International Women’s Day was this week. Costa Rica takes the lead in establishing progress.
Declaring that the empowerment of the world’s women is “a global imperative,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has announced the first-ever High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.
The establishment of the Panel, backed by the United Kingdom, the World Bank Group and UN Women, was proclaimed in Davos, Switzerland, the venue of the annual World Economic Forum (WEF), on January 21.
The announcement did not surprise observers: The UN’s fifth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5) envisages achievement of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls. And gender equality is one of the ten key global challenges the WEF has singled out this year for the four-day event concluding January 23.
“It will take another 118 years”
For the past decade, the World Economic Forum has been measuring the pace of change through the Global Gender Gap Report. With a decade of data, this edition of the Global Gender Gap Report – first published in 2006 – shows that “while the world has made progress overall, stubborn inequalities remain.” At this rate, “it will take the world another 118 years – or until 2133 – to close the economic gap entirely,” says the report.
This is because, as the report finds, despite an additional quarter of a billion women entering the global workforce since 2006, wage inequality persists, with women only now earning what men did a decade ago.
The global gender gap across health, education, economic opportunity and politics has closed by only 4% in the past 10 years, with the economic gap closing by just 3%, suggesting it will take another 118 years to close this gap completely.
Asking whether education is failing women, the report finds that the gap has widened in 22% of 145 surveyed countries since 2006 and, while more women than men are enrolling at university in 97 countries, women make up the majority of skilled workers in only 68 countries and the majority of leaders in only four.
The Nordic countries still dominate the Global Gender Gap Index. Ireland is the highest placed non-Nordic country, ranking fifth. Rwanda (6), Philippines (7) and New Zealand (10) are the only non-European countries in the top 10; and the United States falls eight places to 28th.
Making an Investment
On the other hand, research shows that women invest their income back into their families and communities, including in health and education. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that if women in every country were to play an identical role to men in markets, as much as $28 USD trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025.
But at present, women continue to earn less, have fewer assets, bear the burden of unpaid work and care and be largely concentrated in vulnerable and low-paying activities. Women spend more than twice as much time on unpaid care and domestic work as men and women on average are paid 24% less than men globally for the same work.
Moreover, 75% of women’s employment in developing regions is informal and unprotected. These gaps constrain women’s rights and hinder economic growth and productivity.
“A global imperative”
Significantly scaled up actions and political will are therefore considered necessary by the UN to ensure that governments, development organizations and others invest in the economic empowerment of women for the benefit of whole societies.
Against this backdrop, the High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment will provide thought leadership and mobilize concrete actions aimed at closing economic gender gaps that persist around the world.
In particular, it will give recommendations for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to improve economic outcomes for women and promote women’s leadership in driving sustainable and inclusive, environmentally sensitive economic growth.
The Panel will advise recommendations for key actions that can be taken by governments, the private sector, the UN system and other stakeholders, as well as policy directives needed to achieve the new targets and indicators in the SDGs that call for the economic empowerment of women.
According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announcing the establishment of the Panel:
“The empowerment of the world’s women is a global imperative.”
“Yet despite important progress in promoting gender equality, there remains an urgent need to address structural barriers to women’s economic empowerment and full inclusion in economic activity. If the world is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need a quantum leap in women’s economic empowerment,” Ban said.
Costa Rica Takes the Lead
The Co-Chairs of the Panel are Luis Guillermo Solis (President of Costa Rica) and Simona Scarpaleggia (CEO of IKEA Switzerland). They will be joined by the leaders of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group, UN Women and a diverse range of eminent gender and equality actors, economics experts, academics, trade union leaders, business and government representatives from all regions.
The Panel will be supported by an independent Secretariat, hosted by UN Women with backing from the UK Government.
UK International Development Secretary Justine Greening, a founding member of the Panel, welcomed its launch. She said:
“I am hugely proud to be a part of this Panel. Investing in girls and women isn’t just about basic human rights, it’s about fully unlocking the potential of half the world’s population. The UK is already at the forefront of this effort.”
She added: “At the Department for International Development I have put improving the lives of girls and women at the very heart of our work and Britain is successfully leading the fight against FGM and child marriage, as well as getting girls into school and women into jobs. Strong economies need the contribution of everyone – including women – and this panel will spearhead a movement to put women’s economic empowerment on the global agenda like never before.”
Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President, also a founding member of the Panel, stated: “The World Bank Group is strongly committed to gender equality, which is integral to ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Our new Gender Equality Strategy puts a much sharper focus on economic empowerment.”
He added: “No society, community or economy can achieve its full potential – or meet the escalating challenges of the 21st century – until all its people can achieve theirs. We are pleased to partner with the UK’s Department for International Development and the United Nations in convening this important panel, whose work will accelerate progress towards the goals we share.”
The High-Level Panel will help tackle gender gaps in economic opportunities and outcomes which persist around the world, building on the growing evidence and recognition by governments and the private sector that women’s economic empowerment has a multiplier effect and boosts whole economies.
The High-Level Panel will have its inaugural meeting during the 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in March 2016. A series of regional consultative meetings will also take place, and the Panel’s first report with action-oriented recommendations will be issued in September 2016.