“Drive home the urgency of Planet 50-50 by 2030” —Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at Transforming Society through Political and Economic Empowerment of Women, an International Council of Women (ICW) side event at the 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women on 17 March, 2016


[Check against Delivery]

Distinguished panellists, dear friends,

I thank the International Council of Women for inviting me to today’s discussion.

I will refer first to the transformations we bring to society with our vision for the 2030 Agenda and for our Planet 50-50 by 2030.

The world we all want is one with inclusive political institutions which guarantees equal opportunities and human rights, with an engaged citizenry involved in co-designing their own futures. This is the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—a vision where no one is left behind, a vision of equality, where there is responsive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.

While we have made progress, women remain largely outside of public decision-making, through which resources are allocated.

Because participation is both a contributor and an outcome of good governance, removing the barriers that keep women locked outside of networks of influence is an urgent agenda.

We know that when women are involved in political and public decision-making, communities flourish, and more so when women are a critical mass. When women participate and lead in local government, as Members of Parliament, Heads of State or Government—the decisions and laws they make tend to be focused on meeting practical and strategic needs of women, their families and their communities. Women’s voices are important not only as an expression of gender equality, but also because diverse perspectives are necessary for responsive governance.

Women’s political participation is about justice and it is also about sustainability. Without it, decisions necessary for a sustainable future are not reflective of the population. They are not democratic—and they are not legitimate.

With decent work, equal opportunities to ownership and control of productive resources and the enjoyment of civil liberties and rights, secure, independent and empowered women have the power to transform economies. They are also more likely to invest time, labour and resources in their children, families and communities to reduce poverty.

Yet, these contributions must not be taken for granted and they must not be uncounted. Globally, women bear a disproportionate share of unpaid care work such as taking care of children and the elderly, fetching fuel, water and preparing food. On average women spend 2.5 times more time on these activities compared to men. This unpaid care work must be recognized, reduced and redistributed if women are to have equal opportunities for self-development.

Women prove time and again all over the world, that they are highly effective at working across partisan lines—even in the most politically combative environments—to enact changes that improve citizens’ lives.

In countries where women are empowered as political leaders, there is greater attention paid to issues like health, education, infrastructure and other quality of life concerns, which impact all. Indeed, where parliaments have large numbers of women parliamentarians, we see increased efforts to pass legislation to end violence against women.

The relationship between political participation and economic empowerment is symbiotic. Once women are in positions of political power—as Members of Parliament, Heads of State or Government—the decisions and laws they make can encourage women’s economic empowerment more broadly.

At the same time, economically empowered women are better positioned to participate in political processes because they tend to have greater decision-making power in the household and community. They also have greater ‘leadership resources’—things like higher self-esteem and self-confidence to speak up and make themselves heard.

How does the UN carry out measures to empower women politically?

UN Women views women’s political and economic empowerment, and participation as a human right fundamental to achieving a peaceful and sustainable future that is key to achieving all of the SDGs.

The promotion of women’s political empowerment and leadership is widely regarded as an area of strength for UN Women, with more than 70 country offices reporting work in this area in 2015.

To implement the SDGs and the 2030 agenda, UN Women has designed a Flagship Programme on Women’s Political Empowerment and Leadership, which has received wide support from country offices. It is designed to achieve SDG Target 5.5: 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.”

This requires action on multiple fronts:

  • Supporting the development and implementation of robust legal frameworks that promote gender equality in political and electoral processes;
  • Expanding the pool of qualified and capable women to run for election;
  • Transforming gender norms so that women leaders in the public sphere are accepted as legitimate and effective, and men’s contributions to care work is assured;
  • Supporting women leaders in gender-sensitive political institutions;

In the context of the SDGs, UN Women has also led the charge to push for a new SDG indicator on women’s participation in local government for which no global baseline currently exists. As a result, UN Women is now pioneering the design of a methodology for data collection for the global measurement of the proportion of women in local government. This first ever effort will enable further qualitative research—and recognition—of the contributions of local-level women leaders worldwide.

In addition to its programming in the area of political empowerment, UN Women is highly active in the area of women’s economic empowerment, which constitutes about 25 per cent of all of our programming. The four economic empowerment flagship programmes focus on entrepreneurship, decent work and social protection, sustainable energy and climate resilient agriculture.

UN Women also works to integrate the voices of women into economic decision-making through forums such as the G20 and the G7. These forums are extraordinary opportunities to link women’s political and economic empowerment. Last year in Turkey, the W20 engagement group was officially launched. The W20 is a mechanism for the G20, which is the premier forum for economic cooperation among the world’s leading economies, to engage women’s leaders in conversations among central bankers, finance ministers and Heads of State.

