Speech: “Enabling empowered women to work equally in all the productive sectors”—Lakshmi Puri

Keynote speech by United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at 2017 APEC Public – Private Dialogue on Women and the Economy, Women Entrepreneurs Forum: She Means Business



Ladies and gentleman,

I thank our host, the Minister Dao Ngoc Dzung and Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) and the President of Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) who have convened this APEC Forum dedicated to advancing the role and contributions of women to the Asia – Pacific and to APEC’s work on growth and regional economic integration.

I salute Madame Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh, Vice President of State of Viet Nam and pay tribute to her, an eminent woman who has broken glass ceilings and pushed the frontiers of women’s critical role on leadership and decision-making.

It is my honour to be here in this esteemed conference, in the extraordinary city of Hue, Viet Nam. I am inspired to speak to so many champions of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

This APEC Public – Private Dialogue provides us an ideal platform to strategize on how to best contribute to unlocking “women power" in the world's most dynamic and consolidated economies that the APEC represents. This dynamism comes partly from the "women power" already being harnessed to deliver on the economic miracles this region has produced.

From all the women who have tilled the fields and grown crops to feed the people and export to others, those who have toiled in textile and garment and electronic factories and in ICT, knowledge and communication hubs, those who are in retail services or are part of a web of micro, small, medium and macro entrepreneurs - the APEC member economies have gained so much.

But this is not enough. The APEC member economies need to do more to empower women and girls in every way so that they realize their own potential and the APEC member economies in turn take full advantage of women power and the vast reservoir of capabilities they represent.

That is what She Means Business means—She with a capital S, embodies all the capabilities, resourcefulness and knowledge for not only Business but for the economic rejuvenation and redirection APEC member economies and the world needs.

It means enabling empowered women to work equally in all the productive sectors—agriculture, manufacturing, services and technology sectors, in the higher echelons and the horizontal and vertical aspects of value and supply chains; in trade and investment networks; in finance—not only micro-finance— and in entrepreneurship at the local, national, sub regional, regional and global level, scale and scope.

This is what I propose to you as government, as public sector and private sector enterprises of APEC to commit to. Only then will the APEC member economies reap the full harvest of gender equality and women’s empowerment force multiplier which is—today and forever—the most promising, untapped and highest return area of investment.

Women’s economic empowerment is the right and smart investment and also an indispensable one. For poverty eradication, for inclusive, sustained and rapid economic growth, for reducing inequality and leaving no one behind and for the sustainable development of all as promised in 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with this grand regional constellation and partnership of APEC member economies as a leader! If not done, then our individual and collective sustainable development future will be jeopardized.

She Means Business says much else. Empowering women economically, fully deploying their productive energies and enhancing their purchasing power is potentially the biggest emerging market of 3.5 Billion globally—most from the APEC member economies.

For universal and quality public service provision, for vibrant enterprises and businesses and for technology and innovation leaps, women are an essential, talent pool that can bring something special with value added to economies.

They are also a major part of the demographic dividend that we are in a privileged position to reap—with the largest youth cohort in history and in the APEC member economies. I believe that the APEC member economies are a macrocosm of this exponential “women power” of possibility. And that is what we should be strategizing about.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When we speak of women’s economic empowerment rating we refer to the Triple A criteria!

  • Do all women have equal Access to, ownership of and control over land, property, productive assets and resources;
  • Do all women enjoy economic Autonomy or full ability to freely assert their independence and make their life and career choices;
  • Do all women have equal and full opportunity to exercise their Agency, voice, participation and leadership in decision making in all economic areas in public and private sectors, in their communities and their homes.

These three dimensions should be interlinked and should guide the efforts made by all stakeholders to politically and financially invest in women’s economic empowerment and in unshackling their entrepreneurial prowess.

Global vision

Women’s economic empowerment is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which recognizes that women’s full and equal participation in the economy as a vital step toward achieving sustainable development.

This is embodied with the inclusion of a Sustainable Development Goal 5—a High Five—which seeks to ‘Achieve not just promote gender equality and empower all women and girls’ as well as a set of global targets to address many of the remaining obstacles to gender inequality, including on “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”.

The 2030 Agenda recognizes that achieving of SDG-5 would have a multiplier effect across many other SDGs, including on ensuring equal access to decent work and full and productive employment; on ending poverty; on food security: on universal health; on quality education; on reducing inequalities; and on promoting economic growth.

