Archive for the ‘workers’ Category

Feb26

Agricultural Population Growth Marginal as Nonagricultural Population Soars

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The global agricultural population—defined as individuals dependent on agriculture, hunting, fishing, and forestry for their livelihood—accounted for over 37 percent of the world’s total population in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available. This is a decrease of 12 percent from 1980, when the world’s agricultural and nonagricultural populations were roughly the same size. Although the agricultural population shrunk as a share of total population between 1980 and 2011, it grew numerically from 2.2 billion to 2.6 billion people during this period.

The world’s agricultural population grew from 2.2 billion to 2.6 billion people between 1980 and 2011. (Photo Credit: UNDP)

Between 1980 and 2011, the nonagricultural population grew by a staggering 94 percent, from 2.2 billion to 4.4 billion people—a rate approximately five times greater than that of agricultural population growth. In both cases growth was driven by the massive increase in the world’s total population, which more than doubled between 1961 and 2011, from 3.1 billion to 7 billion people.

It should be noted that the distinction between these population groups is not the same as the rural-urban divide. Rural populations are not exclusively agricultural, nor are urban populations exclusively nonagricultural. The rural population of Africa in 2011 was 622.8 million, for instance, while the agricultural population was 520.3 million.

Although the agricultural population grew worldwide between 1980 and 2011, growth was restricted to Africa, Asia, and Oceania. During this period, this population group declined in North, Central, and South America, in the Caribbean, and in Europe.

In 2011, Africa and Asia accounted for about 95 percent of the world’s agricultural population. In contrast, the agricultural population in the Americas accounted for a little less than 4 percent. Especially in the United States, this is the result of the development and use of new and innovative technologies as well as the increased use of farm machinery, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation systems that require less manual labor.

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Sep07

Taking a Look “Behind the Kitchen Door”

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By Carol Dreibelbis

In her new book, Behind the Kitchen Door: What Every Diner Should Know About the People Who Feed Us, Saru Jayaraman explores the political, economic, and ethical implications of eating out. Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and professor of public law at Brooklyn College, looks beyond the food production system to examine how food is prepared and served at restaurants across the United States.

In her new book, Saru Jayaraman explores the political, economic, and ethical implications of eating out. (Photo Credit: kqed.org)

Today, the U.S. restaurant industry employs 12.9 million workers—nearly one in 10 Americans—and produces more than $1.7 trillion in revenue each year. But, according to the labor organization the AFL-CIO, seven of the 10 lowest-paying jobs are in the restaurant industry, and 90 percent of restaurant workers lack paid sick days. Meanwhile, only 0.01 percent of restaurant workers are represented by a union, even though workers represented by unions are paid an average of 20 percent more than non-union workers and are more likely to have benefits.

Jayaraman uses the in-depth stories of 10 restaurant workers in cities across the country to paint a picture of the conditions that many food service employees face. In these cities—including New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Detroit, and New Orleans—the author follows employees who are paid less than minimum wage, sexually harassed, stolen from, unable to take sick days, and unable to feed their families.

As one Washington, D.C. restaurant worker says in the book, “Customers always ask us if this dish is organic or local, thinking that is what will ensure that they are having a healthy meal, a meal they can feel good about, but if they knew about what workers were dealing with…working with the flu, tips and wages being stolen by the owner, getting screamed at and abused by managers, being called racial slurs, getting groped by male workers—they would think twice about the quality of their food.”

Through stories like this, Jayaraman asks her readers to consider a broader definition of a sustainable food system—one that includes fair and supportive conditions for restaurant workers. For more information, visit the book’s website or view the book trailer.

How do you think fair and supportive working conditions fit into a sustainable food system? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Carol Dreibelbis is a former research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Food and Agriculture program. 

Mar11

Argan Oil: Too Much of a Good Thing?

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Most people have heard of the health benefits of using olive oil instead of butter or other saturated animal fats. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil have been shown to reduce levels of harmful cholesterol, and as a result nutrition experts have touted it and other aspects of the Mediterranean Diet as heart healthy.

Photo Credit: Jane Alexander

But olive oil isn’t the only celebrated oil from that region of the world. In Morocco, argan oil has been consumed by the Berber people for centuries. Berbers add the deep yellow, toasty-flavored oil to couscous, serve it alongside bread, or eat it on its own. Argan oil has been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, and recent research by France’s Institut Pasteur, Morocco’s Lipoproteins and Atherosclerosis Research Laboratory, and others suggests that it might contribute to the prevention of various cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.

