‘INVESTING IN WOMEN IS NOT ONLY THE RIGHT THING TO DO; IT IS THE SMART THING TO DO’, SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL AS UNITED NATIONS MARKS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

6 March 2008
OBV/684-WOM/1674

‘INVESTING IN WOMEN IS NOT ONLY THE RIGHT THING TO DO; IT IS THE SMART THING TO DO’, SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL AS UNITED NATIONS MARKS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

6 March 2008
Meetings Coverage
OBV/684 WOM/1674
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Observance of International

Women’s Day

 ‘INVESTING IN WOMEN IS NOT ONLY THE RIGHT THING TO DO; IT IS THE SMART THING TO DO’,

SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL AS UNITED NATIONS MARKS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

South Africa’s Public Service Minister, Goldman Sachs Chairman Also Speak;

High-Level Panel Addresses Theme for Observance:  Investing in Women and Girls

As the United Nations observed International Women’s Day today at Headquarters, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that investing in women was not only the right thing to do, it was the smart thing to do.

Gender equality was both a goal in itself and a prerequisite for reaching the millennium targets, he said, adding that empowered women brought new perspectives to decision-making and increased the chances of education and employment for the next generation.  “And when women have access to finances, credit, technologies and markets, they are likely to expand their businesses and contribute effectively to sustained economic growth and development,” he said.

Governments were increasingly creating an enabling environment for investing in women, the Secretary-General said, noting that more than 50 countries had introduced gender-sensitive budgeting and many were abolishing laws that prohibited women’s access to land, property ownership, credits and markets.  The United Nations was doing its part by setting policies and strategies for gender equality and development financing, while generating commitments from Member States, international organizations, civil society and the private sector.

“And yet, we still have a long way to go,” he said, stressing that women were still severely hampered by discrimination, lack of resources and economic opportunities, limited access to decision-making and gender-based violence.  All stakeholders must calculate the economic costs of persistent gender inequality, and the resources required to remedy it, he said, calling for a major scaling up of investments in women and girls, the creation of mechanisms to regularly track investments in gender equality, as well as good governance, gender-sensitive budgets and creation of transparent, stable and predictable investment climates to promote women’s employment and productivity, among other things.

“For my part, I will work to strengthen the UN Secretariat’s own gender machinery.  In my revised estimates for the 2008-2009 programme budget, on improving delivery of mandates for development activities, I propose to almost double the staffing of the Office of my Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women.”  Further, he announced plans to significantly increase the resources of the Division for the Advancement of Women, and he called on Member States to successfully conclude consultations to consolidate resources currently scattered among several structures into one dynamic and strengthened gender entity.

Following the Secretary-General’s remarks, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketti, Minister for Public Service and Administration of South Africa, said it was important to remain cognizant of the enormous frustration women felt at the lack of commitment and accountability to development goals and gender equality commitments.  While women played an integral role in community development, resources of development projects had been redistributed mainly to men through patriarchal land-reform processes.

Imports from Western and Asian markets had weakened African women’s economic independence, and gender-specific conditions were still limited in the technical and financial support provided as part of official development assistance (ODA) in southern Africa, she said.  Investment in women could change the current trajectory of the combined threats of underdevelopment, poverty, violence, environmental degradation, ill health, and conflicts over natural resources.  But, to achieve that, international partners must harmonize and align programmes and simplify funding requirements, as well as support legislation and policy frameworks to protect vulnerable women.  Gains made should not be rolled back.

Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., agreed, saying there could be no sustainable development if half the world’s talent pool was stymied or underrepresented.  The connection between women and economic growth was extraordinarily powerful.  His company’s “10,000 Women” programme helped thousands of underserved women worldwide achieve their full potential by offering business management education.

Partnerships between universities in the United States and Europe and business schools in developing countries could open doors for thousands of women whose financial and practical circumstances prevented them from receiving a traditional business education, he added.  The partnerships also focused on capacity-building -- developing curricula, creating local case-study models and “Training the Trainers” to improve the level of faculty training and expertise, as well as increasing the overall quality of business education.

A high-level panel discussion followed on investing in women and girls.  Sabine de Bethune, a Senator of Belgium, highlighted her country’s efforts in that regard, including the passage of a gender equality law and creation of a commission on women in development, an advisory body that brought together men and women on gender issues.  By law, Belgium legislators now had to provide for and report to Parliament every two years on gender budgeting efforts.

