Speech: “Women’s economic empowerment and financial inclusion remain unfinished business”—Åsa Regnér

Remarks by UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Åsa Regnér, on Women’s Economic Empowerment and Financial Inclusion at Group of 77 and China, UNDP and UN Women.

Date: Friday, June 29, 2018


Dear colleagues and friends,

Thank you for inviting me to this timely panel discussion.

Women’s economic empowerment and financial inclusion have been recognized as key to achieving the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development.

In the words of Nada Marković, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who works with the organization "Maja Kravica”, which seeks to empower women from rural communities:

“Far away from the capital, women don’t have many job opportunities. They have to create opportunities for themselves to become breadwinners. We support them in making their own decisions, developing their own business plans, facilitating their access to capital, financial services, goods and equipment. As they build their businesses, they also build their confidence and can exercise their rights better.

Nada’s words touch on what makes women’s economic empowerment and financial inclusion critical for gender equality.

And let me emphasize: Economic empowerment is about women being confident about themselves, to be able to earn an income and manage their own finances, build their financial security and increase their influence over the household budget.

Economic empowerment is about women claiming and holding the power to make their own decisions, to stand up for their rights and say no to violence, discrimination and harmful traditional practices.

Economic empowerment is also about women being able to decide if, when and who to marry; if and when to have children — and how many; be able to leave a violent relationship and how to save or spend their money.

And as women typically invest a higher proportion of their earnings in the health and welfare of their families and communities than men, women’s economic empowerment is also about ensuring increased economic productivity, improved development outcomes for the next generation, and about making institutions and policies more representative.

However, women’s economic empowerment and financial inclusion remain unfinished business, with no country having achieved gender equality and women still being more likely than men to live in poverty.

Allow me to elaborate on some of the facts of that unfinished business that should be of particular concern to all of us:

  • Women are more likely to be unemployed than men.
  • In 2017, the global labour force participation rate for women stood at just over 49 per cent, which is nearly 27 percentage points lower than the rate for men.
  • More women than men work in vulnerable, low-paid, or undervalued jobs. Women remain overrepresented as contributing family workers and in informal work.
  • Globally, women continue to be paid less than men. The gender wage gap is estimated to be 23 per cent meaning that women earn 77 per cent of what men earn.
  • Gender inequalities in employment and earnings mean that women have lower incomes, leading to income insecurity over the lifecycle.
  • Also, in many societies men continue to claim ownership of and control over productive resources and assets such as property, inheritance and land as well as financial resources.
  • Thus, women frequently do not have the collateral necessary to seek out loans from the formal financial sector business.
  • Also, in many countries girls and women outpace their male peers at nearly all educational levels, they continue to face discrimination in the labor market, including in the financial sector, and lower rates of upward mobility than men and a persisting pay gap.
  • These factors combined with discrimination against women in financial markets mean that women are far less likely than men to have checking or savings accounts in their own names.

The international community is committed to supporting the efforts governments are making to advance women’s economic rights.

In 2016 the Secretary-General established the High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, which brought together eminent leaders from government, business, civil society, and the UN system.

The High-Level Panel laid out several principles for a transformative agenda for women’s economic empowerment

  • No woman left behind. The focus must be on women at the base of the economic pyramid, regardless of their characteristics or circumstances.
    • Leaving no one behind is a key principle of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and it includes the 1 billion people still living in extreme poverty.
    • Leaving no one behind also includes half of women in developing economies who, according to the World Bank’s Global Financial Inclusion (Global Findex) database, still did not have formal financial accounts as of 2014.
  • Nothing done for women without women. Women’s voice and participation on equal basis as men must be central to all actions. The evidence from the 2016 World Bank Group’s ‘Women, Business, and the Law’ Study is eloquent in this regard:
    • Findings include that about 90 per cent of the 173 economies covered in the study had at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities.
    • In some countries women continue to face restrictions to open a bank account being required to provide specific permission or additional documentation that is difficult (or even impossible) to obtain.
    • Restrictions on whether property is titled in a women’s name can also impede access to finance since titled land is often a preferred form of collateral among banks.
    • Also, women are less likely than men to have the identification documents needed to open formal financial accounts.
  • You may agree this is critical area where bold action is a must!
  • Equal focus on rights and gains. Enabling women’s economic empowerment is not only the “right” thing to do. It is also the “smart” thing to do for women to fulfil their human rights and access equal opportunities than men. It is also good for human development, for inclusive growth as well as for prosperous business.
    • By providing opportunities for women to work, to lead, to have access to finances, credit, technologies and markets, they are likely to expand their businesses and contribute effectively to sustained economic growth and development.
  • Tackle root causes. Gender inequality in the economy is rooted in and reinforces gender inequality in society. Attitudinal change is a game changer. Indeed, addressing adverse social norms and all forms of discrimination could be leveraged as a vehicle for gender equality.
  • Deliver globally. This is a global agenda. While the challenges and solutions vary, action is needed in every country.
  • Recommendations from the High-Level Political Forum include:
  • Support and strengthen the implementation of inclusive growth strategies.
  • Promote employment creation and the enhancement of existing livelihoods.
  • Recognize and value unpaid care work which disproportionately in on women and girls shoulder as a direct cause of the persistence of gender inequality and the denial of women’s and girls’ rights.
  • Devote adequate resources for women’s economic empowerment, including through financing for development mechanisms.
  • Strengthen sex-disaggregated data collection, analysis and use to inform evidence-based economic policymaking. And to always have a gender perspective on it.

I leave these points for you, distinguished delegates and esteemed colleagues, to consider over the next two days. 

I wish you productive and fruitful sessions.

I thank you