“Power: Women as Drivers of Growth and Social Inclusion”: speech by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, in Lima


Speech by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, at the event “Power: Women as Drivers of Growth and Social Inclusion, in Lima, Peru on 16 October 2012, at an event during Social Inclusion Week.

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I want to begin my speech with the word “gratitude. Gratitude to all those who have made it possible for us to meet here today as part of the conference “Power: Women as Drivers of Growth and Social Inclusion, during this “Week of Social Inclusion that is being celebrated in the Republic of Peru, dedicated to “Women as Partners in Development.

I would especially like to thank the Government of Peru, President Humala, the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion, and the Inter-American Development Bank for their ongoing commitment to gender equality and women's empowerment in Latin America.

They have promoted spaces for reflection, like this Conference, on issues that are of such importance to our economics and to the full development of our countries, including opportunities that expand the inclusion of women as employees, businesswomen, leaders and entrepreneurs.

Two years have passed since I was appointed Executive Director of UN Women, and although I am deeply committed to all of the institution's focus areas, I would like to mention my particular interest in the subject of women's economic empowerment. I am convinced that, on a global scale, this is an area in which progress for women has not been as rapid as we would have liked, despite the existence of clear evidence on how to influence public decisions in order to alter this reality.

In simple terms, it is apparent that in countries and companies that promote gender equality, progress is much more rapid and far-reaching.

Supporting facts and studies:

Greater gender equality is linked to a higher GDP per capita; women's participation in the workforce and in income generation boosts economic growth and has an impact on society as a whole; equal access for women to the land and other agricultural inputs increases agricultural productivity by 20 percent or 30 percent and reduces the number of people suffering from hunger; companies with three or more women among their directors or top managers have 53 percent more output than companies with no women.

However, as I said earlier, despite the evidence, women still lag behind, and this slows down not only economic growth but also the expansion of women's rights, and therefore a country's development.

Using available figures, we can see that about 1 billion women are unable to achieve their full economic potential due to barriers such as unequal access to opportunities and credit, a lack of sufficient education and training, and a lack of help from communities and governments in entering the workforce and the economy.

I would like to point out that in times of global economic crisis like the present, nothing is considered more relevant than discussion and above all action to promote women as drivers of inclusive growth within their countries. This is why UN Women wants to take part in this Conference; it is a valuable opportunity to restate our commitment to women's economic rights.

We are now at an historic moment in which societies in all regions of the world (developed and developing countries) are demanding changes to certain models and structures that are clearly not working. In this sense, countries cannot afford to waste the potential of half the world's population.

For the first time in many years, it is in Latin America and the Caribbean that ideas are being formed that will be listened to by the whole world.

As you know, Latin America has experienced a golden age of economic performance in the last few years (five or six years). Between 2003 and 2011, following the “lost half decade of 1998-2002, a large number of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean experienced the fastest period of economic growth since the 1960s, reaching levels that were higher than the global average, and indeed higher than that of developed countries. People saw a significant improvement in their living conditions.

According to ECLAC, poverty fell by 17 percent between 1990 and 2010 , from 48.4 percent to 31.4 percent. In 2010, after the massive financial crisis that affected the whole world, the region's economy expanded by 6.2 percent. In 2011 the rate of growth fell to 4 percent, and ECLAC predicts that in 2012 it will grow by 3.7 percent due to the recession in Europe, the decline in Chinese growth, and the mild recovery in the US.

It is important to recognize that women's contributions to this reality have not been insignificant, and can be classified as follows: paid work that helps to increase household income, including money sent home by migrant workers; and unpaid work, which brings elements of wellbeing into the home that cannot be purchased at the market .

The region has not only shown considerable progress in terms of reducing unemployment and poverty, but also, for the first time in many decades, many countries have achieved positive results in terms of distribution .

The two key factors in this development have been an increase in work-related income, and an increase in spending on and investment in social protection policies. By this I mean public transfer payments to the more vulnerable sections of society.

It is these direct transfers of income to the poorest citizens, with an emphasis on gender (with women administering and handling the transfers) that currently represent one of the essential tools in anti-poverty social strategies and policies that have been developed by governments in the region, often backed by the IDB.

These programmes operate in 17 countries in the region and reach more than 22 million families, or approximately 100 million people, i.e. 17 percent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Conditional transfer programmes highlight three proposals: the direct transfer of income in order to alleviate poverty, incentives for investment in human capabilities, and the inclusion of citizens into social protection and promotion networks. Between 60 percent and 75 percent of transfer payments go to the poorest 40 percent of the population .

Although on average these programmes represent only 0.25 percent of the GDP of countries in the region, these transfers appear to point towards a reduction in risks for the population, and are particularly important for the poorest households. This confirms that, despite the limitations of coverage, public assistance transfers are a highly progressive form of distribution.


In reality there is no magic formula in public policy; and despite the fact that conditional transfers have been shown to be an effective tool in preventing an increase in poverty and confronting the crisis in our region, they must be integrated into wide-ranging and comprehensive programmes that aim to reduce the inequality gaps that still exist all over the continent. These gaps are still very prominent when it comes to gender.

It is clear that there has been a sustained increase in women's participation in the workforce in recent decades. However, this has been stratified, meaning that gaps between women with varying resources not only have not fallen in the past two decades, but have increased slightly .

Similarly, I should point out that women's participation in the workforce still lags far behind that of men: whereas women's employment fluctuates between 40 percent and 70 percent in the region, male employment rates are roughly 85 percent in all countries .

When we examine the gender aspect of poverty, compared to development indicators, Latin America reveals a paradox, namely that families with women as the head of household remain poorer that those with male heads despite a substantial and sustained reduction in poverty in recent years.