Inez Murray, Vice-President for technical Assistance and Programmes of the Women’s World Bank network, said that targeting women with investment was necessary to help address gender equalities and was arguably a more efficient way to end poverty, as women tended to contribute a higher percentage of the earnings to households, spend more on children’s education and health care, and were generally more focused on saving and asset creation.

Muriel Siebert, founding Chairwoman, Chief Executive Officer and President of Muriel Seibert & Co., Inc. brokerage firm, said women must be taught to think of themselves as investors by acquiring knowledge about finances and financial matters that would help them breach the barricades of the male-dominated stock market.

And the final panel member, Zara Khatib, Technology Marketing Manager of Shell International, United Arab Emirates, said it was important for women business leaders to teach young women professionals and students about the business world.  Shell was doing its part through women’s mentoring networks and women’s career development programme, which helped women better understand issues affecting them in business, as well as develop strategies to balance professional and personal goals.

Rhonda Schaffler, anchor of the Bloomberg Network’s Open Exchange programme, moderated the panel.

Statements

Panel moderator RHONDA SCHAFFLER, anchor of the Bloomberg Network’s Open Exchange programme, said that today’s discussion on “investing in women and girls” was an important occasion to take stock of women’s gains and map future action to dramatically increase investments in women.  “Investing in women can make a world of difference -- for women themselves, their families, communities and whole nations,” she said, adding that such investment yielded higher productivity and faster economic growth, reduced poverty and provided returns for decades by reducing maternal and child mortality, and improving schooling and health care for children.

She went on to say that many commitments had been made to the world’s women by Member States, international organizations, civil society and the private sector.  But the gap between those commitments and practice in many countries remained enormous.  Lack of resources and insufficient budgetary allocations were among the most common challenges faced by the world in achieving gender equality.  The guests at today’s events would share their experiences and perspectives on what could be done to reduce that gap.

In opening remarks, United Nations Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON said that investing in women was not only the right thing to do; it was the smart thing to do.  “I am deeply convinced that in women, the world has the most significant, but untapped, potential for development and peace,” he said, adding that gender equality was not only a goal in itself, but a prerequisite for reaching all globally-agreed development goals including the Millennium Development Goals.

The success of microfinance testified to women’s credit performance, as the number of poor women receiving microloans had jumped from $10 million in 1999 to $69 million in 2005.  “And when women have access to finances, credit, technologies and markets, they are likely to expand their businesses and contribute effectively to sustained economic growth and development,” he continued. They also brought new perspectives to decision-making and increased the chances of education and employment for the next generation.

He said that Governments were increasingly creating an enabling environment for investing in women, with more than 50 countries having introduced gender-sensitive budgeting.  Many were abolishing laws that prohibited women’s access to land, property ownership, credits and markets.  They were also increasing investments in the social sector, expanding opportunities for employment, and enhancing access to education and new technologies.  They were also promoting women’s entrepreneurship and opening greater access to microcredit and microfinance.

At the same time, the United Nations had been playing a critical role in setting policies and strategies for gender equality and development financing, while generating commitments from Member States, international organizations, civil society and the private sector.  In 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action had called on the Organization to mobilize funding for gender equality from all sources and sectors.  Seven years later, the Monterrey Consensus recognized that gender equality was an essential element of good governance, and women’s empowerment as a key factor in economic development.

“And yet, we still have a long way to go,” he said, stressing that women were still severely hampered by discrimination, lack of resources and economic opportunities, by limited access to decision-making and by gender-based violence.  “All of us in the international community -- Governments, multilateral organizations, bilateral institutions and the private sector -- need to dramatically increase investments in women and girls.”

He said that all stakeholders needed to calculate the economic costs of persistent gender inequality, and the resources required to remedy it, and called for the creation of mechanisms for tracking investments in gender equality.  “We need to monitor and report resource allocations on a regular basis [and] to adjust domestic budgets, as well as international aid flows, to real needs, and ensure that they are sustained,” he said.

Proposing some strategies for investments, he said the international community should use public resources in ways that reduce the gender gap, including through good governance, gender-sensitive budgets and increasing women’s involvement in decision-making.  It should scale up the share of gender-related allocations in official development assistance (ODA), and create a transparent, stable and predictable investment climate to promote women’s employment and productivity, among other things.

“For my part, I will work to strengthen the UN Secretariat’s own gender machinery.  In my revised estimates for the 2008-2009 programme budget, on improving delivery of mandates for development activities, I propose to almost double the staffing of the Office of my Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women.”  When that proposal was greeted with enthusiastic applause, he said “Wait, there’s more,” and announced that he also planned to significantly increase the resources of the Division for the Advancement of Women.  “I hope this will be supported by the General Assembly as a tangible contribution to gender equality and development,” he said, encouraging the audience to “please applaud” the members of the Assembly as well.

