UN Women Executive Director’s remarks at the Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Summit

Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Summit (WEEGS) in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates


[As delivered]

The partnership between NAMA and UN Women has grown and strengthened; from its beginning in January, during the meeting of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Economic Empowerment, where we received excellent support; to seeing UAE step up as one of the champions who are implementing the recommendations of the Panel’s report. Today’s summit is an example of how members can carry on the Panel’s legacy so that this report is not sitting on the shelf; it is a live report that is being implemented.

The theme for this first Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Summit is women excelling in the economy, here and around the world, wherever they are. For women to excel in the economy we know that they need access to productive assets, to resources, to technology. We also know that decent work and the income that women receive is important, but in particular that women also deserve equal pay. The capacity to start and grow their own business as entrepreneurs is an important indication of how women are excelling in economies as mentors, sponsors, role models and mentees.

Support for changing the discriminatory social norms and stereotypes that segregate women into jobs with lower pay and limited opportunity for advancement also needs to be given attention, as these norms can hinder women’s effective participation and fuel violence. Women also need to live free from violence - free from fear - at home or at work, so that they can prosper without the stress that comes with living with abuse.

We know that if women played an identical role in labour markets to men, as much as $28 trillion dollars, or 26 per cent, could be added to the global annual GDP by 2025. This is a lot of money and a lot of impact on the world economy. By gathering today, we are trying to make this a reality. Yet, we know that there are constraints on women’s ability to participate equally and fully in the labour market. The women and men participating in the next session will be looking at how we can address this step by step.

One of the constraints that we do not recognize fully—and yet is important to address, especially now, because we are in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence—is the challenge of violence against women. The 16 Days campaign is about ensuring that we bring forth a world where women and girls live free from violence, and the UNiTE campaign’s official colour, orange, is about this brighter future that we aspire to.

Our campaign’s theme this year is “Leaving No One Behind”. We are talking about not forgetting about women and girls who are trafficked; we are talking about not forgetting women and girls who live with domestic violence; about not forgetting girls and women who are disabled, and therefore are hidden when they experience violence; about women and girls who are bullied in cyberspace; about older women who experience violence; and about domestic workers who are experiencing violence. All of these women have a contribution to make in the economy, and together here today we want to look at different ways in which we can empower those women.

Not only is violence against women a horrible human rights violation with enduring consequences for women, it also constrains economies from growing. In some countries, the average impact of this violence is 3 per cent of GDP, and in many parts of the world this is not always acknowledged or even understood.

Let me turn back to the High-Level Panel of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which gave us the report on women’s economic empowerment. In this report, we highlighted seven key drivers that can propel women’s economic empowerment. These drivers, which create positive change, include changing norms in support of women’s economic empowerment; ensuring legal protection and reform of discriminatory laws and regulations—so that we do not have laws that discriminate against women; recognizing and reducing and redistributing unpaid care work; building assets including through women’s digital and financial inclusion and ownership of property and skills development; changing business culture, including encouraging business to sign up to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, which include the principle of encouraging corporate procurement from businesses that are owned and run by women.

Improving procurement from women is one way of encouraging and building businesses that are owned by women. As we speak, globally, only one per cent of goods that are procured from the private and public sectors are procured from women-owned businesses. UN Women, working with different partners, has established a platform called “Buy from Women”. Through this platform, we are encouraging enterprises to buy from women, but we are also supporting women to produce goods that can be sold and procured by different buyers and markets.

Another way in which we are supporting women’s economic empowerment in UN Women is through a movement that is called “HeForShe”. It encourages men to stand for gender equality so that when we have a glass ceiling, the man removes it so that the women do not have to shatter all the glass themselves. This is about making sure that when women at the grassroots level are unable to rise higher in their business activities because of wages that are very low, the men who participate in making decisions about the economy pay attention and support the improvement of women’s wages.

UN Women and its HeForShe campaign work with the private sector, with Heads of State and with universities, with youth and with ordinary men. In the private sector, the support we have seen from the companies that are part of the HeForShe movement has included support for equal pay and support for parity and equal participation of women in decision-making bodies of businesses, because it has also been shown that where you have gender diverse decision makers in the private sector, businesses become even more competitive.

PwC, for instance, who is one of our HeForShe IMPACT Champions, has been able to increase its women in leadership at a global level from 18 per cent to 47 per cent just in one year. This shows that when they tried harder, they were able to draw in women who were already in the pipeline. AccorHotels, another Champion, achieved 25 per cent female leadership within a period also of two years. Similarly, Vodafone Instant Network Schools is being supported by Vodafone whose commitment includes supporting girls’ education. Through this support they are reaching 43,000 students and 600 teachers in 31 refugee camps every month. And in their intervention, they are paying particular attention to women. We know that, even if women are displaced by war and conflict, education would enable them to cope better in a difficult world.

So today, I also want to thank NAMA, as our partner, and P&G, for having collaborated with us to support the pulling together of a flagship programme that is focusing on stimulating equal opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

We want to thank also the Department of Foreign Affairs in UAE for assisting and guiding us to make sure that this initiative, which will lead to job creation for women, will come to fruition. We look forward to the last steps of finalizing this initiative so that when we come here next, we will be able to present to you the women entrepreneurs who have participated in this initiative.

I look forward to a successful one and a half days and the many ideas we are going to share tomorrow.