes that limit a young woman’s education and career choices. Using data that people care about can go a long way towards reducing cultural barriers. In Mexico, for example, giving girls and their parents real time labor market data connected to their selection of technical study resulted in unprecedented shifts in career path choices from traditional into nontraditional paths for girls.
  4. Ensure educational and workplace environments, procedures, and policies support women. There are a range of often unintended biases that should be addressed to ensure women experience places of work on a level playing field. For example, something as seemingly obvious as making sure that places of employment—especially workplaces in industries that are typically male-dominated—have bathrooms for women, and that appropriate uniforms are provided for female employees. In some situations, safe transportation from home to work can be a challenge that affects women, especially young women, more than their male peers. Discriminatory labor laws—or simply gender bias—also contribute to issues like the global gender-based wage gap that, according to the World Economic Forum's 2020 report, won’t close for at least 100 years. In educational settings, supporting girls and young women may involve providing separate classrooms free of intimidation.

To be sure, there are still challenges to realizing women's rights—including the right to opportunities that will allow women to be full, equal participants in the workforce. The reasons to work hard to address these challenges are many and varied—empowering women economically not only benefits the women, their families, and their communities, but also the businesses and organizations that employ them, as well as the local and global economy. 

Conversations like the one I participated in at CSIS are important and necessary, but not sufficient. Real change requires action. As International Women's Day approaches, let's all focus on the actions we, and our organizations, can take to transform the world into a place of equality and equity.

Angela Venza is Regional Director, The Americas.