“Sustainable development is not possible if feminization of poverty continues” — Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 W20 Meeting on 24 May, 2016.


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Your Excellency, Vice President of the People's Republic of China,
Your Excellency, President of the All-China Women’s Federation Shen Yueyue, 
Your Excellency, Minister Song Xiuyan, 
Your Excellencies - the Gender ministers,
Leaders from Academia, civil society organizations, businesses from G20 countries and beyond,

It is with great pride and privilege that UN Women participates in this important meeting of the W20 engagement group of G20 in the beautiful city of Xi’an which has been the cradle of the magnificent Chinese civilization and symbolizes at once economic vibrancy, technological innovation and cultural brilliance as we saw last night. It also was the starting point of the famed Silk Road and promises to herald another prosperous age—Chang' and for all.

The G20, which to us is a macrocosm of the world in terms of economic and political weight and diversity of development stages and experience, is therefore well placed to take on the mantle of being the crucible for instigating the groundbreaking gender equality compact adopted last year in the Beijing + 20 Political Declaration, the Financing for Development outcome-Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA), the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Climate Change Agreement and CSW 60 Agreed Conclusions this year with a particular focus on women's economic empowerment, financial inclusion and empowerment too.

The G20 made a clarion call for the prioritization of sustainable development in global economic governance. China has the world’s largest youth population. At UN Women, we work with young women and men in achieving gender equality and I am very happy to share that we have launched our global strategy on youth and gender equality.

China, as President of the G20 in 2016, is well placed to deliver on this commitment, leaving no one behind and ensuring women’s economic empowerment is at the heart of the agenda. As President Xi Jinping said at the historic and Herstoric Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment held at Heads of State and Government level and co-convened with UN Women on the occasion of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): “Development cannot be achieved without women, and its benefit must be shared by all people, women included.”

The G20 has a powerful role to play in exhibiting leadership in the outreach and inclusion of women in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of economic and financial policies at all levels—cascading from the global, regional, national and local, and in the gender-responsive implementation of all SDGs, especially those that impact and benefit women's economic empowerment.

The W20 has both the opportunity and the responsibility to hold the G20 accountable for its commitments to the gender agenda. President Erdogan was clear in his speech at the inaugural W20 Summit in 2015: “High-quality growth means more jobs, higher life standards and fairer distribution of wealth. The W20 has a great responsibility to contribute and offer suggestions to the G20 in all these areas.”

W20 members may now wish to consider follow-up on those commitments. How are we engaging with Member States in the adoption of W20 recommendations? Is there tracking of progress on G20 commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment? What actions could be undertaken between now and the Leaders’ 2016 Summit in Hangzhou to ensure key aspects from the W20 Communique are reflected in the Hangzhou Summit Declaration? Consider not only the topics as policies, but the means by which we can advocate the integration of gender perspectives in the deliberations of the G20 itself and thereafter in the Leaders’ Declaration; and subsequently in projects and policies developed under the aegis of the G20.

China, as chair of the G20, has called for the theme of an “innovative, invigorated, interconnected and inclusive global economy.” Can we imagine any of these without women's empowerment and their full potential? The gender equality dividend—being realized as the biggest emerging economy, market labour force and talent—the All-China Women’s Federation have incorporated these four pillars in the agenda for the W20 Summit today, and in the draft W20 Communique as an outcome of this meeting:

  • Gender Perspective in Global Economic Governance;
  • Women’s Employment and Entrepreneurship and Social Protection;
  • Women’s Role in the Digital Economy;
  • Interconnected and Innovative Women’s Network.

Let us consider each separately, from a substantive perspective. How we can scale up efforts by devoting significantly increased investment to close the gender gap as committed in the 2030 Agenda so that transformative financing and resources are provided for women’s economic empowerment commitments, and establish the role of the G20 in setting targets and indicators, gathering data, setting baselines for monitoring and building accountability for results.

First: Gender Equality Perspective in Global Economic Governance

Systemic gender inequality and discrimination reinforce cycles of poverty that disproportionately impact women. The figures are dismal and will persist unless targeted actions are taken to address yawning gaps.

  • The global gender wage gap has remains 24 per cent for almost twenty years.
  • The unpaid care gap, despite improvements in some countries, on average, women still do at least 2.5 times more unpaid care work than men.
  • The gap in decent work for women remains, with 75 per cent of women working in informal and low-wage conditions.
  • From a macroeconomic perspective, the impact of the global recession which was not gender-neutral and even as the global economy recovers, this “uneven recovery” is markedly patchier in terms of a lack of opportunities for women.

