June 14, 2018 | By

The Future of Work is Female

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is thrilled to announce a new blog series, Stakeholder Girls, which highlights the central role that rural girls must play in consideration of the 2018 G7 priority theme areas. Each week in June, as the leadership of the G7 meets, we will discuss the central role of rural girls in responding to climate change, preparing for the future of work, economic growth and equality, and building a more secure world. If leaders do not consider the unique strengthens and concerns of rural girls, progress on each of these themes will be curtailed.
By Laura Glenn O'Carroll
A school girl uses a laptop provided under the "One Laptop Per Child' project by a non-governmental organisation  in a state-run primary school at Khairat village, about 90 km (56 miles) from Mumbai. Photo credit: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
The leaders of the largest advanced economies on earth—the United States, Canada, France, Italy, the UK, Germany, and Japan—met this week in Charlevoix, Canada to discuss the most pressing issues facing the global community. Or at least, that was the plan.
This Group of Seven (G7) summit, despite promises that gender equality would be a top priority, instead captured the news through escalating trade war rhetoric between two of the world’s most steadfast allies. Gender equality cannot be separated from economic growth however; women and girls are half of the world—not a special interest group. Global leaders must prioritize efforts that allow girls to reach their full potential as the workers, entrepreneurs, and innovators of the future. Anything less is leaving money on the table for societies, private business, and families across the globe. For example, long term economic growth in OECD countries can in large part be credited to increase gender parity in education.

The Road to Development

Infrastructure development is key to realizing these gains in rural regions. The potential of rural girls in particular has not been fully realized, as low investment in rural infrastructure and education expansion in both high- and low-income countries disproportionally impacts girls. And when the pace of technological evolution continues to increase, these infrastructure barriers become even more costly for rural populations. As automation and digitalization reshape the landscape of work, efforts must be made now to bring rural regions up to speed. By expanding electrification and internet access to these regions, business can nearly double their talent pool—almost half of the world’s population lives in these rural areas.  
Education needs to adapt to the changing demands of future economies as well. Efforts to increase primary school attendance for rural boys and girls have been picking up steam, but as future jobs demand increasingly technical skills, primary school will not be enough. Expansions in secondary and vocational training, as well as new models of learning such as remote training, cannot wait another generation. Because of social norms and safety worries, women and girls are often expected to stay close to home or avoid public transportation. This has a significant impact by curtailing accessible spaces and limiting employment and educational opportunities. The unique power of digital technology to make the world smaller is especially vital as rural girls often face specific limitations on their mobility.

Time for Change

Rural girls also face unique time constraints that inhibit their ability to gain the education and skill training they will need to reach their full capacity. In many high-income countries, mechanization of household chores liberated many women from hours of drudgery and allowed women to enter the workforce in large number. In contrast, in lower-income rural regions of the world, a lack of infrastructure and social norms dictate that women and girls still spend the majority of their time gathering fuel and water, while also caring for household needs. In sub-Saharan Africa, women carry at least three times more tons per year than men—largely firewood and water—and are responsible for more than 70 percent of household labor. Rural women and girls are also more likely to already be employed than their urban counterparts, in addition to their unpaid household work. These low-paying occupations further inhibit their ability to spend time gaining new skills or education. In many regions, this means that rural women work longer than rural men. In Benin and Tanzania, for example, rural women work respectively 17.4 and 14 hours more than men each week.
A school girl uses her laptop outside Laura Vicuna school in Laguna de Apoyo, Granada, Nicaragua. Photo credit: Reuters/Oswaldo Rivas
These challenges are holding girls back—and are holding back economic growth for us all. When women gain labor force participation, economies grow. Studies on women in corporate leadership show that businesses that have more than three women in senior management make better decisions, which increase their firm’s profitability. Technological changes are promising to overhaul the way the world works within the next generation. First, technologies like electricity, steam power, and even the internet transformed businesses and the way people work. Future developments like advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and more promise to be no less revolutionary. Rural girls already face numerous barriers to economic participation. If leaders do not act now, we will all be left even further behind.
Yet, job development alone will not be enough to build the equitable future that girls deserve. Next week, this blog will dive further into the future of economic progress and the central role of rural girls in efforts to increase the global middle class.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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