We must ensure that national gender equality mechanisms and civil society organizations can participate effectively in these discussions so that political and economic empowerment work hand in hand.

We must recognize that although there are more women than ever before in history participating in politics, women remain significantly underrepresented as voters, candidates, elected representatives and electoral administrators worldwide. 

Today women remain largely excluded from the most senior decision-making positions within the executive government.

So then, what are the obstacles for women’s empowerment?

Institutional and structural constraints intersect with cultural and attitudinal barriers that limit women’s roles in public life, and result in their leadership being challenged in the home, the community and in the public realm. The persistent structural challenges holding up progress in the political arena include the following:

  • Political campaigns are expensive and women face greater difficulties in raising the necessary resources to finance them;
  • Social norms discourage women’s participation in many countries;
  • Political parties and informal political networks are male dominated;
  • Violence affects women who dare to speak up and participate in political life in every country in the world.

The effect of all these constraints is that today, only 17 countries have women as a Head of State or Government. Only 17 per cent of government ministers are women, and just over 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians are women. This means that nearly 80 per cent of the world’s parliamentarians are men.

While there has been progress over the past 20 years, we are still far short of the “gender balance” 50-50 target for women in political decision-making established by the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995. The bad news is that if barriers are not removed, it would take at least another 50 years to reach it.

But there are also structural constraints and attitudinal barriers, which inhibit women’s full and equal participation in the formal economy. As such, 75 per cent of women are trapped in informal and low paid jobs. The global gender pay gap is 24 per cent, which is a disadvantage that accumulates over women’s lifetimes and holds women back.

Women are also underrepresented in economic leadership positions. Women’s share of board seats at stock index companies is 19.2 per cent in the US, 20.8 per cent in Canada, 18.5 per cent in Germany, 22.8 per cent in the UK and 19.2 per cent in Australia. The average in Africa is 14.4 per cent, in the Asia Pacific region 9.8 per cent, in Latin America 5.6 per cent and in the Middle East 1 per cent.

Achieving a sustainable future, in which gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is realized—what UN Women calls “Planet 50-50 by 2030”—will not be impossible without advancing women’s political and economic leadership. 

2015 was marked by extraordinary gains, including the adoption of the SDGs and their far reaching aspiration for equality including gender equality and prosperity for all people on this planet—barring none.

2015 also revealed tremendous challenges where gender equality is concerned. Setbacks are witnessed where the growing discourse of violence, exclusion and hate, has placed women’s rights squarely in its crosshairs. We continue to witness the deliberate shrinking of civic spaces and the opposition to democratic, public debate and critique that is vital to women’s rights and social justice movements everywhere. Compounding this reality is increased regulation on access to funding, coupled with chronic underfunding and restrictions on women’s human rights organizations and movements.

Partnerships with civil society organizations such as the International Council of Women are going to be essential for the road to a 50-50 planet. The leadership and strength of the International Women’s Council and others in the transnational women’s movement will be critical to take us up the path towards gender equality, and aligning the strengths of all essential civil society actors is even more pertinent, particularly in the context of implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Implementation efforts will benefit from the experience and leadership of women’s rights and gender equality advocates at all levels, including in national parliaments, trade unions, cooperatives and community associations.

Now we must ensure that the Agenda is implemented—that governments deliver on their commitments, that civil society, including the strong and vibrant youth movements and young women leaders—work broadly and deeply with governments and other stakeholders to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

The women’s movement has historically played a crucial role in promoting reform, influencing policies, participating in monitoring and evaluation of indicators, upholding accountability and supporting the development of data and statistics. Now it is called to continue to support national mechanisms for gender equality, strengthen national and decentralized planning and policy formulation, implement programmes and projects, monitor progress on commitments across sectors and hold duty-bearers to account.

It is critical that the entire implementation effort contributes to the realization of gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment. CSW 60 is a unique opportunity to identify the key enabling conditions for the implementation of gender equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

CSW 60 must provide concrete guidance on how to translate the commitments into concrete steps and measures towards realizing ‘Planet 50-50’ by 2030. Civil Society has a critical stake in the full, effective and accelerated implementation of the SDGs.

CSW has also become a forum to link the agendas and accountability mechanisms for the SDGs to other commitments and agendas – including peace and security, climate justice, humanitarian, migration; and never losing the focus on the Beijing Platform for Action.

Let us seize the opportunity of the 2030 Agenda. Today, we turn to you again to drive home the urgency of Planet 50-50 by 2030, and to act decisively to achieve it. The stars are aligned, though the challenges may be many and grave in many parts of the world. We count on your new leadership to make this mission possible!

Thank you.