“Empowerment of women in any society starts with political will and leadership, as legislative actions, self-regulatory frameworks and implementation measures are all necessary to achieve desirable results,” said Ulrika Sundberg, Consul General of Sweden, at the precursor event of the 6th Global Economic Summit on Women’s Empowerment (March 27-29), being organized by World Trade Center Mumbai and All India Industries Association.

Recalling the progress made by Sweden in this direction in the 1970s, she said a combination of these actions was especially necessary if we wanted to transform the national society. This became clearly evident when Sweden abolished joint taxation of the family in 1971, resulting in a 160% rise in women’s participation in the workforce.

The high powered discussion panel included Samina Naz, Deputy High Commissioner, Bangladesh; Saroja Sirisena, Consul General, Sri Lanka; Ulrika Sundberg, Consul General, Sweden; Rosimar da Silva Suzano, Consul General, Brazil and Jennifer A Larson, Deputy Principal Officer of the US Consulate, besides Rupa Naik, Director – Projects, WTC Mumbai and Novelist & Activist Tuhin Sinha who represented India. Filmmaker & Novelist Vinod Pande moderated the discussion. The panellists unanimously agreed that technological breakthroughs were gender neutral, but they had contributed to giving women a higher degree of freedom and choices. Digitalisation and digital literacy had propelled women across the world to become more productive in various innovative ways.

Deputy High Commissioner of Bangladesh Ms. Samina Naz said that technology had a positive impact on the economic empowerment of women. She added that advancement and empowerment of women in Bangladesh had a long track record and the United Nations had acknowledged the country’s remarkable achievements, with Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina receiving the UN 50-50 award in 2016. “UN Gender Gap Report has ranked Bangladesh 10th out of 142 countries globally,” she added.

Ms. Saroja Sirisena, Consul General of Sri Lanka said that though most women-led businesses in her country were not tech-driven or tech-intensive, all of them had easy and equal access to technology. More and more Sri Lankan women were now addressing issues using social media. She said Sri Lanka had a great tradition of treating women as equals, longer than most countries, and could achieve a lot without much affirmative action.

Ms Rosimar Suzano, Consul General of Brazil said that the government in her country was trying to reach out to the poorest using technology. She said Brazil had made great strides in furthering women’s causes and that people in the country were now discussing the concept of shared parenthood. “The country is offering incentives to businesses maintaining crèches and nurseries for children.” She said that companies going through tough times used to fire women first but now supporting legislation was changing the paradigm. She also said Brazil had set up special police stations for women and provided mobile apps for women’s safety.

Ms Jennifer Larson, Deputy Principal Officer of the US Consulate said that though technology in the US had played a gender-neutral role, it had also empowered women in various innovative ways to participate in the economy. She said that education held the key to true empowerment. “When you educate girls, they participate in economic activity and the GDP goes up.”

Novelist and Activist Tuhin Sinha said it was an interesting time to be born a woman in India, as the society was at the cusp of a progressive revolution leading to gender-neutral perspectives. The Swedish Consul General reinforced his argument by saying that gender-budgeting was a very effective tool, as it clearly spelt out how budget allocations affected women and promoted gender equality. She said Sweden had made three months ‘parental leave’ mandatory for men, to try to equalize career advancements and possibilities between men and women. Tuhin also added that the Indian society needed a lot more role-reversal to empower women.

Moderator Vinod Pande said it was high time women’s rights were not subject to male patronage. Rupa Naik, Director, WTC Mumbai wrapped up the session by reminding everyone that humanity was losing out on a lot by keeping half of the world out of productive economic action. “Research reports have clearly indicated that if we can increase women’s involvement in mainstream economic activity by completely bridging the gender gap, it could add as much as USD 28 trillion to the world’s GDP by 2025!”

Photo Caption (L to R): Mr. Vinod Pande, Filmaker, Ms. Rupa Naik, Director – Projects, WTC Mumbai, Ms. Saroja Sirisena, Consul General, Sri Lanka, Ms. Samina Naz, Deputy High Commissioner, Bangladesh, Ms. Ulrika Sundberg, Consul General, Sweden, Ms. Jennifer A. Larson, Deputy Principal Officer of the US Consulate, Ms. Rosimar da Silva Suzano, Consul General, Brazil and Mr. Tuhin Sinha Novelist & Activist.