Beyond the health benefits of consuming argan oil, there are also important environmental benefits associated with its production. The same deep root systems that make argan trees well adapted to heat and frequent drought in southwestern Morocco also protect the land against soil erosion and desertification. Meanwhile, argan trees provide shade and protection for crops or pastureland, presenting opportunities for agroforestry.

Arguably, however, the most noteworthy impact of argan oil production is social. This rare oil has captivated a global audience, primarily because of its use in cosmetics. As a result, market prices have been on the rise (making it the most expensive edible oil in the world), and argan oil producers—largely local Moroccan women—have been reaping the benefits.

Because the process of extracting argan oil is extremely labor intensive (it can take 50 kilograms of seeds to produce just half a liter of oil), the women who produce it by hand are frequently part of production co-operatives, such as the UCFA (Union des Cooperatives des Femmes de l’Arganeraie). Founded in 1999, this innovative co-operative produces and markets argan oil and is supported by the Moroccan government as both a conservation and development strategy. Today, the UCFA unites 22 smaller women’s co-operatives. The women who make up these groups gain status, a steady income, and, in some cases, an education through their work.

Yet the argan oil boom has been a double-edged sword. Argan trees and the area in which they grow are threatened by overuse and deforestation. A study by the University of California, Davis finds that “the boom has predictably made households vigilant guardians of fruit on the tree, but it has not incited investments in longer term tree and forest health.” While the development of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Morocco is a step in the right direction, it will be both economically and environmentally critical for the same non-governmental groups, development agencies, and government offices that supported argan oil production in the first place to keep sustainability in mind.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet Project.

 

Sep03

Six Innovations Lifting the World’s Agricultural Workers out of Poverty

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By Catherine Ward

Agriculture employs more than one billion people worldwide—about 34 percent of global workers—making it the second-largest source of employment globally. Yet agricultural workers remain one of the most marginalized, oppressed, and exploited groups in the world. According to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and International Union of Food, Agriculture, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), the global agricultural workforce is “among the most socially vulnerable; the least organized into trade unions; employed under the poorest health, safety and environmental conditions; and is the least likely to have access to effective forms of social security and protection.”

Agricultural workers are one of the most marginalized, oppressed, and exploited groups in the world (Photo Credit: Planet Matters)

In many countries, up to 60 percent of agricultural workers live in poverty and less than 20 percent have access to basic social security, according to the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) initiative. The agricultural sector also has the largest numbers of child workers—nearly 130 million children between the ages of 5 and 17.

Innovations to lift the world’s agricultural workers out of poverty can simultaneously promote sustainable agriculture and international development. Today, Nourishing the Planet offers six solutions to help lift the world’s agricultural workers out of poverty:

1) Support organized labor. Labor unions play an important role in minimizing exploitation among agricultural workers by advocating for higher wages, improved living conditions, and safer work environments. Agricultural workers are often one of the most disempowered groups within societies, and in many countries they lack access to basic healthcare, education, and participation in government. Unions advocate for worker rights, and fight to stop the exploitation of children.

In Ghana, 70 percent of the country’s 23 million inhabitants are involved in the agricultural sector. The General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) is the largest union in Ghana and represents many marginalized agricultural groups. The union supports rural communities by providing support in training, learning new skills, and microcredit. GAWU is currently investing in a youth development center, and organizes training workshops for union members. The union has campaigned for better farm wages, so that families don’t have to send their children to work in the agricultural sector.

By supporting community-based organizations, such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), consumers in the United States can help ensure that farmworker’s rights are recognized and enforced. The CIW is a coalition of farmworkers working low-wage jobs in the state of Florida, and is responsible for advocating farmworker rights via hunger strikes, boycotts, interfaith prayer vigils, rallies, and marches.  The CIW is organizing a Labor Day Weekend of Action and is calling on the public to actively protest Publix in your state.

2) Include women in agricultural development. Innovative technology solutions can help disadvantaged agricultural workers ease their work burdens and increase productivity. Women make up over 40 percent of the global agricultural workforce, yet are one of the most vulnerable groups amongst these workers. Female agricultural laborers form an invisible workforce, as they often work on the fringes of the formal economy assisting their husbands with manual labor, or producing food to feed their families as opposed to food for sale.