In the longer term, he said he firmly believed that one dynamic and strengthened gender entity, consolidating resources currently scattered among several structures, would attract better funding from the donor community.  By mobilizing the forces of change at the global level, and inspiring enhanced results at the country level, such an entity would better advance the cause to empower women and realize gender equality worldwide.  “I urge Member States to muster the political will to bring the consultations on this issue to a successful conclusion,” he said.

As the international community passed the midpoint in the race to reach the Millennium Development Goals, he said “let us recommit to investing in the world’s women and girls as a way to reach our destination:  On this International Women’s Day, let us unite in this mission.”

GERALDINE FRASER-MOLEKETI, Minister for Public Service and Administration of South Africa, said it was an opportune time to reflect on the progress women had achieved in real terms and progress made by countries in meeting the Millennium Development Goals, as well as to deliberate on all strategic avenues explored to ensure financing for gender equality and women’s empowerment.  It was important to remain cognizant of the enormous frustration women felt at the lack of commitment and accountability to development goals and gender equality commitments.  That was a timely reminder of the challenges countries faced in addressing capacity-building programmes for women, which was a serious impediment to development.  HIV prevalence was highest in sub-Saharan Africa, adversely affecting women and girls.

She said women played an integral role in the development of a whole community.  Yet, development projects focused on development resources that had been redistributed mainly to men through patriarchal land-reform processes.  Introduction of goods from Western and Asian markets had weakened the economic independence of the African women.  Although, over the past few years, official development assistance (ODA) in southern Africa had provided technical and financial support in various initiatives, gender-specific conditionalities were still limited.

“We need a unique network of partners including government and non-governmental organizations, the business community, civil society organizations, the media, youth organizations, regional organizations and international development partners to ensure adequate investment in women,” she said.  Successful investing in women necessitated the creation of enabling and conducive environments for their active participation in political and decision-making levels.  As a successful investment in women, the South African parliament had one of the highest proportions of outspoken and committed women in the world.  South African women had successfully participated as peace negotiators in conflict-ridden African regions.

She said:  “As we join forces today in commemorating 99 years of the struggles of women for emancipation and equality, reaching beyond our normal operational levels, we search for a common thrust that will unite across disciplines, for the investment in women is a guaranteed return on investment.”  Investment in women could change the current trajectory of the combined threats of underdevelopment, poverty, violence, environmental degradation, ill health, and conflicts over natural resources.  To achieve that, international partners must harmonize and align programmes and simplify funding requirements.  There must be a supportive legislation and a policy framework to continuously protect vulnerable women.  Gains made should not be rolled back.  The struggle for adequate resourcing and capacity for gender machineries must continue, but the architecture and reform of those structures and institutions should be more vigorously addressed.

The final keynote speaker, LLOYD BLANKFEIN, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., said that if the business world had taught him one thing, it was that markets could not attain full value without investment.  In the context of today’s discussion, that lesson held true:  the international community must invest in women, because there could be no sustainable development if half the world’s talent pool was stymied or underrepresented.

He said that the connection between women and economic growth was extraordinarily powerful, and with that in mind, Goldman Sachs had announced just yesterday, its “10,000 Women” programme, which the company believed was a small but important step to help thousands of women achieve their full potential.  He said that the programme was a global corporate engagement initiative to deliver a business and management education to 10,000 underserved women around the world.  Through partnerships between universities in the United States and Europe and business schools in emerging and developing countries, the initiative also sought to have a lasting impact on the quality and capacity of business education in developing regions around the world.

He said that the initial partnerships would support pragmatic, flexible and shorter-term programmes, resulting in business and management certificates that could open doors for thousands of women whose financial and practical circumstances prevent them from receiving a traditional business education.  There would also be a select number of Master of Business Administration and Bachelor of Arts degrees conferred.  The partnerships would also place a strong focus on capacity-building -- developing curricula, creating local case study models and “Training the Trainers” to improve the level of faculty training and expertise, as well as increasing the overall quality of business education.

Giving some examples of the initiative’s reach, he said that the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and the American University in Cairo, Egypt, would work together to create a five-week certificate programme focused on professional leadership, management, and entrepreneurial skills including:  accounting, market research, marketing and accessing capital.  Another programme would see the Columbia Business School, Colombia University, and the University of Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania, build management capacity at the University by supporting curriculum development, faculty development, the creation of case study models and research projects.

