We must be diligent and vocal advocates – Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the W20 Official Launch Event in Ankara, Turkey.


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UN Women salutes the Government of Turkey for its leadership in the establishment of the W20 as an official Engagement Group under the auspices of the G20 Leaders’ Summit. The timing of the launch is propitious, in the juxtaposition of firm commitments made to gender equality and women’s empowerment at the Financing for Development conference, and those to be made this month, in the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Progress will only be made on this universal agenda by governments working in partnership with the private sector and civil society. In this context I would like to again commend the Government of Turkey, for its leadership in outreach and inclusion of women, as President of the G20, across G20 Member States, in bringing us all together; and their identification of three key national women’s associations who deserve our thanks as organizers of this auspicious event – KAGIDER, KADEM and TIKAD.

I acknowledge my fellow speakers as representatives and leaders of key institutional actors that are also at the centre of taking the work agenda forward. Together we must support the W20 as a key vehicle for building on commitments made in the G20 and centring gender equality and women’s empowerment in all larger agendas of the international community, international financial and economic system and formations for cooperation and governance.

Why G20 and its engendering is important and timely

The G20 is important because it is the premier forum for international economic cooperation and decision-making for its members. It was born in the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis, with its leaders subsequently playing a key role in responding to the 2008 global financial crises. Its coordinated actions boosted consumer and business confidence and supported the first stages of economic recovery.

This is again precisely what is required now: an urgent, coordinated response from the G20 in the strengthening of the global recovery, uplifting potential; in enhancing resilience, and buttressing stability. It is no accident that these are the three policy priority areas of the Turkish Presidency of the G20. Nor so, that these are at the very heart of the W20 agenda. The W20 was established with the recognition that – and I quote – “Gender inclusiveness, and gender equality are essential for strong sustainable and balanced growth.” Gender inclusiveness and gender equality are therefore no more periphery issues: they are at the centre of the G20 as it strives for strong, sustainable and balanced growth. I would suggest that we add to this masthead a clear commitment to women's economic empowerment and participation and leadership in the economy as a key objective.

Convergence: G20/W20, FfD, 2030 Agenda, CSW59

This reflects and deepens the convergence of thinking and commitments made on the global stage to gender equality and women’s empowerment particularly in the context of finance and investment. This is evident in, but not exclusive to:

  • The Addis Ababa Action Agenda that was adopted at the Third World Conference on Financing for Development, which explicitly recognizes gender equality and women’s empowerment as a priority, that must be mainstreamed, including through targeted actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of economic, social, environmental and financial policies and that "transformative actions" must be taken apart from enforceable legislation and sound policies to achieve it at all levels - global, regional, national and local. All sources of finance - domestic and international, public and private, finance and trade, entrepreneurship and private sector (WEPs), migration, innovative financing mechanisms, the Infrastructure Forum, Technology Facility, multilateral development banks (MDBs) and gender-responsive budgeting and lending are covered and must therefore prioritize this issue. We launched, with a number of ministers including Turkey, an Action Plan for Transformative Financing of gender equality and women’s empowerment (GEWE) commitments which we hope G20 will embrace and take forward. 
  • The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to be adopted this month, will begin a revitalized global partnership to achieve 17 goals that are essential for inclusive growth. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is both a stand-alone goal, and a priority integrated in all other goals and targets with implications for the means of implementation.
  • The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the guiding framework for global collective action in the march toward gender equality and women’s empowerment, celebrated twenty years of implementation this year. In recognısing progress made and gaps that remain, the Member States of the United Nations deepened commitments at CSW59.
  • The political declaration adopted at CSW59 embodied commitment to full, effective and accelerated implementation of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action, including women and the economy.

What is evident, as we look at the political momentum that has built during the 15 years since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, is that governments globally and the private sector and civil society have undertaken a seismic shift in awareness, both of the centrality of gender equality to growth and development, but also the need to step up financing in this area if we are to achieve any change.

Recognızing the importance of G20 leadership and action to close the financing gap, achieve the 2030 Agenda, and promote women’s economic empowerment cannot be overstated. As UN Women's research reveals, captured in our report 'Progress of the World's Women 2015-2016’, no country in the world has reached gender equality – women continue to be underrepresented in decision-making in all areas, including in the economic and finance sectors. 

  • In the economic arena, women currently only hold 5.0 per cent of Fortune 500 CEO positions. In 2011, women represented only 15 per cent of the seats on corporate boards and 14 per cent of those on executive committees in the United States; 16 per cent and 3 per cent, respectively, in Germany; and less than 10 per cent on both boards and executive committees in China, India, and Japan (McKinsey, 2012). 
  • Looking at senior management, European businesses are amongst the most likely globally to have no women at all in their senior teams (38 per cent), led by Denmark (71 per cent), Germany (67 per cent) and Switzerland (64 per cent). This drops to 29 per cent across North America, but both Canada (22 per cent) and the United States (23 per cent) have seen no significant increase in the number of women holding top jobs over the past decade. India reports that only 14 per cent of companies have women in senior management. (Grant Thornton 2014).