Surely in this context, the G20 with expertise in economics and finance, is best placed to identify paths to recovery which function to deliver growth and leave no one behind. Given the interlinkages between the G20 agenda and the SDGs, the G20 has examples of how SDGs’ targets are already being met in the national context. Such examples can guide the localization of SDGs, in a gender-responsive manner.

Second: Women’s Employment and Entrepreneurship and Social Protection

Goal 8 of the SDGs is to “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.” Target 8.3 is to “Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services.” We have excellent examples from G20 Member Economies where these commitments are being realized in a gender-responsive manner; or where research has been undertaken that illuminates a path.

For example, in Turkey, UN Women partnered with UNDP and ILO in the production of a study on infrastructure in 2015. According to the study, social investment of 1.3 per cent of GDP in the care economy will create new employment for 719,000 people, with 73 per cent going to women. An equivalent public investment in physical infrastructure results in only 272, 000 new jobs with only 6 per cent going to women. This type of investment in the care economy would also result in 3.27 million new spaces for young children in pre-school education programmes thereby bringing the rate of early childhood education to the average level of OECD countries.

Such knowledge could be applied and replicated within the G20 membership. It can also be adapted to G20 support for developing countries. For example, initiatives under the Global Infrastructure Hub could apply lessons learned from the study undertaken in Turkey, to ensure interventions that both deliver on G20 commitments, and Goal 8 and Goal 5 of the SDGs. Job creation and income generation is at the heart of much of the work of the G20. Steps must be taken to realize the wisdom of President Xi, and I will repeat his words, recognizing that “development cannot be achieved without women, and its benefit must be shared by all people, women included.”

Third: Women’s Role in the Digital Economy

The third priority area on our agenda is “Women and the Digital Economy.” The G20, under China’s leadership, has placed innovation in both science and technology and in institutions as the headline global policy coordination imperative in 2016. Enabling and encouraging women to enter science, technology, engineering and the math fields, and mobilizing technology to support women entrepreneurs to access new markets is critical for women’s economic empowerment. Efforts to leverage the digital economy for development needs to be coupled with ensuring women’s access to and control over basic elements underscoring the digital economy, such as access to affordable, reliable internet (Goal 9) and the financial means to leverage opportunities such as e-commerce.

The G20 can directly impact financial inclusion matters, not only in terms of women’s access to finance and financial literacy, but through their active inclusion on global financial decision-making. When we talk about innovation, we also need to be cognizant of creative approaches required to ensure women’s participation in such dialogues and decision-making processes.

Fourth: Interconnected and Innovative Women’s Network

Interconnected and innovative women’s networks—this exactly describes the W20 and we unite in strengthening our role and voice in the G20. To achieve this, gender ministries and government representatives must be better linked to the W20 and to networking with other engagement groups of G20, such as the youth, business, labour, etc. This means that state action through laws, policies and measures to support women's economic empowerment must be supported by solidarity movement building at all levels and by all stakeholders owning and actively driving this agenda.

In terms of making progress on substance, the W20 has already acknowledged mechanisms that deliver progress. In Istanbul, we called on the G20 to foster gender equality and women’s empowerment in the private sector. We noted companies should join and implement the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) and consequently report on the progress. The utility of such action is to embed practice in an existing framework with an accountability mechanism in place. Iterative annual calls matched with follow-up and reporting can spawn a movement within G20. UN Women can assist in setting up a W20 private sector WEPs Task Force to undertake an annual review of progress, if requested in the Communique, calling for annual action by corporations active in G20 member economies.

There is increasing appetite, at the highest levels, for corporations, governments and civil society organisations to take action on women’s economic empowerment. The UN Secretary-General established a High-level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment in January this year. Consisting of influential leaders from academia, trade unions, business, and government, the panel is working under the leadership of Mr. Luis Guillermo Solis, President of Costa Rica and Ms. Simona Scarpaleggia, CEO of IKEA Switzerland, as co-Chairs of the Panel, to galvanize political will to scale-up actions that support women’s economic empowerment. The Executive Director of UN Women is a panellist as well as Elizabeth Vazquez, CEO of WEConnect International, who is with us here today. The panellists identified six major areas of focus: eliminating legal barriers to female economic empowerment; addressing the care economy; reducing gender pay gaps; expanding opportunities for women who work informally; promoting financial and digital inclusion for women; and fostering female entrepreneurship and enhancing the productivity of women-owned enterprises. The Panel is hosting consultations and actively seeking input, particularly in the form of case stories profiling policies and practices that are delivering on women’s economic empowerment. This will inform the reports of the Panel to the UN Secretary-General.

