The chief of the International Monetary Fund has called on governments and businesses to do more to promote the same economic opportunities for men and women and to fight discrimination that interferes with those goals.

Speaking at a conference in Washington, the fund’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, said that ensuring equal pay and economic opportunities for men and women boosts growth, promotes diversity, reduces economic inequality around the world and helps companies earn more. “It’s actually good for growth, it’s good for diversification of the economy, it’s good for reducing inequality and from a micro point of view, it’s also good for the bottom line of companies,” Lagarde said. “It’s an economic no-brainer.”

Lagarde said that developing countries can foster equal pay by channelling government spending to areas such as education, health care and infrastructure, which affect women most. Advanced economies can tackle the problem on the revenue side, Lagarde said, by easing the tax burden on families’ second income earners, typically women, and single-parent households, also usually women in the low tax brackets. “Good fiscal policies actually serve to close that gender gap and to facilitate access,” Lagarde said.

Phumzile Mlabo-Ngcuka, the United Nation’s top women’s rights official, called on governments to show more political will to give women greater economic opportunities. “The tone from the top makes a big difference,” Mlabo-Ngcuka said. She added that it was high time governments were made accountable for promoting women’s rights. “It would really be nice when a government is toppled because they didn’t pay attention to women,” Mlabo-Ngcuka said. “And there isn’t enough of that happening.”
In her International Women’s Day Address, Lagarde said despite significant progress in recent decades, labor markets across the world remain divided along gender lines. Female labor force participation has remained lower than male participation, gender wage gaps are high, and women are overrepresented in the informal sector and among the poor. In many countries, legal restrictions persist which constrain women from developing their full economic potential. She said that while equality between men and women is in itself an important development goal, women’s economic participation is also a part of the growth and stability equation. In rapidly aging economies, higher female labor force participation can boost growth by mitigating the impact of a shrinking workforce. Better opportunities for women can also contribute to broader economic development in developing economies, for instance through higher levels of school enrolment for girls.