Removing barriers to women’s participation fuels economic development


Remarks by Michelle Bachelet on Women's Economic Empowerment and Equality at the Fourth Ministerial Conference on Women's Role in Development of OIC Member States . Jakarta, Indonesia, 4 December 2012.

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As-Salam Alaikum.
Honourable Ministers,
Representatives of Member States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference,

It is an honour and distinct pleasure for me to address this ministerial meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on the role of women in development.

This is a very influential forum and I thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you today.

Participants at the 4th Ministerial Conference on Women's Role in Development of OIC Member States pose for a group portrait. Pictured in the front row, left to right: Maryam Mojtahedzadeh Larijani of Iran, outgoing Chairperson of the Third Ministerial Conference on the Role of Women in Development in OIC Member States; Linda Amaliasari Agum Gumelar, State Minister for Women's Empowerment and Child Protection; Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the OIC; Prof. Dr. Boediono, Vice-President of Indonesia; Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women; and Marty Natelegawa, State Minister of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia. Photo credit: UN Women.

As Member States of the OIC, your nations span more than four continents, display tremendous diversity and dynamism, and are home to more than one-and-a-half billion people. Of these people, more than 750 million are female. And it is these women who are the focus today as we discuss their role and participation in your nations' economic development.

It is most fitting that we meet here in Indonesia, home to the largest Muslim majority population in the world. In this great country, women are taking steps towards equality and justice. Under the leadership of His Excellency, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the nation has made a strong commitment to the advancement of women.

This same strong commitment has been made by all member nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, as articulated in your Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women, and the 2010 Tehran Declaration on women, family and economy.

I commend OIC Member States for your commitment to the advancement of women, and for convening this important meeting with a special focus on strengthening women's role and participation in economic development.

Today there is wide acknowledgement around the globe that women's empowerment is essential to social and economic and sustainable development.

There can be no meaningful progress if women, who comprise half of society, remain out of the mainstream of society and do not have access to opportunities, including those of quality education, healthcare, employment, protection from violence, and participation in decision-making processes in society, as well as ensuring their rights.

These words come directly from the Tehran Declaration, which you adopted at your last ministerial conference in 2010 on the role of women in development. I commend you for your forward-looking vision and determination.

All of us deserve the same fair chance to contribute to our societies and live up to our potential. When everyone can contribute on an equal footing, our communities and nations reap the benefits—in social cohesion, inclusive economic growth, in peace and prosperity.

Yet the World Bank finds that more than 100 countries continue to impose legal differences between men and women in areas such as women's ability to sign a contract or travel abroad, manage property and interact with public authorities or the private sector.

In many countries, women still have unequal rights to land and to inheritance. Of the 700 million illiterate adults in our world, nearly two in three are women. All over the world, women continue to earn less than men for the same work, and to do most of the unpaid work—cooking, cleaning and childcare.

Every 90 seconds, a woman dies in pregnancy or due to complications from childbirth even though we have the knowledge and skills for safe delivery. And up to 70 percent of women will experience domestic or sexual violence in their lifetimes.

We are gathered here today because in every country, women want to live free of violence and discrimination. In every country, women are speaking out for peace, justice and democracy. In every country, women are doing their best for their families and communities.

There is no shortage of talented, creative and capable women in the Muslim world in all sectors from the political realm to the world of arts to technology and science. A 2008 Gallup Poll found that majorities of women in countries that are predominantly Muslim or have sizable Muslim populations say that women deserve the same legal rights as men, to vote without influence from family members, to work at any job they are qualified for, and even to serve in the highest levels of government.

Here in Indonesia, more than 50 percent of women participate in the labour force. Women have made, and continue to make, a major contribution to the Indonesian economy.

In fact, this nation's strong economic growth and performance, which is praised worldwide, can be attributed in large measure to the role and participation of women, and men, in the economy.

Indonesia has an educated workforce that contributes to productivity and economic growth. This country has achieved gender parity in education at all levels from primary to university level. A skilled and educated population is essential to a strong economy and democracy.

There is much to learn from the experience of this diverse and democratic nation of Indonesia. There is strength in diversity and growing equality.

There is rising evidence that societies and economies grow healthier and stronger with the full and equal participation of women.

This is the finding of a growing number of studies from all around the world - from the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development, the United Nations, policy think tanks, and the private sector.

A recent study among OECD countries finds that female labor participation rates are positively correlated to gross domestic product. In other words, nations with high rates of women workers have high rates of economic performance.

The World Economic Forum reports that across 135 countries, greater gender equality correlates positively with per capita gross national product. Countries with greater equality between women and men have economies that are more competitive and grow faster.

All of these studies point to the same inescapable conclusion: Removing barriers to women's role and participation fuels economic development. Unleashing the potential of women pushes countries to higher levels of enrichment and achievement.

All nations have much to gain from women's participation - and this includes gains not just for women, but also for men and for children—gains in the economy, in health and well-being, and in brighter prospects for the future.

In the last 30 years, 552 million joined the labor force globally. Today 4 in 10 workers globally are women. But half of the world's working women continue to be in vulnerable employment, trapped in insecure jobs, often outside the purview of labour legislation.

Across all regions and most occupations, women are paid less than men for the same job, or for work of equal value. In fact, in the majority of countries, women's wages represent between 70 and 90 per cent of the wages of men. All around the world, women are a majority of the non-regular employees and are under-represented in supervisory jobs and in management positions.

These barriers that women face are not only hurting them and their families, they are holding back societies and putting the brakes on national economies.

