UN Women Deputy Executive Director calls on G7 countries to step up their commitments to women’s economic empowerment

Remarks by Deputy Executive Director of UN Women Lakshmi Puri at the International Conference "Economic Empowerment of Women – Unlock the Potential" in Berlin on 9 November.


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I congratulate the Government of Germany for its leadership in bringing women’s economic empowerment to the forefront of the agenda of G7 countries.

My heartfelt congratulations to Thomas Silberhorn, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, of the Federal Republic of Germany, for organizing this timely event, which sustains and builds on the momentum from the G7 Forum for Dialogue with Women, hosted by Chancellor Angela Merkel, which our Executive Director had the honour of attending in September.

I am also pleased to see representation from a number of key governments. Your presence here is a clear reflection of the necessity and importance of this dialogue. I salute all of you for your leadership, for your commitment and for increasing your efforts to step it up for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

UN Women commends the Heads of State and Governments of the Group of Seven G7 during Germany’s leadership, for explicitly highlighting economic empowerment of women and mentioning the UN Women Women’s Empowerment Principles in the Declaration issued at the conclusion of the 2015 G7 Summit in Elmau, and for establishing the Women's Working Group and Women's Dialogue within the G7 to advance this agenda.

We also thank Chancellor Merkel and other G7 leaders from Japan, Italy, France and the EU for personally and politically committing to the implementation of Beijing Platform for Action and the gender equality agenda at epochal and history making Global Leaders’ Commitment Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Commitment to Action, along with nearly 75 Heads of State and Government on 27 September, 2015.

UN Women’s commitment

UN Women is fully committed to support you through our normative, advocacy, cutting edge research and policy (our Flagship Report on Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights) and partnership building work with private sector and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). And importantly to ground and scale up the implementation of women’s economic empowerment in developing and other countries through the Key Flagship Programmes we have developed — on Stimulating equal opportunities for Women Entrepreneurs through Affirmative Procurement, Investment and Supply Chain Policies, Women's Access to Land and Productive Resources, Income Generation and Security through Decent Work and Social Protection for Women, Transformative Financing of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. We in turn count on G7 government and private sector support for this seminal work that highlights and addresses the crucial issues of women’s economic empowerment and to truly unlock its potential!

W20 embraced this agenda

The newly established Women 20 (W20), an engagement group of female leaders under the auspices of the G20, launched by the Government of Turkey, has just endorsed the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) in the official W20 Communiqué to be conveyed to the G20 Leaders’ Summit to be held in Antalya next week.

This conference and its theme significance

The focus of this conference today on ‘rights, skills, finance and business’ is the kernel of women’s economic empowerment and is integral to an enabling ecosystem for it. It represents a positive step in strengthening the framework for cooperation between governments, civil society and the private sector to achieve it for its intrinsic value but also as a means of accelerated and sustained economic growth and poverty reduction which is very much a focus of G7 global coordination and consultation.

It also represents a shifting mindsets from patriarchal economic models to new ones — feminist economic models — underpinned by the growing evidence that women’s economic empowerment is essential for establishing more stable and just societies; achieving internationally-agreed upon human rights standards; improving quality of life for women, men, families and communities; as well as propelling the success of operations and goals of businesses.

Women, as more than half of humanity, and are also more than half of every solution of any and all development challenges.

Because it's 2015 — historic centering of women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in the global SDG Agenda and the Financing for Development Agenda

Earlier this year the Addis Ababa Action Accord articulated a global consensus to prioritize the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment — we will achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment — to orient domestic resource mobilization (gender responsive budgeting) and international public finance including prioritizing, tracking and monitoring of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), private finance — role and responsibility of the private sector, WEPs, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), entrepreneurship, financial inclusion, infrastructure access and trade to promote women’s full and equal participation in the economy and their economic empowerment. This was to be done through mainstreaming of gender equality and women’s empowerment including through targeted and transformative actions and investments in all economic, social, environmental and financial policies and their implementation. The G7 will no doubt lead the way in implementing the Financing for Development gender equality compact too.

Also, the recent adoption of “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” marked a historic and transformative conjunction in the centering of gender equality in the official roadmap for a global partnership to create the economic, social and environmental future we want, with no one left behind, over the next 15 years.

