Female Empowerment Would Unleash Potential to Chart New Global Future, Secretary-General Tells Commission on Status of Women

WOM/2106
13 March 2017
Sixty-first Session, 2nd & 3rd Meetings (AM & PM)

Female Empowerment Would Unleash Potential to Chart New Global Future, Secretary-General Tells Commission on Status of Women

Inclusive Economies Powerful Way to Break Cycles of Poverty, UN-Women Chief Says

From classrooms and boardrooms to military ranks and peace talks, the world was better off when the doors of opportunity were opened to women and girls in all aspects of productive life, Secretary-General António Guterres said today as he opened the sixty-first session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Organized under the priority theme “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work”, the two-week session will feature a plenary debate alongside a ministerial segment, expert panels and interactive dialogues on the review theme on “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls”.

In opening remarks, Mr. Guterres said his most important message today was one of gratitude to participants for raising their voices on behalf of women’s equality and dignity around the world.  “We need you more than ever,” he said, stressing that globally, women were suffering new assaults around their safety, with extremists building their ideologies around the subjugation of women and girls.

He went on to say that sexual violence, forced marriage, human trafficking and virtual enslavement were weapons of physical and psychological warfare in today’s world.  Some Governments had enacted laws that curtailed women’s freedoms, while others had rolled back legal protections against domestic violence.  “Attacks on women are attacks on all of us,” he said. “This is why we have to respond together.”

For the 830 women at risk of dying each day from childbirth-related causes, the 15 million girls forced to marry each year — and importantly, the nearly 1 billion women who would enter the global economy in the next decade — empowerment would unleash their potential to chart a new global future.  The United Nations would support women every step of the way.

Announcing that he would join the International Gender Champions campaign, he advocated a cultural shift — in the world and the United Nations — that recognized women as equal and promoted them on that basis.  In peacekeeping, he would ask Member States to move beyond current levels, where women comprised just 3 per cent of peacekeepers.  “We stand for a powerful truth:  women’s equality works for the world,” he said.  “Hold us to our promises.  Do not let us off the hook.”

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said the Commission was a barometer of progress being made towards a world free of gender inequality.  “Inclusive economies and a positive world of work are powerful ways to break repeating cycles of poverty,” she said.  Yet, with the global pay gap at 23 per cent, women were consistently earning less than men, she said, urging action to address that “daylight robbery”.

Antonio de Aguiar Patriota (Brazil), Commission Chair, called on participants to build on gains that had been made, including the 2016 road map for the gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The session must provide guidance on eliminating work-related structural barriers and ensuring that women took full advantage of new opportunities.  Men and boys must engage as gender advocates for transforming social norms, he said, which required challenging “rigid” notions of masculinity.

Manuela Tomei, Director of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Conditions of Work and Equality Department, said that, in many ways, the quest for women’s economic empowerment would be lost or won depending on how well women gained entry into the labour market.  A striking feature of today’s world was the lack of progress made on global women’s economic empowerment and gender equality.

On that point, Dubravka Šimonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said the Commission’s priority theme for 2017 would look at violence against women in the workplace.  States and international organizations were still not using all tools available to address the realities of women and girls living in conditions of normalized violence at home or in the workplace.

Dalia Leinarte, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, provided a snapshot of ongoing efforts, saying women’s economic empowerment had been a focus in its dialogues with States parties, calling on them to eliminate sex-based discrimination, gender pay gaps and sexual harassment.

In the afternoon, four ministerial round tables were held on “Gender pay gaps in the public and private sectors”; “Technology changing the world of work”; “Informal and non-standard work” and “Full and productive employment and decent work for all”, with participants examining how to achieve equal pay for equal work, harness technology to accelerate women’s economic empowerment and develop policies that ensured women were at the centre of the 2030 Agenda.

Also today, the Commission adopted its provisional agenda and work programme (documents E/CN.6/2017/1 and Add.1/Rev.2).  It also appointed Belgium to serve on the Working Group on Communications.

Also delivering opening remarks were Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, and Peter Thomson (Fiji), President of the General Assembly.  Aminata Gambo, an activist from the Mbororo Pastoralists Community in Cameroon; Hannah Woodward, a youth delegate from Australia representing the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts; and Mary-Kate Costello, of the Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development’s Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality in the United States, delivered a joint statement.

The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 15 March, to continue its sixty-first session.