Panel:  Investing in Women in Girls

SABINE DE BETHUNE, a Senator from Belgium, pointed to the delivery gap in the commitments countries had entered into and their ability and willingness to implement such commitments.  That was either due to lack of capacity or a lack of commitment, she said, adding that a lack of political will was likely the real problem.  There were five strategic areas that must be addressed through concrete action to achieve Millennium Development Goal number 3, which called for gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Donor States must create adequate institutional frameworks to make commitments mandatory and concrete.  Belgium had adopted a framework in 1999 that promoted equality between men and women and it had also adopted a global gender strategy.  Belgium had set up a commission on women in development, an advisory body that brought together men and women on gender issues.  By law, Belgium’s legislators now had to provide for and report to Parliament every two years on gender budgeting efforts.

The second strategic area was to provide policy resources for funding, she said.  The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had a gender equality marker, but Belgium had not enacted it in full.  Belgium, though, was making progress in that regard.  It was investing in cooperation and development projects, budgeting $43 million, or 2 per cent of official development assistance, in 2005 for gender development projects.  Development of a two-track policy was also necessary to give women, among other things, economic empowerment and better access to credit and agribusiness opportunities.  Further, a gender perspective must be integrated into development aid strategies and mechanisms.  She stressed the importance of focusing on follow-up to the Paris Declaration during the upcoming Accra conference and of providing technical assistance to enable countries to integrate gender budgeting into their Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers.

Women’s empowerment and economic self-sufficiency were crucial, she said.  That required full implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women and peace and security.  Belgium had shown great solidarity in helping women victims of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Belgium had contributed cooperation funds to the 2004-2007 joint programme of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to prevent and reduce gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.   Still, such efforts were not enough.  Some 52,000 women were victims of gender violence annually.  Humanitarian and reconstruction aid was indeed needed, but it was also necessary to end impunity.

Panellist MURIEL “MICKIE” SIEBERT, known as Wall Street’s “First Woman of Finance”, and founder, Chairwomen, Chief Executive Officer and President of the brokerage firm that bears her name, Muriel Seibert & Co., Inc., said that one way to invest in women and girls was by teaching them to envision themselves as investors.  Having spent her life in the investment and financial industries, she believed that part of the message that women themselves needed to convey was that women needed to “get out there and invest; first in ourselves, next in our local communities and then globally”.

The first step was acquiring the knowledge about finances and financial matters that would help women breach the barricades of the male-dominated stock market, she continued.  “There are few industries that had managed to hold up the firewall against equal participation as ferociously as this one,” she said, adding that strategies aimed at boosting investment in women’s empowerment must involve an aggressive effort to set examples of what was possible.  “I call on those of you who have advantages in education and upbringing that make working on Wall Street, or its equivalent in another city, a plausible career choice to consider getting out there and storming the financial markets,” she said.

“Show that it can be done, so that those less privileged can envision themselves making it as well,” she continued, calling on all women to establish a quorum of role models that other women could look to as “inspirations and practical mentors.”  She then went on to recount her long, difficult climb from being a $65-a-week trainee in research at Bache & Co. to becoming, in 1967, the first women to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.  Even after she bought her seat -- for a then near-record $445,000 -- she continued to face exasperating challenges.

For instance, during her membership ceremony she was the only new member not to receive a badge and scroll, which were required for compliance with the New York Stock Exchange.  It took her nearly a year -- and the appointment of a new Exchange Chairman -- to receive them.  And it took another two years before a male colleague pointed out that she didn’t have to keep going to the restroom on the sixth floor; there was a ladies room located on the floor of the Exchange.

She said it was three years before another woman joined the Exchange, and she did not last long.  “So for the majority of the first 10 years, there were 1,365 men and me.”  The sad thing was that women’s representation on Wall Street today was neither what it should, or could be.  Still, she was glad that the world had created more opportunities for women and minorities, and there were women on Wall Street today earning millions of dollars who had acknowledged her pioneering efforts and achievements.

Reiterating her call to action, she said that, because women like her had overcome obstacles to reach positions of power and influence, “we must approach these positions with a tremendous sense of responsibility […] if there’s going to be any equality between our male colleagues and ourselves, let’s make our male counterpoints look jealously at how much we’re willing to give back.  That can be a form of empowerment as well.”  Another way to promote women’s equality was for women to “go even further” and show they could be successful and contribute to the betterment of the world.

“We want to be able to work anywhere a man can for the same pay and receive the same opportunities,” she said, emphasizing that, by investing in women, countries would be able to use 100 per cent of their brain power.  By investing in themselves, women would become role models for other women and men who understood that women’s empowerment “is a victory for everyone”.

