10 March 2011
Deputy Secretary-General

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Deputy Secretary-General Marks First Anniversary of Women’s Empowerment Principles


with Call for Scaled-up Private Sector Support for Female-Owned Businesses


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s closing remarks to the event marking the one-year anniversary of the Women’s Empowerment Principles, 9 March, in New York:

I am so inspired by this gathering, I am thinking of starting a business!

My product has been through all the tests.  It is resilient.  It has enormous untapped potential.  And it is the most cost-effective product you will ever find.  Even a little investment is guaranteed to bring a huge return.

My “product”, ladies and gentlemen, is the economic power of the world’s women.

Indeed, women have a proven ability to drive economic growth and social progress in communities, countries and companies.  Or, as the Global Compact and UN Women put it: Equality Means Business.

I commend all of the companies that are putting these principles into practice.  Empowering women is not just the right thing to do — it is the smart thing to do and it is good business.

For example, a jewellery company in India was reaching out to women in the community by giving them laundry to wash so they could get income.

A non-governmental organization approached this company and suggested that they go even further by providing the women with training and equipment.  The company decided to give it a try.  Instead of just giving the women laundry to wash, they taught them how to produce goods.  The results were so good that the company is now replicating the success in other locations.

Helping women in this way also helps children.

Globally, a quarter of the world’s families rely on a woman to survive.  Another quarter is supported primarily by women.

In West and Central Africa, women who work as traders support an average of three children.  On top of that, they typically take care of three more dependents.  They also generally employ at least one other person.  These women do all this under conditions that would discourage most entrepreneurs.  No access to credit.  Poor infrastructure.  Authorities who are at best aware of their daily plight, and at worst crippling their business with overly bureaucratic regulations.

Economists increasingly acknowledge that female-owned businesses make a major contribution to the global economy.  But this message is not getting through to the private sector.

Of the top 13 multinational corporations that purchase over $1 billion each year from various suppliers, only 2.2 per cent of that capital goes to female-owned businesses.

I am not a corporate executive or a mathematician, but I can well appreciate what an impact we could have if we increased that number from 2.2 per cent to 22 per cent.  And even that would still amount to less than a quarter of what businesses owned by men receive.

However, we remain far from reaching this modest goal.  Nationally, on average, Governments and corporations do only about 5 per cent of their business with female-owned enterprises. 

There are reasons for this: female-owned enterprises tend to be small, scarce and scaled-down.  We understand these problems, but we also know the solutions.

They are spelled out right in the Women’s Empowerment Principles — Equality Means Business initiative.

Businesses that embrace these principles enable women to get ahead economically, and this, in turn, benefits all people.

But carrying out the principles does more than raise the bottom line.  It creates an environment that is better for the health of individuals, the strength of families and respect for everyone’s human rights.

Yesterday, we marked the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.  Today, we can give this milestone even more meaning by showing that Equality really does Mean Business.

That is why I am so happy to welcome you here today and why I have such high expectations about what you can achieve after you leave.

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For information media • not an official record