Introductory Remarks by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs at the Launch of the World Survey on the Role of Women in Development

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the launch of the 2009 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development. We are fortunate to have with us a panel of experts to introduce the different chapters of the publication. While I will introduce the experts before they make their presentations, allow me to thank all of you now for your active support to the development of the World Survey over the past year and for your presence here today.

The Department of Economic and Social Affairs – in particular, our Division for the Advancement of Women – has the honour to prepare the World Survey on the Role of Women in Development. Presented every five years to the Second Committee of the General Assembly, the World Survey provides an important opportunity to raise critical gender equality issues related to economic development. Our previous Surveys have focused on issues such as “Globalization, gender and work” (1999) and “Women and international migration” (2004).

The 2009 World Survey addresses the important theme of “Women’s control over economic resources and access to financial resources, including microfinance”. It illustrates the importance of examining women’s access to economic and financial resources in a broad sense. The scope covers resources generated at national level through budgets, trade, and development assistance; financial services, such as savings, credit, remittance transfers and insurance; employment and social protection; and land, property and other productive resources. The World Survey also points to the inter-linkages between different types of economic and financial resources.

The recognition that the economic empowerment of women is critical for the eradication of poverty, for economic growth and development, and for the wellbeing of families and communities lies at the heart of this year’s World Survey. The Survey builds on a number of important policy mandates on this front, from the UN conferences and summits on women and on financing for development to the Millennium Summit and the 2005 World Summit.

Despite these strong, comprehensive mandates, progress on women’s economic empowerment has been slow and uneven across regions. Long-standing inequalities in the gender distribution of these resources have placed women at a disadvantage in the ability to participate in, contribute to and benefit from broader processes of economic development.

Our panel of experts will elaborate the gaps in implementation of the mandates on increasing women’s access to and control over critical economic and financial resources. Let me just highlight some areas where significant gaps exist.

The structural constraints to women’s economic empowerment have been neglected in macroeconomic analyses and policies, and most of the equality-enhancing efforts undertaken have been carried out at micro-level.

Although women have increased their share of employment globally, in many parts of the world they are disproportionately represented in informal work. Such work is generally precarious, poorly paid and not covered by labour legislation or social protection. Occupational segregation and wage gaps persist in all regions.

In many parts of the world, women continue to face discrimination in access to land, housing, property and other productive resources, as well as the infrastructure, services and technologies needed to facilitate their effective use of those resources.

Women’s access to financial services, including savings, insurance, remittance transfers and credit, which is essential to allow them to fully benefit from economic opportunities, is often limited. And without access to the economic resources provided through social protection, many women are unable to insure themselves against contingencies arising from old age, ill-health, disability, unemployment and other life crises.

The theme of the World Survey is particularly relevant in the context of the current economic and financial crisis, which can exacerbate the existing constraints and challenges women face in many parts of the world in relation to resources. The crisis can also increase the risk of reduction in resource allocations to gender equality and women’s empowerment – resources which were already insufficient prior to the crisis.

Overall, the World Survey illustrates how the inequality between women and men in access to economic and financial resources represents a global challenge, with implications at individual, family, community and national level. The inequitable distribution of resources not only leaves half of the world’s population at risk; it also involves a significant economic and development cost which affects the wellbeing of us all.

The United Nations must demonstrate effective leadership in identifying and addressing discrimination against women in relation to economic and financial resources. Appropriate responses to the existing inequalities in this area will facilitate both the accelerated achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women and poverty reduction, sustainable economic growth and long-term prosperity for all.