ZARA KHATIB, Technology Marketing Manager of Shell International, United Arab Emirates, said businesses like Shell had come a long way by embracing and recognizing the huge benefits of a diverse workforce with a high percentage of women.  Development of women at Shell was not an option; it was a business imperative.  It worked together with a wide range of partners to support the Millennium Development Goals.  In 2003, Shell launched the three-year women’s career development programme, which, through effective, efficient learning, helped women to better understand issues affecting them in business, as well as develop strategies to achieve their career and life goals by balancing work and social responsibilities.  The programme had been launched in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the United States, Asia, the Middle East and most recently in Africa.  Worldwide, Shell International had 15 employee networks for women, which set up mentoring programmes and offered learning sessions on various topics such as cultural differences between the sexes.

The networks helped to dispel myths about women’s performance, as well as celebrate women’s progress and teach them how to promote diversity and inclusiveness with their male colleagues, she said.  Talented women employees had made a difference by investing their time in the company, and the wider corporate environment, by acting as mentors, leaders and role models for young women professionals and students.  For example, during the annual education week, Shell introduced top senior students to the energy industry.  Educated, skilled and competent women were crucial in helping meet the current and future needs of the energy industry.  Businesses alone could not provide all the solutions to sustainable development and energy.  Multi-stakeholder partnerships were needed.

Intilaaqah, a Government-sponsored training programme, helped people, including older women, set up a business, conduct market research, prepare cash flows and financial forecasts, find a suitable location for their business, learn to use a computer and maintain proper filing systems, she said.  By the end of the training, the student had a workable business plan with which to seek funding from banks or Government bodies.  Shell and its partners helped recruit candidates for the programme, as well as provide project management and sponsor training workshops.  Hundreds of the programme’s graduates in Oman, Egypt, Libya, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had gone on to start their own businesses.  In 2002, Shell also introduced and co-launched an Emirates award to honour the contribution of business and professional women based on their leadership, future goals and financial performance, business, professional achievements, community contribution and innovation.

The final panellist, INEZ MURRAY, Vice-President for Technical Assistance and Programmes, Women’s World Bank, a global network of microfinance providers, said that the microfinance sector had enjoyed a 34 per cent annual growth rate between 1997 and 2005.  While those were the latest figures available, she said that, if her organization’s network was indicative, that trend was continuing apace.

The sector had been successful at targeting women through a combination of strategies, including group lending -- where borrowers co-guaranteed each other, negating the need for collateral since women were usually asset poor -- keeping loan sizes small, simplifying paperwork and targeting community centres and schools, and other places where women congregated.  She said that targeting women was arguably a “more efficient” way to end poverty, as they tended to contribute a higher percentage of the earnings to households; spent more on children’s education and health care, and were generally more focused on saving and asset creation.

She went on to say that such investment targeting was also necessary to help address gender inequalities and other barriers to entering or fully participating in markets.  “So, no matter where one lies on the political spectrum, targeting women makes sense, from a poverty alleviations perspective,” she said, noting that the Women’s World Bank tried to improve the impact on women and girls by offering them a range of financial services to help them cope with their lifecycle needs.

The Bank also stressed educating clients about financial management -- cash flow management and budgeting -- how to accrue and manage savings, and debt management.  It also stressed improving negotiating skills inside the household, which was crucial if poor men and women were to get out of poverty.  Finally, targeting girls for savings and financial literacy was also key, because instilling such discipline, including savings practice, early on in life could have a significant impact on lifetime financial security.

Discussion

Responding to a question on Belgium’s new law on gender equality, Ms. DE BETHUNE said gender mainstreaming under Belgium’s five strategic goals was done in parallel with annual gender budgeting.  For each budget, Parliament was required to submit a gender note linked to each department in order to quantify how much was invested for each goal.  The Institute of Equal Opportunity between Men and Women would next week begin training to make use of that mechanism, so that parliamentary oversight could be established and a substantive debate in Parliament could be held on the subject.

Another participant asked the speakers to provide guidance on where private-sector funds could best be spent to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.  In response, Ms. MURRAY said there were only 115 self-sustainable multilateral financial institutions in the world.  She encouraged investors to encourage real innovation in the sector, not just microcredit programmes for women.  It was important to change the rules to include social performance indicators, and not just financial performance indicators.

Ms. KHATIB said the private sector should provide education and project management, but investors must also support graduates who wanted to enter business.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.