Also, the UN Secretary-General established the multi-stakeholder High-Level Panel (HLP) on Women’s Economic Empowerment in 2016, which presented to the General Assembly its final report containing a transformative vision that … efforts to promote women’s economic empowerment that emphasizes market-based approaches and economic gains must go hand in hand with enabling women to realize their rights. It has set out seven drivers and related actions for all to take and I would commend all of you to embrace these recommendations.

She means business when she is in business, when she can act on equal basis as men as an economic agent and when her productive value is fully recognized and supported.

She means business!!

In the full essence of the term, the expected gains are exponential and the business case is compelling:

  • The potential income gains from women’s economic empowerment are substantial, ranging up to the McKinsey Global Institute’s estimated 26 percent boost to annual global output by 2025- the current GDP of USA and China - 2 largest APEC economies put together;
  • Closing the gender pay gap could boost female earnings across the OECD by over $2 trillion;
  • If women and men have the equal access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets, the consequent 20-30 per cent increase in agricultural production on women’s farms could lead to 100-150 million less hungry people.

Yet, the evidence demonstrates also that there are consistent structural barriers to women’s entrepreneurship and economic empowerment.

  • According to the World Bank, in 155 out of 173 economies, at least one gender-based legal restriction exists on women's employment and entrepreneurship;
  • Some 70 per cent of women workers are employed or self-employed in informal jobs, which are insecure, unprotected and poorly paid;
  • Women are paid less than men for work of equal value with the global gender pay gap presently standing at 23 per cent;
  • Globally, women spend an average of 2.5 times more time on unpaid care work compared to men, which constrains their ability to dedicate time to paid work activities as well as their earning potential;

Trends in the APEC economies

APEC member economies are comprised of diverse economies. The World Bank Gender Statistics reveals that:

  • The number of women with bank accounts in APEC economies has increased compared to five years ago:
    • In APEC economies, an average of 73 per cent of women have an account at a financial institution—though this can range from 22 per cent to 99 per cent.
    • However, this figure has in nearly all economies increased, and in many economies the percentage of women with accounts is 10 per cent higher than five years ago. This is a good sign!
  • Yet, gender gaps in employment and entrepreneurship remain stagnant. This is something we need to address.
    • Only a handful of economies have more than 50 per cent of firms with female participation in ownership in APEC member economies.
    • The gender gap in labor-force participation rates is an average of around 18 per cent in APEC member economies—and that average has improved by an estimated 1 per cent in the last decade. Yet, in several economies the gap is more than 30 per cent.
  • Significant horizontal gender segregation:
    • In manufacturing, women cluster in the garment and footwear industry; in services, they cluster in trade, hotel and restaurants, education and paid domestic work which are lower paying sectors;
    • Vertical gender segregation with women clustered in lower skill, lower paid positions within sectors;
  • Women tend to shy away from debt financing compared to men:
    • In nearly all APEC member economies, men are more likely to borrow to start, manage and operate a business.
  • Consistent with global trend, the vast majority of women are stuck in informal employment:
    • As much as 75 per cent or more of women are engaged in informal employment in APEC member economies, which is often vulnerable with lack of access to social protection.
  • Women’s caregiver role has been identified as one of the reasons keeping women in informal economy.
    • Not only do they provide the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work in their own homes but are also majorly engaged in that work in low paid care economy - both formal and informal.

As the APEC economies are focusing on identifying challenges and opportunities to ensure sustained investment to support women’s economic empowerment, let us be reminded that efforts to promote women’s economic empowerment require market-based approaches and economic gains and incentives that go hand in hand with creating a deliberate ecosystem that enables women to realize their rights and level the capacity and opportunity playing field.

A call to action: The APEC 2017 Ministerial Declaration

APEC member economies recognize that the full potential of women’s contribution to the Asia-Pacific economy remains untapped and therefore women’s economic empowerment and greater inclusion of women in the regional economy are high on the APEC’s agenda.

I expect this to be reflected in the Ministerial Declaration resulting from this APEC 2017 Women and Economy Forum. The APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) must also embrace a transformative feminist vision.

