Women Leaders in Economics and Politics

Date: Thursday, November 17, 2011

Video Message of Michelle Bachelet for the International Summit of Women Leaders in the Spheres of Economics and Politics. Saint-Petersburg, 17 November, 2011.

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First, let me congratulate the organizers of this International Summit of Women Leaders. By advancing women's empowerment and gender equality, we can increase business success, deepen democracy and enhance the well-being of society at large.

This is important for Russia and for this region, just as it is for all countries and regions of the world.

One of the biggest challenges we face in this second decade of the 21st century is to build more equitable, inclusive societies and we have to grow our economies and ensure shared prosperity for all nations and all people.

Few certainties are left but we can be certain that by excluding 50 percent of the world's population, women and girls, we will miss out on their contribution.

We have come a long way in advancing women's participation in the economy and political spheres of our nations. We have a longer way to go to achieve equality but there is great momentum. Just look at the creation of UN Women this year! Some would say, finally!

We have today very clear evidence, from the World Bank, the World Economic Forum and private sector think tanks that gender discrimination and inequality are economically inefficient.

As the World Bank's World Development Report 2012 says, gender equality is smart economics. The management consultancy firm McKinsey earlier this year found that companies with more women in top positions were more profitable and effective.

For a world that is very much struggling to emerge from economic instability, how much longer can we wait to harness the valuable human capital of women that we have?

In the past, a lack of hard data was part of the problem in pushing political leaders to address the opportunity gap between men and women. Now the numbers tell the story — but more of them are needed. We know, for example, for every one percentage point increase in the share of household income generated by women, aggregate domestic savings increase by roughly 15 basis points.

So what will it take to harness the vast potential that 50 percent of the world's population represent?

Let me share a couple reflections on this with you, and I certainly do look forward to hearing back on your deliberations at this important meeting!

We must support the rise of women leaders in the public and private sectors. Their perspectives do not just add value. We need their perspective to ensure that we shape policies and programs that are not just there “for the show. We need policies and programmes that create opportunity for women to enter all spheres of the economy at all levels.

I position before you that increasing women's participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity will have a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies.

At a recent APEC meeting, it was stated that “ Unlocking the potential of women by narrowing the gender gap could lead to a 14 percent rise in per capita incomes by the year 2020 in several APEC economies, including China, Russia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Korea.

Integrating women more effectively into the way businesses invest, market and recruit also yields benefits in terms of profitability and corporate governance. In a McKinsey survey, a third of executives reported increased profits as a result of investments in empowering women in emerging markets. Research also demonstrates a strong correlation between higher degrees of gender diversity in the leadership ranks of business and organizational performance.

We must examine and reform our legal and regulatory systems so women can avail themselves of the full range of financial services. Such reforms can also help ensure that women are not forced to compromise on the well-being of their children to pursue a career.

We must improve women's access to markets so those who start businesses can keep them open. Just recently, I was reminded on how programs such as those offered by Chambers of Commerce can help women in building, sustaining and expanding their businesses!

The 21st century will have to be the age of inclusion and participation. Yet, I do not underestimate the difficulty of achieving this. These are changes that require political will. Cultural and behavioral changes will also be needed and they require social will.

All of this requires leadership — by governments, by civil society, and by the private sector.

So we need to be persistent and be comprehensive in our approach. Persistence is surely something that women do know about!

Now is the time to move beyond rhetoric to concrete action. So as I keep saying: “advancing equality for and including 50 percent of the population is not only the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do and there is no better time to act than now.

UN Women has set core strategic priorities to increase women's participation and leadership and to advance women's economic empowerment.

We work globally and let us not forget we also need to end violence against women and girls, prioritize gender equality in national plans and budgets, and to make sure that women play a central role in peace talks, peace-building and reconstruction and recovery.

To help us accomplish these goals, we count on partners like you around the world.

I thank you and wish you much success at this meeting.