“This report presents a transformative economic agenda for making women’s rights a reality”– Lakshmi Puri

Opening remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director, Lakshmi Puri, at the presentation of the report “Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights” held on 27 April, in New York City.


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Distinguished participants,

Dear friends,

It is my pleasure to be here today for the global launch of UN Women’s flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights.

Before I begin my remarks, let me take this opportunity to thank our generous donors who continue to support UN Women, and more specifically I would like thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Australian Government, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for their financial support for the preparation of this report.

The Progress of the Worlds Women Report for 2015 to 2016 comes at a historic juncture when the world is rethinking and recasting its sustainable development models - in their economic, social and environmental dimensions - in the context of adopting a universal post 2015 development framework and defining Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The proposed Sustainable Development Goals of the Open Working Group include a stand-alone, comprehensive and transformative goal on achieving gender equality and women's empowerment for all women and girls, and includes gender-sensitive targets and indicators in other SDGs, including on poverty eradication, economic growth, infrastructure, agriculture, employment, health, education, and sustainable cities among others.

The 20-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Platform for Action carried out this year and its outcome, the Political Declaration, has committed Member States to the full, effective and accelerated implementation of this gold standard on women's rights and actions. In the Political Declaration adopted at the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, Member States also committed to a significant increase in financing to close the resources gaps and the underinvestment in the areas of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Moreover, in the ongoing discussion on Financing for Development Conference, ahead of the Third International Conference to take place in Addis Ababa, we are seeing a growing demand for a transformative framework for financing of the extensive gender equality and women's empowerment commitments.

Hence there is an unprecedented consensus and political propulsion to realize gender equality and women's empowerment in all countries and regions.

In order to inform and support these processes and objectives, this flagship report from UN Women sets out a blue print of how the economy can be transformed for sustainable development and for realizing substantive gender equality, women's empowerment and women's rights.

This report presents a transformative economic agenda for making women’s rights a reality.

In the Progress of the Worlds Women Report for 2015 to 2016, we investigate how the global economy is failing women, and what its underlying causes are, as well as what within the larger dysfunction of the world economic models is and is not conducive to the empowerment of women and girls.

Just as importantly, we envision what an economy would look like if it truly worked for women, and we set out a blue print for positive action.

What is remarkable about this report is that it addresses issues and speaks to the situation of women in all countries and contexts and therefore has universal significance and resonance for every woman. It builds on good practices and examples from countries across the world to show that what we recommend not only can be done but has been done even in resource constrained, post- conflict, or otherwise challenged contexts – whether it is Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Lesotho, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Rwanda, or Sri Lanka.

Moreover, the report shows that there is a disconnection between what we see as our common vision and the tangible progress on the ground. We can clearly see that our world is out of balance.

We see that the world is both wealthier and more unequal today than at any time since the Second World War. Although we are recovering from a global economic crisis – that recovery has been jobless, slow, and uneven as is the case with gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide. Women are more educated than ever before, and yet globally, they are struggling to find work and make ends meet.

Where women are employed, for the most part, they are in poorly paid, insecure occupations, like small-scale farming, urban street trading 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 temporary jobs that lack basic security.

Why isn’t the global economy working for women?

The truth is that gender equality is a human rights obligation that remains vastly unfulfilled everywhere.

The vision and the goal is for equal access to paid work but the reality is that only half of women participate in the labour force compared to three quarters of men, and in most developing countries it is as low as 25 per cent.

The vision is fair and equal work but globally the gender wage gap is 24 per cent. The lifetime earning wage gap is even larger still. In Turkey the lifetime wage gap is 75 per cent, in Germany it is 49 per cent, and in both France and Sweden it is 31 per cent.

The vision is to have decent work with social protection for all but in developing regions, 75 per cent of women’s employment is informal, and those jobs are unprotected by labour laws and they lack social protection.

And the vision is to have the equal sharing of unpaid care work and household responsibilities but women spend 2.5 times more time and effort in unpaid care work and domestic work than men globally.

Therefore it is critical to eliminate indirect forms of discrimination and the structural constraints and barriers that have the effect, if not always the intention, of producing unequal outcomes.