It is therefore important to recognize that in order to promote real empowerment for women, enabling them to fulfill all their capabilities as drivers of growth and development, a structural change is required to reduce inequalities, with a special focus on women who are more vulnerable due to their social condition, race, ethnicity or type of work (such as domestic employees).

I think it is important now to refer to one of the structural changes that requires our most urgent support, in order to eliminate one of the factors that restricts the full accomplishment of women's roles as partners and agents of development. We must insist on the immediate eradication of all forms of violence against women. While the problem persists, not only are we continuing to violate human rights, but we are blocking development. Economic capability and autonomy for women helps, among other things, to eradicate violence.

I am sure that many of you remember the ECLAC report, “Not One More! The Right to Live Free from Violence in Latin America and the Caribbean (“¡Ni Una Mas! El Derecho a Vivir una Vida Libre de Violencia en América Latina y el Caribe), which was published in 2007. Let me just quote the first paragraph from the report, which went as follows:

“If we were to take a sample of 10 women, aged 15 years or more, in every country in Latin America and the Caribbean, we would see that four Peruvians and four Nicaraguans experience physical violence at the hands of their husbands; in Mexico three women would be victims of emotional violence and two of economic violence; three Brazilians would suffer from extreme physical violence and two Haitians from physical violence.

The figures may have gone up or down, but it is likely enough that the situation has continued and in some cases may well have deteriorated. In any case, none of us can allow ourselves to forget or tolerate this situation.

When women are empowered and given the chance to exercise their rights, become leaders or make use of educational and employment opportunities, it is obvious that economies grow. If we want to use this potential and strive towards equality between women and men as partners in development, we must use every means available to eradicate violence against women and girls.


Political commitment is undoubtedly a fundamental factor on a national and regional scale, to offer effective and appropriate support that responds to the specific needs of women and girls, using adequate social investment and social protection systems that establish minimum levels.

This is a cause that is very close to my heart. It is a cause that now, as part of my new role within the UN, I have been promoting in close cooperation with the International Labor Organization. Together we have developed a strategy that outlines the basic services required for an adequate state response to the needs of the population: access to basic healthcare services, primary education, secure income, housing, clean water, and other basic services that reduce inequality and exclusion.

Let us ask ourselves what we can do to identify, combat and overcome inequality.
If we want to make real progress towards economic autonomy for women, we must first rethink the care networks, ensuring a link between employment policies and social protection systems.

What I am referring to is the development of care networks in which the state plays a greater role in providing services, ranging from daycare centres and crèches in workplaces, schools or community centres, to healthcare centres and home-based support for adults who cannot care for themselves due to a disability or old age.

These strategies must be accompanied by policies that systematically reduce the burden on women in unpaid work. I am therefore delighted to see that the programme for this “Week of Social Inclusion in Peru includes the presentation and discussion of the national programme “CUNA MÁS.

The intervention methods for this programme entitled “Daily Care Service and “Family Assistance Service will undoubtedly help us in understanding the good practices that have been developed as a result of cooperation between national and local governments and communities, with important consequences on the time available to women for participation in economic development.


The challenge for this continent is to reduce inequality in all its forms, by empowering women to participate in their own development and in that of their communities. To accomplish this, we must work together and help to promote their capabilities, talents and energy as best we can.

In accordance with our mandate, UN Women is supporting states and organized civil society groups in advancing and consolidating programmes that promote greater levels of equality in countries in the region. For this purpose, our work towards economic empowerment focuses on improving women's productive capabilities, by promoting, among other things, access to markets, and increasing the income of women in the most excluded sections of society.

We are coordinating joint action with states, UN agencies and civil society organizations. We must emphasize the fact that today we are seeing proactive action from many governments to include programmes for gender inclusion in their social and economic development policies.

Allow me to mention just one example of this, which is crucial for us. UN Women in Latin America, in cooperation with the ILO, ECLAC and the UNDP, has begun to compile a regional report on Gender Equality and Decent Work, which will make public policy recommendations that promote equal access for women and men to decent employment opportunities and contribute to gender equality and economic empowerment for women.

By recognizing that the region not only has high levels of inequality in income distribution, but also many forms of discrimination associated with racial and ethnic origin, the report also recommends the promotion of employment sponsors to contribute towards greater social inclusion.

This report, which should be finalized in December of this year, recommends reflection on the burden of gender inequality, the overall inequality situation that characterizes Latin America and the Caribbean, and the role of women's work (paid and unpaid) in building a more inclusive and sustainable society. It also attempts to respond to the need for public policy interventions to combat persistent gender inequality in the employment market, despite a rise in women's education.

Another initiative that we are about to implement is the programme to expand economic opportunities for women in rural areas of Central America. This initiative, developed in cooperation with the IFAD, seeks to empower rural producers in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Mexico so that they can bolster their capacity for entrepreneurship and leadership within their communities. The goal of this project is to enable women not only to acquire technical tools to manage their businesses efficiently, but also to influence local government policies and programmes in the medium to long term to empower women in rural areas.

My dear friends,

The development programme for gender in Latin American must be a combined effort between dynamic economies and democratic societies, in which all people, especially women, feel included in the basic decisions that affect their lives.

Progress for women is progress for us all. Giving priority to women is not an option. It is an obligation. Investing in women is more than a matter of rights; it also stands for good economic sense.

I therefore invite you to use this space for reflection, which has been provided to us by the Peruvian government initiative together with the IDB, to evaluate the benefits of equality and the full inclusion of women as drivers of development, and to come up with relevant initiatives.

I have confidence in you, and I hope that this reflection will give rise to concrete measures and action geared towards change, which promote and support women's participation in the economy as a means of achieving sustainable economic growth, reducing poverty, and enabling widespread prosperity for everyone here in Latin American and the Caribbean. They can rely on the determination of UN Women to help them in these efforts.

Thank you very much!