In India there are over 258 million people working in the agricultural sector, and up to 70 percent of rural women are engaged in the agricultural workforce. There have been some noteworthy success stories in India around the creation of innovative technology solutions for agricultural workers. An Indian midwife, Arkhiben Vankar, became known as the pesticide lady when she developed an herbal pesticide that was efficient, low-cost, and toxin-free. This innovation provided Indian women engaged in agricultural work with an alternative to harmful chemical pesticides. Another technological innovation was designed by Subharani Kurian, who developed a bicycle-operated duplex pump to draw up ground water. The innovation assists women based on the idea that leg muscles are more powerful than hand muscles, making a bicycle pump more effective to operate.

Lack of communication, education, and access to technology among women, particularly in developing countries, has often prevented women from receiving the same benefits and opportunities as men in the agricultural sector. For the last 50 years, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has helped to bring scientific knowledge and technology to poor agricultural workers in developing countries through initiatives like the Collaborative Research Support Programs (CRSPs). According to USAID, “by empowering women farmers with the same access to land, new technologies and capital as men, we can increase crop yields by as much as 30 percent and feed an additional 150 million people”.

3) Support worker advocacy organizations. Research can be a useful tool to examine risks associated with the agricultural industry and how to mitigate them in the future, thus ensuring that vulnerable workers do not risk losing their livelihoods. Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries to work in due to hazardous machinery, livestock, extreme weather conditions, dehydration, and exposure to pesticides.

In China there are an estimated 225 million agricultural workers, but farms are increasingly worked by the youngest and oldest residents of rural communities, as many middle-aged wage workers seek employment in cities. Injuries are abundant due to use of heavy machinery, and result in millions of deaths and disabilities among farmworkers each year. A collaborative research project  between the Colorado Injury Control Research Center, the Center for Injury Research and Policy at The Ohio State University, and the Tongji Injury Control Research Center was undertaken between Chinese and American researchers to find solutions to reduce agriculturally related injuries in China. The program has trained over 80 researchers, published studies on agricultural injuries, and opened a center for injury prevention in China. The project aims to provide insights on how to train agricultural workers to safely handle new machinery to avoid future injuries and deaths.

Consumers can make a positive contribution towards the health care of farmworkers in the United States through non-profit organizations such as the National Center for Farmworker Health (NCFH). The organization is dedicated to improving worker health in the United States by providing services like resources for migrants, training programs, and education and policy analysis. The public can get involved through NCFH’s Gift of Health program, which accepts donations that are invested in promoting the health of America’s farmworkers.

4) Get involved and be aware—locally and globally. Local initiatives that invest in the well-being of vulnerable communities can effectively help change the conditions of agricultural workers. Farmworkers are often described as hidden people, usually subjected to impoverished living conditions, with limited access to basic services like water and electricity.

South Africa’s wine and fruit industry alone generates US $3 billion a year for the South African economy. Yet, according to a Human Rights Watch report, farmworkers benefit very little from the profits, and are often forced to live in substandard housing. Solms-Delta is an example of a South African wine estate that has established its own initiative, the Wijn de Caap Trust, to break the cycle of poverty among farmworkers on the Solms-Delta estate. The trust receives 33 percent of profits from the estate’s wine sales, which aims to improve the lives of farmworkers by providing quality housing, investing in education facilities for children, and providing medical care to families.

Consumers in the United States can also become directly involved in community farming enterprises by volunteering or working at local farmers’ markets, participating in volunteer days at nearby farms, or even apprenticing on a farm for a season. Visit https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/internships/ to learn more about on-farm opportunities in the United States and Canada.

5) Promote universal education. Education can be used from a grassroots level to dispel ignorance and empower local communities. Agricultural workers often migrate in search of seasonal or temporary work, and can be unaware of their rights due to poor education, isolation within rural areas, and fragmented organization. Education programs can also help inform consumers on ethical considerations of food production, and educate young leaders on policy formulation and advocacy.

Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) is an innovative nonprofit organization, which uses popular education to raise awareness of issues around farmworker conditions in local U.S. communities. SAF works with farmworkers, students and advocates alike, and has provided support to over 80,000 farmworkers to gain access to health, legal, and education facilities.

6) Vote with your dollar. Consumers can choose products produced in environmentally friendly and socially responsible ways. By purchasing products that are not linked to the exploitation of agricultural laborers, it sends the message to agricultural employers that consumers do not support abusive labor conditions, and that they are willing to pay an often-higher price for ethically produced goods. This helps ensure that workers are paid fairly and do not work under poor conditions.

Fair Trade USA is an international movement that allows customers to buy products from all over the world that support poverty-reduction projects, relieve exploitation, and endorse environmental sustainability.  The Fair Trade standards enable agricultural workers to work in safe and inclusive environments, follow economic trade contracts with fair pricing, improve their own living conditions, and avoid child labor. There is growing demand from consumers for socially responsible food production; North America will soon implement its own Food Justice label. This label will also help lift American workers out of poverty by guaranteeing fair wages, adequate living conditions, and reasonable contracts.