In the interest of engaging you, and securing your input to the deliberations, I will speak on this in Session Four tomorrow. To close on the topic of innovation and interconnection, the Panel is using EmpowerWomen.org, UN Women’s technological platform and business hub, to facilitate their work. It is a point of connection for women engaged in economic empowerment, across the globe and is accessible in many of the languages spoken in G20 member economies. Such platforms play an important role in highlighting good practice as a form of demonstrating that progress is possible.

Accountability mechanisms

In terms of achieving progress, the W20 must be a forceful advocate for G20 countries to implement commitments. G20 members have concomitant obligations to advance and finance gender equality, and women’s economic empowerment, including under the SDGs and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. The latter provides a framework for public and private financial flows and trade to work in favour of sustainable development as well as recommends transformative actions to ensure women’s equal rights, access and opportunities for participation and leadership in the economy.

These commitments were again echoed at the UN Commission on the Status of Women this year, where Member States recognized that women play a vital role as agents of development and acknowledged that realizing gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is crucial to making progress across all Sustainable Development Goals and targets. The Commission further stressed that the achievement of full human potential and sustainable development is not possible if feminization of poverty continues, if women and girls continue to be denied the full realization of their human rights and opportunities. It was also acknowledged that the full, effective and accelerated implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action will make a crucial contribution to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that will leave no one behind.

The commonality of commitments entered into at the global level by individual Members States, such as the SDGs, and the AAAA, should serve to expedite delivery on commitments entered into collectively as G20. For example, in 2014, the G20 committed to reducing the gap in labour force participation rates between men and women by 25 per cent by 2025. Together, this commitment and those under the AAAA, should bring with sufficient resource mobilization to achieve the desired result of bringing more than 100 million women into the labor force within ten years. Will it do so?

The G20 must not only invest adequate resources in gender equality and women’s empowerment from all sources—domestic public, ODA, private and innovative, but also in the development of effective regulatory environments to ensure public resources and tax revenues are channeled toward those who need it most—to bring in the last woman, the last girl.

The W20 has a role to play, to step up as a monitoring body, to push for the tracking of resource allocation and expenditures, by gender and to support governments in implementing gender-responsive budgeting.

As you implement the 2030 Agenda with particular attention to women's economic empowerment and your own commitments and targets, we call upon you all to advocate and work for G20 countries to take action along the vectors of the ten ‘I’s: 

  • Inspiration: from normative commitments on gender equality and economic empowerment.
  • Indivisibility: horizontal and vertical targets and SDGs.
  • Integration: gender equality integration and mainstreaming and an all of government, all of society and all of G20 approach.
  • Implementation: adoption of laws, policies, measures to download commitments and create examples of excellence for the world in full, effective and accelerated implementation.
  • Information: drive a new robust value chain of gender statistics, gender equality indicators, measuring, monitoring and accountability for progress.
  • Institutions: support, empower and resource gender equality and women’s empowerment institutions, but also gender-sensitize all other key institutions critical for women’s economic empowerment.
  • Investment: significantly increase investment in scale, scope and quality from all sources in women’s economic empowerment projects.
  • Innovation: gender equality and women’s empowerment is quintessentially about social, economic and political innovation through creative means.
  • Inclusion: involve civil society, socially responsive and accountable private sector, academia, media and people in the implementation and follow-up.
  • Impact: real results on the ground of and for women's economic empowerment for all women in their diversity of circumstances.

This is an exciting moment in history, the first year of the implementation of the SDGs. There is much we can learn from each other, and the G20 as a leading economic, financial cooperation and coordination group of our time has a signal responsibility. Whilst the G20 has and must have its stated commitments, it must also be a global engine for the full, effective, accelerated and gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda, of SDG 5 and all other SDGs that have a bearing on women's economic empowerment. It’s a no brainer as Amartya Sen puts it, that in order to achieve the innovative, invigorated, interconnected and inclusive global economy foreseen by China under their Presidency of the G20, gender equality and women's empowerment must be prioritized. Let this meeting in Xi’an mark progress in ensuring accountability for the inclusion and empowerment of women and for a Planet 50/50 by 2030 in planet economy and planet finance.

Thank you.