SHEEL PATEL/THE HOYA From left to right: Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security executive director Melanne Verveer, chief operating officer of WEConnect Greta Schettler (GRD ’11), gender parity task forces coordinator at the Inter-American Development Bank Andrea Saldarriaga Jiménez (GRD ’16), World Bank social scientist Miriam Müller and project director for the Women’s Empowerment for Economic Development and Resilience Project Lucia España speak at an event Sept. 21.

Female economic participation cultivates a more equitable and productive economy, women’s rights experts said at a panel in Riggs Library on Friday, Sept. 21.

Hosted by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, the panel provided intervention strategies to overcome systemic barriers to women’s economic participation in Latin and Central America.

The panel featured Greta Schettler (GRD ’11), chief operating officer of WEConnect International; Lucia España, project director for the Women’s Empowerment for Economic Development and Resilience Project; Miriam Müller, World Bank social scientist; and Andrea Saldarriaga Jiménez (GRD ’16), gender parity task forces coordinator at the Inter-American Development Bank. GWIPS Executive Director Melanne Verveer moderated the event.

Verveer emphasized the benefits of having a society in which men and women participate in the economy equally.

“Where the gap between men and women on a certain number of metrics is closer to being closed, those countries are far more prosperous and economically competitive,” Verveer said. “As the former head of the World Bank said, ‘Gender equality is smart economics.’”

Entrepreneurial women and working women can have positive impacts on both the economy at large and local communities, Schettler said. She has previously worked at the U.S. Department of State.

“We’re starting to capture some really great data that not only are women really growing their business, but they’re also employing more women, and then also giving back,” Schettler said. “They are women who care about their communities deeply, and they want to look at how they can also contribute back to their communities and their economies.”

According to Schettler, economic gender equality can also improve the global economy.

“If we think globally about women, women control 80 percent of the consumer purchasing power,” Schettler said. “This is not just about human rights; this is smart business.”

España, who oversees development projects that help female entrepreneurs learn business and finance skills in Guatemala and El Salvador, highlighted the importance of empowering women through economic and business knowledge.

“With this project, they were able to connect the economic knowledge with resilience in order to not lose their own small business operations after the natural disasters,” España said. “This was also helpful to empower them and to have more impact outside the community.”

All of the panelists agreed that ingrained gender roles and social expectations present challenges to establishing economic equality between men and women in Latin America. Systemic barriers influence the low female labor force participation rates in Central American countries as compared to the rest of the world, Müller said.

“Norms in a country affect which types of policies are put out, how they are implemented, but they also affect women’s individual choices; they may affect discrimination, so they really play a fundamental role at the micro level,” Müller said.

Governments and selection boards often overlook women’s projects because of pre-existing gender norms, according to Jiménez.

“These norms also translate into how governments are also implementing policies and programs, and it’s just astonishing to see that even in this day and age, with all of the experience that we have, countries still feel like women are just secluded to the household,” Jiménez said.

Governments must include more people in policy development in order to reform the current cultural norms that exclude women from the mainstream economy, Schettler said.

“They don’t understand how to unpack the cultural norms; they don’t understand what really works, what doesn’t work, how do we really make change happen,” Schettler said. “The more that they can bring people in, and bring these ideas in, the more likely that they’re going to see movement.”

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