We must reaffirm that women’s economic empowerment means decent work, entrepreneurship, and 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. 

It goes beyond income generation to having a role in decisions about how money is spent – in the home, in the work place and in government. When women are economically empowered they are able to realize their rights, meet their material needs to be free from poverty as well as take leadership in driving sustainable and inclusive economic growth and development.

Yet, we must note that in G20 economies, the burden of unpaid care work falls disproportionately on women. Unpaid care work includes domestic work such as cleaning and food preparation, fetching supplies, water and fuel as well as care of persons. 

  • Only half of women participate in the labour force compared to three quarters of men.
  • Globally women earn 24 per cent less than men.
  • The most pernicious impact of segregation is pervasive gender pay gaps, which means that women are systematically paid less than men for work of equal value. Some 83 per cent of the world’s 53 million domestic workers are women, and their number is increasing steadily in developed and developing countries alike.
  • Working behind closed doors, almost 30 per cent of these women are deprived of any labour rights and more than half of them are not entitled to earn the minimum wage. Many also suffer from systematic abuse and violence.

Further, care work is an essential part of the economy; without it families would be unable work outside the household and economies would be unable to grow. This in turn impacts not only women’s ability to work, but also the occupations and sectors they work, the wage they earn, the time they have to work, and whether or not they become entrepreneurs.

It is concerning that for far too long “women’s issues” have been considered separately from issues. Women are half the world’s population, but they are not half the formal labour force or half of the owners of productive resources or half of the business owners or half of the policymakers whose choices influence the economy. 

Inequality between men and women is pervasive, and women constitute the majority of the world’s poor. Moreover, women’s unpaid contributions to the economy are rendered invisible in systems of national accounts and employment data – measures which form the basis of economic decision-making.

We cannot ignore the gender impacts of social service provision, infrastructure development and investment, which starts with recognizing, reducing and redistributing unpaid care work.

Here I emphasize that women are not only workers but employers, therefore women’s entrepreneurship is fundamental.

Therefore, the G20 must be commended on the commitments made not only to job creation, but specifically and importantly to increasing women’s labour force participation rates and recognizing the importance of education and social protection.

I use this opportunity to recall in Paragraph 9 of the Brisbane Leaders’ Communiqué the G20 committed to reducing the gap in labour force participation rates between men and women by 25 per cent by 2015, bringing more than 100 million women into the labour force.

Paragraph 10 is also relevant with its focus on youth unemployment, the linkages between education, training and employment, and addressing informality, and strengthening social protection systems. Furthermore, paragraph 10 specifically references the United Nations and the post-2015 development agenda, and acknowledges the role of the G20 in contributing to poverty eradication, development and inclusive sustainable growth.

Access to finance and financing gender in the context of development

In recent years there has been considerable investment in microfinance opportunities for women, however there is a “missing middle” in terms of finance for larger scale women-owned projects.

While women often constitute the majority of borrowers of development finance programmes (85 per cent of the poorest 93 million clients of MFIs in 2006, for example), the total loan amounts are often lower compared to men.

Financial inclusion, therefore, must target investment in both the growth of women’s businesses and also their inclusion in investments in larger scale projects. This can be achieved through setting targets on the percentage of procurement contracts awarded to women-owned enterprises. UN Women is working with multilateral development banks, the World Bank Group and others to open these opportunities.

Addressing the significant underinvestment in gender equality and women’s empowerment is critical in and of itself. In order to bring about this change we need transformation in the economic and financial policymaking and governance architecture of the institutions themselves at all levels.

In order to achieve transformative financing, at CSW59 Member States pledged to “significantly increase investment to close the resource gap including through the mobilization of financial resources from all sources, including domestic resource mobilization and increased priority to allocation to gender equality and the empowerment of women in official development assistance.” This is further reinforced by the breakthrough commitment we secured in the 2030 Agenda to a "significant increase in investments to close the gender gap and strengthen support for institutions in relation to gender equality and the empowerment of women at the global, regional and national levels.” In localising the 2030 Agenda and drawing the threads together – between what remains to be done to lose the gap on GEWE, recognising the priorities established in the 2030 Agenda – we must also be diligent and vocal advocates in reminding our governments of their commitment to embrace transformative financing for GEWE.

It cannot be emphasized enough that W20 has the potential to change that. This year, under the leadership of Turkey, the G20 Summit will focus on inclusiveness, implementation and investment.

Inclusiveness must mean including women. Implementation must mean implementing internationally agreed standards for gender equality. Investment must mean investing in women.

We must recognize that inclusiveness has not historically been the priority of the forums for economic decision-makers. After all, global economic governance was once the purview only of a select group of elite men from the richest countries, mostly from Western powers.

The W20 has the potential to influence global economic governance in a way that promotes gender-inclusive economic growth in more potent ways than has ever been possible in the G20 until now.

The creation of the W20 is a major accomplishment and it comes at an opportune moment.

UN Women is committed to support and partner with the W20 in ensuring the W20 makes meaningful impact.

Thank you.