UN Women is ready to assist APEC member economies in the full and accelerated implementation of the Ministerial Declaration. We can provide expertise, advocacy and technical advice in any of these three areas while ensuring alignment with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its principles of leaving no one behind and reaching the furthest first.

The 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women identified a Global Plan of Action – my colleagues at UN Women will circulate via email—to ensure women's right to decent work and full and productive employment and their rights at work. Drawing on its recommendations I would encourage the following concrete action points to be reflected in the implementation of three areas of the 2017 APEC Ministerial Declaration:

  1. Enhancement for sustainable, creative and overwhelming economic growth
  • Transforming the macroeconomic planning and framework through gender equality targeted and mainstreamed public investment, labour market policies and tax policies that generate sufficient resources for women's empowerment related investment.
  • Ensuring domestic and international tax policies to shape the domestic resource base for achieving equality in all APEC member economies, while recognizing that both the distributional impact of direct and indirect taxation and the overall level of tax revenues can either promote or inhibit women’s economic empowerment.
  • Increasing and enhancing allocation of ODA— bilateral, multilateral, by IFIs and development banks to gender equality and women’s empowerment and women’s economic empowerment and to track and monitor it.
  • Taking bold and innovative steps to value, recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work and invest in a quality paid care economy that creates over a billion jobs for women and men and provides necessary infrastructure and care services and liberates women's productive sector participation and leadership.
  • Improving the collection, analysis and dissemination of gender statistics and data on the formal and informal economy is critical to measure progress for women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.
  1. Improvement of competitiveness of women-owned micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises and enabling them to go macro and fostering women's organizations, cooperatives, self-help groups and professional associations.
  • Mobilizing public and private partnerships that would rise to the challenge of ensuring the adequate investment on women’s economic empowerment.
  • Securing strategic partnerships committed to promote market awareness of the potential for innovations that meet the needs of women as well as innovations developed by women.
  • Conducting gender assessments that analyze the opportunities and barriers for women entrepreneurs, identifying strategic sectors in which to focus, and supporting the development of financial services for women-business owners.
  • Leveraging procurement as a powerful tool to drive transformative gender equality results. Public procurement accounts for 15 to 30 per cent of GDP in countries representing a huge potential for market opportunities targeted to women entrepreneurs.
  1. Narrowing gender gaps in human resource development.
  • Removing all discriminatory laws against women, including through strong legal frameworks to advance gender equality in all areas, ensuring their full implementation, and monitoring their impact is a crucial prerequisite.
  • Applying all ILO standards and Conventions to women's right to decent work, and women's rights at work, creating conducive conditions and develop specific conventions including ending violence against women at the workplace.
  • Changing and creating positive gender equal social and cultural norms and removing conscious and unconscious bias in all spaces and places of work. For this I urge APEC member economies to join UN Women’s movement building campaigns of Planet 50/50 by 2030 - Step It Up for Gender Equality, HeForShe, and UNiTE to End Violence against Women.
  • Engendering of education, skills development, STEM education and capacity building to enable women and girls to participate as empowered agents in the fourth Industrial Revolution, new collar jobs, green economy entrepreneurship and new areas of trade and investment, as well as their facilitation and liberalization. Significantly increased investment in and transformative financing of "women's capital" development is imperative to enable women's economic empowerment and open innovative avenues of entrepreneurship.

APEC member economies individually and as a Grand trade, investment, business and economic cooperation partnership must and is poised to contribute vitally to a Planet 50/50 by 2030 and this is the determination this Forum should demonstrate and inspire.

More than ever before the challenges of sluggish economic growth, of the complementarity - competitiveness dis continuum, jobs crisis and tectonic shifts in supply and demand markets due to the tech revolution and overall questioning of globalization and traditional economic models demand a feminist response and solution. Women are a huge economic asset in the act of creation of a New Sustainable Economy, not only in that of a peaceful, just and harmonious societies.

We need to build on the famous tribute of Ho chi Minh, the first president of Viet Nam to women power—I quote: “With their heartfelt efforts, our women – both young and old – have built and woven the country of Viet Nam to make it even more beautiful”. Let us go further. Women bring not only heartfelt efforts and poetic beauty for nation building but amazing productive capacity and talent for remarkable results for economic prosperity of countries, of regions and the world. And they can do even greater when empowered and enabled!”

I thank you!