Gender equality related aspects of the post-2015 development agenda and trade and development policies – a speech by Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Trade and Development Commission on “Trade and development policies and the post-2015 development agenda” held on 18 May 2015, in Geneva, Switzerland.


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Joakim Rieter the Deputy Secretary-General of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD),

Sandra Polaski Deputy Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO),

Distinguished Panelists,

It gives me great pleasure and I am overwhelmed by a sense of nostalgia to make a presentation on gender equality related aspects of the post-2015 development agenda and trade and development policies. I have straddled these two universes not only institutionally, but also in terms of steering some pioneering research and analysis work and launching of a publication on engendering trade and development in UNCTAD back when this was a new concept­  2004 at UNCTAD 11 in Sao Paolo. That publication remains a classic reference for divining the linkages between trade and development policies and gender equality and women's empowerment and now we are ahead of UNCTAD 14 and a good time to take this project forward.

UNCTAD seeks to formulate an alternative, more equitable, inclusive and sustainable trade and development model in place of the prevailing structures and trade, finance, macroeconomic, investment and technology governance systems and rules of the game which have not worked for either people - including women or planet anywhere and which are also skewed against the least developed and developing countries. UN Women is similarly about establishing the new normal in all these areas; at the global, regional national and local levels by dismantling structural barriers and unequal power relations to end the mother of all inequalities — gender inequality — and institute women's empowerment and women's rights. If UNCTAD was inspired by the Raul Presbisch Centre - periphery theory of trade and development and sought to bring about the economic development of developing countries under more equitable circumstances so they can join and constitute the center of world trade and development, UN Women seeks to establish a Planet 50:50 by 2030 where women are no longer marginalized and have equal political, economic and social rights and opportunities.

There has been much progress on the front of recognizing the centrality of gender equality and women's empowerment in driving economic growth and conversely of the need for economic policies, including trade, that promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. “It is a no brainier” as Amartya Sen said, women's equal voice participation and leadership in the economy, as entrepreneurs, CEOs and employers of corporations, as workers, as technologists and consumers, has both intrinsic value and instrumental value. It is the good thing to do and smart thing to do. Increasingly a business case and trade and development case has been made for unleashing the untapped productive, economic and trade potential of women so that it would be a triple win for gender equality, for trade and for sustainable development. It is postulated that it would create a bigger emerging markets with greater purchasing power and productive workforce in commodities, agriculture, manufacturing, technology and services than that of India and China have put together! 

The latest contribution to this is UN Women’s flagship report on the progress of the world women entitled “Transforming Economies Realizing rights”. I will be launching this Report at the ILO on 21 May, and I hope to see you all there.

The key point made in the report as it relates to trade and development policies is that the current macroeconomic policies, including austerity policies at global and national levels and trade and investment agreements at the bilateral, regional and multilateral levels, tend to constrain the policy space and fiscal space of countries to take measures to provide much needed public services and social protection to women in developing countries and argues for prioritizing this. It also crucially suggests the creation of a new quality paid care work economy which could create over a billion jobs for women and men whilst liberating the productive capacity of women and help realize their rights. This would surely have a trade in services dimension - something I had dealt with in my article on “Trade in services and gender: a Tale of two modes - Mode 1 and Mode 4”.

Much intergovernmental normative progress has been achieved since UNCTAD and the World Bank postulated the case for women's economic empowerment and equal participation in and benefit from trade and development. I had the privilege to lead UN Women advocacy in the Rio Plus 20 Conference to win the recognition in the outcome “The Future We want” that gender equality is not only a critical social development and inclusion issue but it is key driver, enabler and beneficiary of sustainable development in all three dimensions - including economic growth, social and environmental sustainability. It is also seen as a means and an end of sustainable development and a force for the integration of the three dimensions.

Another historic milestone has been the sunset of Millennium Development Goal 3 (MDG3) on promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment which has played a key role in highlighting the importance of addressing discrimination and inequalities faced by women and girls. However as the Commission on the Status of Women showed last year when it conducted a goal by goal assessment of the MDGs, progress on the MDGs has been unacceptably slow for women and girls and a bold, comprehensive and transformative approach is urgently needed to address the structural barriers to gender equality.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action for women which set out norms, strategic objectives and actions by international community to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women in 12 critical areas including women and poverty and women and the economy. The review and appraisal of its implementation at national level (record 168 reports) regional and global levels indicated confirmed inadequate progress and that nowhere had gender equality been achieved.

The Commission on the Status of Women adopted a political declaration wherein, ministers pledged to take concrete actions to ensure the full, effective and accelerated implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action through a number of strategies, including: strengthened implementation of laws, policies, strategies and programme activities for all women and girls; strengthened and increased support for institutional mechanisms for gender equality at all levels; the transformation of discriminatory norms and gender stereotypes; significantly increased investment to close resource gaps, including through domestic resource mobilization and allocation and increased priority to gender equality and the empowerment of women in official development assistance; strengthened accountability for the implementation of existing commitments; and enhanced capacity building, data collection, monitoring and evaluation. These strategies will also be relevant for the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda.

And now we are at a historic conjunction as the international community is poised to adopt and for the first time a universal Sustainable Development Agenda proposing to cover 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. UN Women prepared the substantive case and mobilized civil society and member states to have a comprehensive, transformative and stand-alone SDG5 on Achieving­­ — ­not merely promoting. Gender equality and women's empowerment for all women and girls with six targets and three means of implementation adopted as part of the Open Working Group package.