This agenda affirmed the essentialism of gender equality for achieving all of the Sustainable Development agenda, vowed to significantly increase investment to close the gender gap and strengthen support to institutions on gender equality at all levels, adopted a stand-alone goal 5 to “Achieve (not just promote) Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls”, and integrated gender equality across 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their targets including the economic ones - full and productive employment and decent work, economic growth, infrastructure, and global partnership.

SDG 5 calls for ending all forms of discrimination and commits Member States to ensure women's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life, and the importance of empowering women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors and levels of economic activity.

SDG 5 also called for the recognition and value of unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family.

Economic empowerment is also affirmed as a key means of implementation in Goal 5 and commitment to undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources; access to, ownership and control over land and other forms of property; financial services; inheritance and natural resources.

The comprehensive, transformative and vital Gender Equality Compact within the 2030 Agenda and for that matter the 2030 Agenda itself is to be implemented not only by governments but by the private sector and citizens of every country and the world are to hold them to account.

The SDGs are universal—not only about developing countries but all countries achieving them nationally — but also through their policies of partnership globally. Also, the SDGs are to be achieved within a generation and the acceleration impetus is strong.

That is why the taking up of this agenda by the G7 under the leadership of Germany at this historic moment so critical. The G7, by virtue of their size and weight in the world economy have a special responsibility and capacity to be role models and to advance this agenda globally though their macroeconomic, aid, trade, financial and corporate policies.

Rarely has the case for women’s economic empowerment been clearer and the potential so great!

The direct linkages between achieving gender equality and women's economic empowerment are recognized and accepted as mutually reinforcing multipliers.

Gender equality and women's economic empowerment is about realizing women’s human rights, their dignity and autonomy but we also have conclusive evidence that it is good for bottom lines. Equality means smart business. Also, unlocking the potential of women’s economic empowerment will make economic growth and recovery faster and more equitably and impart stability to economies and societies.

In addition, raising awareness, building skills and reforming unjust laws that limit women's education, employment, participation in decision making, and above all, their opportunities for economic independence, ultimately lead to women’s empowerment more broadly. For example, in the current refugee crisis it is critical to empower women economically so that they would have a livelihood in their countries of origin. Rarely is there such a worthy investment.

Effective policies supporting women’s economic empowerment yield positive results on various levels:

Economically: The recently launched McKinsey report on the power of parity, which shows that if we consider a “full-potential” scenario in which there is a full gender equality with women participating in the economy identically to men, it would add up to $28 trillion, or 26 per cent, to the annual global GDP in 2025 compared with a business-as-usual scenario.

This impact is roughly equivalent to the size of the combined US and Chinese economies today.

The report also analyzed an alternative scenario of partial gender equality, which would add as much as USD $12 trillion in annual global GDP in 2025, equivalent in size to the current GDP of Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined.

The business case for gender equality and women’s empowerment is very clear. Though the return on investment is potentially enormous, none of the gains can be realized without significantly scaled up financial commitments and efforts.

Politically: There is a clear correlation between women’s economic independence and an increased and accelerated ability of women to effectively participate in decision making forums, to be leaders in their communities, and in local and national government. This can improve women’s status and agency.

Socially: Evidence shows that an economically independent woman is less likely to be systematically abused and more likely to walk away from a cycle of abuse. But systemic violence that results from a tradition of entrenched cultural norms cannot be eliminated unless women are empowered in a practical sense.

UN Women’s call for action

UN Women calls upon the G7 governments to take more proactive steps to promote women’s economic empowerment across all areas of its work and operation as well as through the provision of mechanisms for its own accountability. We stand ready to continue to support this.

We have had a discussions in this regard with the Government of Japan who will have the chair of the G7 in 2016 and I am delighted that we will have the opportunity to hear later this evening from Rui Matsukawa, Director, Gender Mainstreaming Division, of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this important discussion.

UN Women also calls on you to take into consideration some of the following policy recommendations in order to accelerate progress towards the full and effective women’s economic empowerment:

The promotion of engendered macroeconomic policies, trade and aid policies: G7 Governments have a responsibility to devise and implement macroeconomic policies that deliver results for women, touching on issues such as links between women’s paid work and inclusive growth, the impacts of economic crisis, and the role of gender in agriculture and trade policy. Governments should also address the specific challenges of women producers and traders in order to facilitate their equal and active participation in domestic, regional and international trade.