A UN study finds that removing the barriers to women's full economic participation in this region could boost the Asia Pacific economy by up to $89 billion US dollars a year.

Thus, increasing female labor participation could translate into economic gains for all of your nations, the member States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Today in many countries we see that women leave the workforce once they have a child. And even though this is often viewed as a private matter, it is increasingly a matter of public policy.

Policies can help working parents, both mothers and fathers, reconcile work and family life and enjoy equal opportunities. I experienced this in Chile. As a young mother and a pediatrician, and even while being minister, I experienced the struggles of balancing family and career and saw how the absence of childcare prevented women from paid employment.

The opportunity to help remove structural barriers that produce injustice and inequalities was one of the reasons I went into politics. I wanted to create equal opportunities. It is why I supported policies that extended health and childcare services to families, and prioritized public spending for social protection such as pensions for the elderly.

All over the world, winds of change blowing. We see growing numbers of women going to school, receiving university degrees and participating in the workforce. We see young husbands spending more time with their children and helping with household chores. We see rising calls for equality and justice.

We all know that gender norms are not immutable. Cultures change and are constantly evolving.

At UN Women, we have learned that advancing women's empowerment and equality requires working on many fronts at once.

This year I have made three areas of engagement top priorities to advance women's participation and empowerment. I have already spoken about one priority, which is the focus of this Conference, and that is expanding women's economic role and participation.

Now I would like to turn your attention to two other priorities, which reinforce women's participation in economic development. They are also priorities to which you are committed—ending violence against women and increasing women's political participation.

Today more than 125 countries have specific laws that penalize domestic violence, a remarkable gain from just a decade ago. But there are still an estimated 603 million women and girls worldwide who live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime. Within the member States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, more than 370 million women and girls live without legal protection from domestic violence.

Studies show that countries with strong laws have lower rates of violence against women.In all countries, women and men and young people are coming together to say no to violence against women and girls. This year Turkey adopted legislation to protect the family and prevent violence against women.

UN Women is proud to support efforts to end impunity, to provide justice and vital services to survivors, and to prevent and end violence against women and girls.

Just a few weeks ago, we launched a campaign called COMMIT, in which we urged leaders of all nations to announce national commitments to end violence against women and girls to be showcased to the world.

I encourage all of you to participate .The agenda to secure gender equality and women's rights is a universal challenge, for every country, rich and poor, east and west, north and south. Yet parents in all nations want their sons and daughters to enjoy the same opportunities.

As the President of Chile, I worked hard to create equal opportunities for both men and women so they could contribute their talents and experiences to the challenges facing our country. That is why I proposed a Cabinet that had an equal number of men and women.

Governments must lead by example. I am a strong advocate for special temporary measures, such as quotas, to increase women's presence in parliament and on corporate boards.

During these times of economic crises, social upheaval and political transformation, we can no longer afford to leave women out.

In December 2011, the nations of the world in the United Nations General Assembly agreed by consensus to take concrete and proactive measures to advance women's participation and leadership in politics.

By the resolution, all States are called upon to eliminate laws, regulations and practices that prevent or restrict women's participation in the political process. States are urged to enhance women's political participation, accelerate the achievement of equality between men and women and, in all situations, to promote and protect women's human rights.

States in situations of political transition are further called on to take effective steps to ensure the participation of women on equal terms with men in all phases of political reform, from decisions on whether to call for reforms in existing institutions to decisions regarding transitional Governments, to the formulation of Government policy, to the means of electing new democratic Governments.

I encourage all of you to use this important resolution as a tool to increase women's political participation in your countries. All nations have been asked to provide data to the United Nations on steps taken to ensure women's equal representation in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and all governmental and public administration positions to be reported to UN Member States at the General Assembly in 2013.

When women lead together with men, decisions better reflect and respond to the diverse needs of society. As I have learned: When one woman is a leader, it changes her. When more women are leaders, it changes politics and policies.

Where quotas have been used to boost the number of women legislators, progressive laws have been passed—to secure land rights, to tackle violence against women, and to improve health care, reproductive rights and employment. Where women have organized, sometimes across party lines to ensure women's interests are represented, change has followed.

The bottom line is that women's voices need to be heard. We need more women in decision-making positions.

Today women make up less than 10 percent of world leaders and one in five members of parliament. The 30 percent critical mass mark for women's representation in parliament has been reached or exceeded in only 33 countries.

But the good news is that things are changing. Just lack week I addressed the Executive Board of UN Women and I told them of progress being made in your countries. In May 2012, Algeria attained 31 per cent of women in parliament, becoming the first and only country in the Arab States region to reach the target threshold of 30 per cent, a significant step towards democratic reform and gender equality.

In July, women of Libya gained an outstanding 33 seats or 16.5 percent representation in the country's first free and fair elections in over 60 years. And in Senegal, after the July elections, the number of female parliamentarians nearly doubled in the National Assembly to 45 percent, thanks to a law on parity to ensure women's participation and gender equality.

UN Women is providing support to countries, candidates, political parties, voters, electoral commissions and legislative efforts to ensure that more women vote and get elected.

Having more women leaders will accelerate progress for peace, equality and democracy.

Whether we are talking about the Millennium Development Goals, or peace and security, or economic growth, or justice and democracy, or sustainable development, there is one fact that is undeniable. We will stand a better chance of finding solutions if we fully tap into the wisdom, knowledge and capabilities of the entire population.

Now is the time for women's empowerment, dignity, equality and full participation in society.

I thank you. UN Women looks forward to strengthened collaboration with your countries and with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to advance rights and opportunity for all.