The six interlinked targets include: ending all forms of gender discrimination, eliminating violence against women and girls and harmful practices, 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 family and household. Ensuring women's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life, ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, undertaking reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, enabling technologies including Information Communications Technology (ICT), all these have trade and development linkages.

Further there are gender specific and sensitive targets in other SDGs including Goal 1 on poverty eradication, Goal 2 on ending hunger, Goal 3 on health, Goal 4 on Education, Goal 6 on sustainable management of water and sanitation, Goal 7 on sustainable energy. Most importantly from the point of view of our discussion today, gender equality figures in Goal 8 on promoting sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all, Goal 9 on reducing equality within and among countries, Goal 11 on a Sustainable and inclusive cities, Goal 13 on Climate Change, and Goal 17 on Means of implementation, global partnership for development, data, monitoring and accountability.

In regards to trade-related targets - in Goal 2 regarding trade distorting agricultural subsidies, women farmers’ income and food security of their families is very substantially affected. Similarly the proper functioning of the food commodity markets is relevant for women's economic empowerment. In Goal 8, aid for trade support must target the empowerment and capacity-building and fostering women-owned enterprises to engage in trade, participate in global supply chains and in value added aspects of production and trade. Goal 17 similarly trade preferences could provide incentives for the participation of women producers and exporters in trade and also encourage their moving from traditionally gender-intensive into non-traditional sectors. Goal 10 on Special and differential treatment meant for developing countries must give policy space to them to finance adopt social policies that benefit women. Transaction costs of remittances is indeed important as nearly 50 per cent of migrant workers are women and migration has a strong impact on their empowerment— economic and social. Overall, trade must be a significant means of implementation of the gender equality Goal 5 and gender-related targets and indicators in other SDGs and trade policy must enable, not hinder women's livelihood, decent work and economic empowerment. Therefore, trade, investment and development policies must be based on gender-impact analysis.

UN Women and UNCTAD can work together to ensure that all the key universal access to infrastructure and essential services-related goals and targets are achieved for women and that economic growth is both propelled by and leads to the economic empowerment of women. We also believe that the full and equal participation and leadership of women in the implementation, data revolution, monitoring, review and follow up of the post-2015 development agenda is fundamental for democratic accountability and the legitimacy of the new agenda.

The strength of the future SDGs is that they bring together the three dimensions of sustainable development and that they constitute a set of interconnected and closely linked goals. Let me illustrate this: the equal right of women and men to economic resources is part of Goal 1 on ending poverty and Goal 5 on achieving gender equality. The ending of discrimination in laws and policies is closely linked to women’s full participation in economy. Valuing, reducing and redistributing unpaid care and domestic work, including through public services, infrastructure and social protection, is essential for the achievement of full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, and equal pay for work of equal value.

The expectations of an ambitious post-2015 development agenda must be matched with transformative financing for gender equality. This requires significantly increased investments – in scale, scope and quality - to achieve gender equality through domestic resource mobilization, official development assistance, South-South and triangular cooperation, and other forms of financing. We have been strongly advocating for this in the negotiations of Financing for Development (FFD) outcome ongoing in New York.

Effectively monitoring the targets for women and girls requires systematic disaggregation by sex, age and other factors of indicators across all goals. Recent decades have seen significant advances in gender statistics and sex-disaggregated data. Specifically, the minimum set of gender indicators adopted by the UN Statistical Commission in 2013 covers a broad range of areas and provides a strong basis for monitoring gender equality in the post-2015 development agenda. It is vital that the process in place for defining indicators for the SDGs draw on the expertise of gender statisticians and build on the existing standards and methodologies in gender statistics. This will require increased investments in statistical capacity at the national, regional and international levels to improve gender statistics to make it possible to effectively monitor the post-2015 development agenda.

A transformative agenda should ensure strong accountability mechanisms at all levels – national, regional and global — to enable women and men to hold decision makers to account for delivering on their commitments. Accountability for the post-2015 development agenda should be integrated in existing or new national accountability mechanisms. In addition to formal accountability mechanisms, such as parliamentary scrutiny and reporting to the Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other treaty bodies, inclusive and participatory democratic deliberations will be important to shape and monitor local, national, regional or international policies to implement the post-2015 development agenda.

Civil society organizations, including women’s organizations, play an important role in monitoring progress and holding governments to account on their commitments. It is important that space and resources are provided for civil society, indigenous and local organizations and individuals to participate in the design, planning, implementation and monitoring of the post-2015 agenda at local, national and global levels.

All parts of government are responsible for achieving gender equality. Gender mainstreaming must be institutionalized across all sectors of the government, with effective means of monitoring progress. Legal frameworks and national action plans on sustainable development should be strengthened by setting specific goals, including effective monitoring and timelines, reporting, and the allocation of adequate resources to ensure their implementation. It is critical that national mechanisms on gender equality be fully involved in setting national priorities. Private sector must be held accountable as their trade and development and gender footprint is so big and strong.

UN Women is ready to support Member States and work with UNCTAD and other partners in normative at country level in the implementation of the post-2015 Development Agenda and we look forward to work jointly with UN partners, such as you, to end the status quo and business as usual and translate an ambitious and transformative agenda in concrete actions for women and men, girls and boys globally.

Thank you.