Agriculture will not be viable while the vast majority of its workforce lives in poverty around the world, and innovative measures to break this cycle of poverty, along with your contributions, are crucial to fostering a healthier food system.

Do you know of any innovative projects that are assisting impoverished agricultural workers? Let us know in the comments below!

Catherine Ward is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project     

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Jun30

Food Chain Documentary Explores Labor Abuses in US Agriculture

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By Carolyn Smalkowski

On an average day, 32 million Americans will go grocery shopping, spending approximately 41 minutes per visit at the store. Yet, many Americans know little about the life cycle of their food from farm to table, including the potential abuses that may be taking place out of the public eye.

 

Food Chain Teaser from Sanjay Rawal on Vimeo.

A new documentary called Food Chain seeks to explore worker’s rights in American agriculture. It highlights the lives of America’s farm workers, documenting slave-like conditions, exploitation, harsh living conditions, and low wages. According to the film, “the entire modern supermarket goes out of its way so that you’re not reminded of where your food came from or who picked it.”

The film features activist and labor leader Dolores Huerta, investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., among others. Although Food Chain is still in production, the film makers aspire to encourage grocery stores to be leaders in the food justice movement by demanding better wages and working conditions from the farms they support.

One organization featured in the film and currently involved in the movement to improve agricultural workers’ rights is the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).  Based in Florida, CIW is a farmworker organization working on two campaigns – the Campaign for Fair Food and the Anti-Slavery Campaign – to improve the lives of Florida’s tomato pickers. CIW also partners with the Alliance for Fair Food to support corporate social responsibility and promote farmworker rights by forming agreements with major corporations like McDonalds and Subway.

To support Food Chain and watch its trailer, please visit the film’s website or see the video above.

To read more about American agricultural labor rights, see “Like Machines in the Fields: Workers without Rights in American Agriculture”, United Farm Workers, and Fair Food Standards Council.

Carolyn Smalkowski is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE

May11

In Anticipation of the Brooklyn Food Conference: An Interview with Nancy Romer

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By Laura Reynolds

Name: Nancy Romer

Affiliation: Brooklyn Food Coalition

Bio: Nancy Romer is the General Coordinator at the Brooklyn Food Coalition and a psychology professor at City University of New York’s Brooklyn College. She was instrumental in organizing the first Brooklyn Food Conference in 2009, and established the Brooklyn Food Coalition in the same year after becoming inspired to transform the way people produce, distribute, and consume food.

Nancy Romer is the General Coordinator of the Brooklyn Food Coalition. (Photo credit: Encore.org)

The Brooklyn Food Coalition is hosting its annual Brooklyn Food Conference this Saturday, May 12, at the Brooklyn Technical High School. Over 5,000 people are expected to attend the conference, including the prominent speakers Vandana Shiva, world-renowned environmental activist; Lucas Benitez, Co-Director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers; and several others. Events and workshops such as “The Future of New York City Food Policy” and “Faith and Feeding the Hungry” will run from 8:30am until 6pm. The conference will also feature cooking demonstrations, film screenings, kids’ activities, and an expo of non-profit and for-profit organizations.

With community gardens and farmers markets sprouting up all over the place lately, why do we still need events like the Brooklyn Food Conference?

We need the Brooklyn Food Conference, and other events that draw together all the actors working to reform the food system, because we need to change policy. We now have a range of activities, like farmers markets in certain neighborhoods, that can improve the lives of individuals or communities—but we still need far-reaching, major changes in policy that will spread these improvements across New York and the country. It is clear that the will to change policy is not going to come from the top; we need a heavy lift from the bottom to tell policymakers what we need and demand from our food systems, and the Brooklyn Food Conference is a major step in sending that message.

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Mar09

Farmworkers Fast for Fair Food in Florida

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By Alison Blackmore

On March 5th, more than 50 members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) began a 6-day fast in Lakeland, Florida, hoping to urge Publix Super Markets to implement the Fair Food Program.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has organized a fast to protest unfair wages and working conditions in Florida. (Photo credit: www.ciw-online.org)

The program focuses on implementing strategies to improve wages and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers. It challenges major tomato buyers to pay a premium of one penny more per pound for their tomatoes and works directly with farm laborers to establish a just code of conduct. The fast will culminate on May 10th in a three-mile procession to Publix headquarters.

