“If the economy worked for women…” – Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at a panel discussion for the launch of UN Women’s flagship report “Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming economies, realizing rights,” in London, 27 April 2015.

Date: Monday, April 27, 2015

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Thank you all for joining us today for the global launch of UN Women’s flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming economies, realizing rights.

My thanks to our co-hosts of this event, the UK Gender and Development Network, and to our friends at the UN Women UK National Committee, who have also done so much to support the occasion.

There are too many people to thank individually for their academic contribution to this publication. Let me simply say how grateful we are to the more than 30 leading expert contributors, and all those who provided peer review and comments.

This report comes at a critical time.

Our world is out of balance.

The world is both wealthier and more unequal today than at any time since the Second World War.

We are recovering from a global economic crisis – but that recovery has been jobless.

Women are more educated than ever before, and yet globally, they are struggling to find work and to make ends meet. More women than ever before are graduating from tertiary education, but are not being absorbed into employment and especially not into decision-making roles. For example, in the UK, there is no lack of women at entry-point and mid-levels of medical programmes (in 2014, 55 per cent of medical students were women) yet there is a dearth of women in healthcare management (32 per cent of medical consultants and 24 per cent of trust medical directors are women); 77 per cent of employees in the National Health System (NHS) are women.

Rates of unemployment are at historic highs in many countries, including those in the Middle East and North Africa, in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as in southern Europe.

Where women are employed, for the most part, they are in poorly paid, insecure occupations, like small-scale farming, or as domestic workers, a sector in which 83 per cent of jobs are filled by women.

Even in developed countries, many of the jobs that are being created are of poor quality, often self-employment or temporary jobs that lack basic security.

Why isn’t the global economy fit for women?

In UN Women’s flagship report, we investigate this failure.

Just as importantly, we envisage what an economy would look like, if it truly worked for women.

If the economy worked for women, they would have equal access to opportunities and resources, to enable them to be economically independent, and to live a dignified and decent life. In reality, globally women earn 24 per cent less than men.

When women have children, the pay gap widens. Rather than rewarding mothers for producing the next generation, we penalize them. In South Asia, the gender pay gap for mothers is 35 per cent but just 14 per cent for those without children.

If the economy worked for women, women’s unpaid work would be valued.

Currently it is invisible, taken for granted.

Here are the facts:

  • Globally, women do nearly two and a half times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men
  • In the United States, the total value of unpaid childcare services in 2012 was estimated to be USD 3.2 trillion dollars. That’s about 20 per cent of GDP
  • In Mexico, the value of unpaid care work is 21 per cent of GDP
  • This is even higher than the economic contribution of key sectors such as manufacturing, which is 17 per cent of GDP (in Mexico)

Where public services are missing – like safe water sources, enough healthcare workers, care facilities for both young children and elderly parents – the deficit is made up primarily by women and girls.

This is a care penalty that unfairly punishes women for stepping in to provide what is missing.

It has a quantifiable cost: data from France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey suggest that women earn between 31 and 75 per cent less than men over their lifetimes.

Less quantifiable, equally identifiable, absolutely insidious – the care penalty includes diminished status.

It is fundamental attitudes and conceptions of relative human value that we are seeing played out in sexual violence, in discrimination, in the decisions about who stays home. Sexual harassment and domestic violence are already outlawed in at least 125 countries. Notwithstanding, three-quarters of women in management and higher professional positions in the EU have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Outside the workplace, as we know, girls and women face what the World Health Organization has called a “global epidemic of violence”.

Laws are critically important, but not enough on their own to turn this around.

If the economy worked for women, they would carry out their work without fear of sexual harassment or violence.

If the economy worked for women, they would also have an equal say in economic decision-making. They would influence how time and money are spent in their households.

They would shape economic and social policies to fit their daily lives. The reality is that economic decisions are often made without women’s voices being taken into account.

Today, with this report, we are demanding nothing less than a new economic agenda.

One that works to readjust the imbalances and that will benefit all of society.

What would this new agenda look like?

My colleagues will provide the detail on this – and the specific country examples.

To bring about the transformative change we so urgently need, we need to work together.

Governments are responsible for realizing human rights, but they cannot do it alone.

The private sector must play its part. Employers must create decent jobs for women, with equal pay and opportunities. All businesses must pay their taxes. Annual tax revenue lost to developing countries due to trade mispricing (aka tax avoidance) is estimated at between USD 98 and 106 billion dollars. This is more than enough to pay the capital costs of universal water and sanitation coverage.

Civil society must continue to play its role as ‘watch dog’, keeping women’s rights high on the agenda. Women’s organizations have been an engine for change, but we also need trade unions and workers’ movements to get on board.

And for our part, international organizations should ensure that global governance institutions, like the UN and international financial and trade institutions, support the realization of women’s rights.

We need more policy space for countries to develop alternative gender-responsive policy agendas; and fewer tax havens that rob countries of the resources they need to implement this agenda.

Ultimately, upholding women’s rights will not only make the economy work for women, it will also benefit societies at large by creating a more balanced and sustainable future.

Progress for women is progress for all.