The report therefore envisions a visionary eminently achievable alternative action agenda that will help achieve substantive equality for all women, exponentially benefiting both men and women. And in the spirit of UN Women’s Beijing+20 advocacy campaign of “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity, Picture it!” this report presents scenarios for a transformative economic agenda to make women’s rights a reality.  

If the economy worked for women, they would have equal access to opportunities and resources – a good job with equal pay, access to land – and social protection which together will bring enough income to bring a decent standard of living for women, from birth to older age - to enable them to be economically independent.

If the economy worked for women, their life choices would be unconstrained by gender stereotypes and discrimination and they would carry out their work without fear of sexual harassment or violence.

If the economy worked for women, they would have an equal say in economic decision-making, from having a voice in how time and money are spent in their households to the ways in which resources are raised and allocated in their national economics; to the broader economic policies set by global institutions.

Too often, the reality is that economic decisions are made and resources allocated without women’s voices needs and agency being taken into account. It is not only true for governments but also for the corporate, labour and civil society sectors.

What would this new agenda look like?  

This report is demanding nothing less than a new economic agenda. One that works for women, and will benefit all of society by creating an ecosystem that allows for the redressing of social and economic disadvantage. We need more policy space for countries to develop gender-responsive policy agendas; and fewer tax havens that deprive countries of the resources they need to implement this agenda.

There are three elements of substantive equality, which must work together:

First, we set out a vision for women’s rights to work and at work. We must transform paid and unpaid work for women - along four vectors of equal access to paid work, decent work with social protection, fair and adequate earnings and equal sharing of unpaid care work.

There is an economic opportunity in creating a vibrant new paid care economy, if investments were made in quality paid care services, as is happening in some countries, this could meet care needs, reduce unpaid care burdens and become an engine of employment creation while also empowering at least a billion women. This is really the top-line message of this report. It will – we hope – help in achieving the target set in SDG 5 on recognizing and valuing 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.

Second, we need social policies to support women, including family allowances and pensions. We need public services – water and sanitation, healthcare, and childcare services – designed with women’s rights in mind. This involves universal access plus adequate and targeted social transfer systems in Social Protection Floor. It is about a revolution in social protection.

Third, we need macroeconomic policies that support the realization of women’s rights, by fostering dynamic and stable economies, by creating good jobs and by raising the resources and fiscal space needed to finance vital public services and social protection and care services. These must take into account the importance of unpaid care work and domestic work and non-market investments in human beings and work in tandem with social policies.

Fourth, we need an international enabling environment and financial, trade, aid, technology debt and governance systems that will support such policies and contribute to their success.

The transformative changes that we urgently need will only be possible if we work together.

Governments are responsible for supporting the realization of human rights, but they cannot do it alone. The private sector must play its part as employers, by creating decent jobs for women, with equal pay and opportunities; and as businesses and wealth creators, by paying their fair share of taxation to finance essential social services from which they also benefit. Quality care services that are affordable expand women’s choices and improve career prospects, but they also broaden the talent pool.

Civil society organizations must continue to play its role as “watch dogs,” by placing women’s rights 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 by mainstreaming gender perspectives into their work and organizing women workers in all sectors, including informal, is a key priority. Women’s organizations and civil society organizations must use this report to mobilize and advocate around transforming the economy in a feminist vision and to educate citizens on its importance. And for our part, the global governance institutions, both the UN and the International Financial and Trade Institutions, must support the realization of women’s rights.

I call on all of us to use this report as an instrument for change and progress. This includes policy actors but also citizens. It is out joint responsibility to work across the ten policy priorities outlined in the report to create more and better jobs for women; reduce occupational segregation and gender pay gaps; strengthen women’s income security throughout their life cycle; recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid are and domestic work; invest in gender-responsive public services; maximize resources for the achievement of substantive equality; support women’s organizations to claim rights and shape policy agenda at all levels; create an enabling global context for the realization of women’s rights; use human rights standards to shape policies and catalyze change; and generate evidence to assess progress on women’s economic and social rights.

The ultimate litmus test of the relevance and impact of this report will be when we take it to the theaters and people who are going to own and implement these recommendations and those who are going to claim these rights.  

Progress for women is progress for all.

Thank you for your attention!