These CIW members join faith leaders, students, and community leaders from across the country with hopes of bringing attention to Publix’s refusal to support measures ensuring the fundamental rights of farmworkers who labor in America’s fields. By entering into a partnership with the CIW, Publix will take a big step toward providing Florida farm workers more fair wages.

The CIW is a community-based organization of farmworkers working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. Since 1993 they have organized hunger strikes, boycotts, interfaith prayer vigils, rallies, and marches calling for fairer wages and better working conditions that have led major food companies such as Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s to sign Fair Food Agreements.

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Feb13

Trader Joe’s and Coalition of Immokalee Workers Sign Fair Food Agreement

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Last week, on February 9, 2012—after a lengthy campaign of protests and letter-writing—grocery chain Trader Joe’s and The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) signed a fair food agreement that supports the fair pay and working conditions for tomato growers in Florida.

CIW and Orange County supporters outside a Trader Joe’s. (Photo credit: OC Weekly)

The CIW is a community-based organization founded in 1993 by farm workers who wanted to organize and fight to end their brutal working conditions. Trader Joe’s is one of many food industry giants whom they have persuaded to join the Fair Food Program. The list includes restaurant chains such as Taco Bell, McDonald’s and food service companies such as Bon Appetit Management Co. and Compass Group. Trader Joe’s joins Whole Foods as the only two groceries to sign the agreement. 

Click here to read the press release.

To read more about the CIW and workers in the food industry: Modern Slavery Museum: Coming to a Street or City Near You, A Penny for Their Hard WorkFood Justice Discussion at Georgetown University, Food With (Not So Much) Integrity, ILWU Wins Fight for Union Dock Work in Longview, Washington, and Fighting for Farmworkers’ Rights for More Than 40 Years.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Feb06

Thistle Farms: In the Street, Cultivating an Alternative to the Streets

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By Molly Theobald

The thistle is the perfect symbol for Magdalene, a two-year private rehab facility for women with criminal histories of prostitution and drug addiction in Nashville, Tennessee. The thistle flower, says Penny Hall, a former prostitute and resident of the facility, “comes up out of the concrete, and it transforms in to a beautiful flower.”

The products made by Thistle Farm are sold in stores in Nashville and across the country. (Photo credit: Thistle Farms)

The thistle, it turns out, is also the perfect tool for helping women who live on the street improve their health and their livelihoods.

Founded in 1997 by Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest, Magdalene provides housing, food, medical treatment, therapy, education and job training to women who find their way to the facility from prison and the streets. The six homes at Magdalene are managed by the residents themselves who work together to create a clean, comfortable and supportive living environment. The residents range in age from 20 to 50, and most have abused alcohol or drugs, been arrested more than once,  and many have prostituted themselves for money and drugs.  And before coming to Magdalene, most of these women did not imagine that their situation could possibly change. This is where the thistle plant comes in.

One way Magdalene helps women go from living and working in the streets to gainful employment is Thistle Farms, the organization’s social enterprise.  At Thistle Farm, the residents of Magdalene participate in therapeutic workshops where they learn to make bath and body oils, candles, and paper. The paper is made from thistle plants that the women collect on roadsides and fields, and every product that Thistle Farm produces is sold wrapped in it.

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Dec06

Gender Equality and Economic Development a Two-Way Street, new World Bank Report Says

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By Cameron Scherer

According to a new World Bank report linking gender equality and economic development, the axiom “a rising tide lifts all boats” holds some truth. Several decades of rising global income have contributed to an “unprecedented narrowing of gender gaps” in the realms of education, health, and labor opportunities.

A new World Development Report claims that greater gender equality, particularly in the labor market, is just as important for economic growth as the reverse. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

At the same time, women still face enormous obstacles, particularly in developing regions. Far fewer girls attend primary and secondary school than their male counterparts; occupationally, women still turn to characteristically “female” (and, often, lower-paying) sectors such as communications services and retail; women outnumber men as victims of domestic violence; and governing bodies around the world are by-and-large male-dominated.

This three-part World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development provides a rubric through which policymakers across the globe should approach the issue of gender inequality. Specifically, the authors address which aspects – such as the extension of legal rights and labor force participation – have progressed as a result of economic growth, and which disparities – including mortality rates and wage equality – persist, requiring political intervention.

What they find is a two-way street. “The links between gender equality and development go both ways,” they say. “Each direction of this relationship matters for policy making.” Economic development is a necessary component of greater gender equality, but greater gender equality is just as important to achieve economic growth.

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