Financial inclusion for women: Many women around the world still lack access to financial services and financial literacy which are key to social inclusion. Governments should foster their partnerships and commitment to work towards full and equal access to formal financial services for all.

Transformative financing: Governments must significantly increase, prioritize and sustain investment in gender equality commitments in scale, scope and quality, from all sources at all levels, and both gender-mainstreamed and targeted in key sectors. (Action Plan on Transformative Financing).

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI): Investments by multinational corporations can both worsen and improve the gender wage gap. FDI can also influence women’s ability to access employment by increasing the demand for labour, especially low-skilled labour. Women are often employed in export industries that depend on low-cost labour in order to maintain a competitive edge. But we need to make sure that women’s skills are improved so that they can obtain better-paid, decent jobs.

Corporate social responsibility: The practices of business have a direct impact on our planet and on the ability of people to lead decent, dignified and rewarding lives and to achieve their full human potential, especially as the workforce of some companies is roughly equivalent to the population of entire countries. But the private sector also has a major stake because sustainable development also means sustainable growth.

Women's Empowerment Principles

In this regard, I would like to shine a light on the Women’s Empowerment Principles — or WEPs — which exemplify transformative multi-stakeholder partnerships. Foundations, companies and investors can partner with governments to advocate for the WEPs, continuously building momentum as leaders express their support.

Of the more than 1063 companies that have signed on to the WEPs, the largest share of signatories hail from Japan. Only 12 are from Germany – though we expect to see that change today. Twenty-eight of the global Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Germany, so there is considerable room for both leadership and improvement.

As governments and the private sector continue to endorse the WEPs, let me refer, for example, to WEP 2 — Treat all women and men fairly at work — respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination.

Globally, women on average are paid 24 per cent less than men. In 2012, the World Bank estimated that if all forms of discrimination against female workers and managers were eliminated, productivity per worker could increase by up to 40 per cent.

There is mounting evidence that companies with women in senior management and the boardroom have higher financial performance than those without. Yet the gender composition of corporate boards remains startlingly unbalanced. Women’s share of board seats at stock index companies is 22.8 per cent in the UK, 20.8 per cent in Canada, 19.2 per cent in Australia and the US, and 18.5 per cent in Germany.

Germany has made impressive progress this year with respect to WEP 2, through a recently proposed equal wage law and the quota for women on corporate boards law passed earlier this year.

Allow me to now draw attention to WEP 5, which is perhaps the least understood, yet most transversal — “implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women.”

Procurement and investment decisions have gendered consequences, yet policies do not take this into account. As a consequence, women have largely been unable to seize opportunities to sell to large buyers. At the same time, in order for women-owned businesses to meet demands and scale their businesses, they must also be enabled to access requisite finance.

UN Women has a strong mandate on promoting and supporting women’s economic rights and economic inclusion.

To respond to this mandate, UN Women’s flagship programmes are based on explicit theories of change and facilitate the production of clear guidance for UN Women and its partners regarding UN Women’s normative position and operational approach to women’s economic empowerment. In addition, our women’s economic empowerment platform, EmpowerWomen.org,  is strengthening knowledge management, in particular through facilitating linkages between users and service providers.

But to fully respond to this mandate in a more effective and accelerated manner, significantly increased financing is urgently needed. A recent ODI study estimated that the financing gap for achieving the SDGs in the social sectors (education, health and social protection) is an average of US $ 84 billion annually assuming that half of domestic resources are allocated to these sectors. This means that for any of these gains to be realized, we need significantly scaled up financial commitments and efforts.

In conclusion let me emphasize that sustainable development can be realized as a direct result of women’s economic empowerment, but we will have to work together to make it happen.

I take the opportunity to thank the German Ministers who already signed up for HeforShe. I thank also our HeforShe Private Sector Impact Champions for your commitment and support.

I appeal to all men in the audience to follow this example and join UN Women’s HeForShe solidarity movement for gender equality, calling on all men and boys to build on the work of the women’s movement as equal partners, and become change agents towards the achievement of gender equality.

Let me reiterate my gratitude to the Government of Germany for its leadership in bringing women’s economic empowerment to the forefront of the agenda in G7 countries in 2015.

With the support of the G7 and with all partners here joining the struggle for human rights and women’s empowerment and joining our campaign for Planet 50/50 by 2030 Step it Up for Gender Equality — including in the economic and financial part, together we can make this most important mission of humanity for the 21st century possible.