Opening Remarks

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR DE PATRIOTA (Brazil), Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, welcomed ministers, senior officials, experts and civil society representatives from around the world, saying their participation was an expression of a strong commitment to gender equality and women’s human rights, as well as the belief that “together we can and will accelerate progress for women and girls everywhere”.  During the session, participants would be called upon to build on recent gains, including the road map laid out in 2016 for gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The session, under the priority theme “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work”, must provide clear guidance on eliminating work-related structural barriers within and across countries in which women faced discrimination, he emphasized.  Indeed, women were paid less than men, carried an undue burden of unpaid domestic work and were concentrated in the informal economy, where they lacked protection and opportunities for advancement.  The Commission should give clear guidance as to how Governments could ensure that women took full advantage of new opportunities.

Describing women’s voices and leadership at all levels of economic decision-making — whether in Government, the private sector or trade unions — as a driver for change, he stressed the need to put legislative frameworks in place to ensure compliance, strengthen institutions and gather stronger evidence to guide such actions.  The session would also focus on identifying policy options and opportunities to empower indigenous women and girls, while assessing progress on the review theme “Evaluating implementation of the Agreed Conclusions from the fifty-eighth session”, on challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.  Noting the role of non-governmental organizations in delivering services to women, and their collaboration across borders to advance gender equality, he emphasized that civil society and youth groups must enjoy a safe environment in which to speak on behalf of women and girls everywhere.  Gender equality could only be realized if men and boys took full responsibility, engaging as gender advocates and speaking out as agents who could transform social norms and stereotypes.  The crucial task of engaging men and boys must involve challenging rigid notions of both masculinity and traditional perceptions of manhood, he stressed.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said his most important message today was one of gratitude to participants for raising their voices on behalf of women’s equality and dignity around the world.  “Every day you are on the front lines for fairness and for a just and decent world,” serving as an inspiration as they championed equality, he said, stressing that women’s empowerment must be a priority in a male-dominated world.  Empowerment was about breaking structural barriers, he added, pointing out that all were better off when doors were opened to women and girls in schools, military ranks and peace talks.  Such efforts were vital in addressing historic injustices, he said, adding that Governments and other institutions achieved better results when gender equality reflected the people they served.

He went on to cite the findings of a study to the effect that women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global growth over the next decade.  Women enjoying better reproductive health earned more and invested more in their children’s health — investments that paid dividends for generations.  Empowerment was also the best way to prevent challenges arising from violent extremism, human rights violations, xenophobia and other threats.  “We need you more than ever,” he said, noting that globally women were suffering new assaults on their safety, with extremists building their ideologies around the subjugation of women.  Sexual violence, forced marriage, human trafficking and virtual enslavement were forms of physical and psychological warfare in today’s world, he said.  Some Governments were enacting laws that curtailed women’s freedom, while others were rolling back legal protections against domestic violence, a sign that common values were under threat.

“Attacks on women are attacks on all of us,” he emphasized.  “This is why we have to respond together.”  For the 830 million women at risk of dying each day from childbirth-related causes, the 225 million lacking access to modern contraceptives, the 15 million girls forced to marry each year, the 130 million women and girls who had suffered female genital mutilation, and the nearly 1 billion women who would enter the global economy in the next decade, empowerment would unleash their potential to lead the world to a new future, he pledged.

The United Nations would support women every step of the way.  Announcing that he would join the international gender champions, he encouraged other senior leaders also to do so, emphasizing that a  cultural shift was needed to recognize women as equal and to promote them on that basis, with the actions, targets and benchmarks required to measure progress.  Since gender equality was a function of all United Nations efforts, the Organization had announced an ambitious attempt to combat sexual exploitation and abuse, which would require the employment of more women in uniform and the promotion of more female leaders, he said.  “Hold us to our promises,” he urged.  “Do not let us off the hook.  Keep our feet in the fire.”

FREDERICK MUSIIWA MAKAMURE SHAVA (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Commission was an indispensable arm of the Council system, addressing issues of vital interest to the well-being and progress of half of humanity.  “When it succeeds in the execution of its mandate, we all succeed,” he said, noting that the current session was taking place at a pivotal moment when commitments under the 2030 Agenda must be turned into action.  Practical contributions emanating from the current session would enrich efforts to realize the full empowerment of women and contribute significantly to the 2030 Agenda, he said, adding that the Commission had set the bar high in 2016 by providing a comprehensive road map for gender-responsive implementation of the Agenda.

“This road map should continue to guide and inspire Member States and all other stakeholders,” he continued, describing the Commission’s 2017 priority theme on women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work as highly relevant to the Council’s own focus on the eradication of poverty.  “The [2030 Agenda] envisages a world in which every country enjoys sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all,” he said, noting that women’s economic empowerment was a prerequisite to realization of that vision.  Women and poverty — 1 of the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 — as well as the feminization of poverty were the subjects of long-standing concern on the Commission’s part, he said, adding that it acknowledged the mutually reinforcing links between gender equality and empowerment of women and girls on the one hand, and the eradication of poverty on the other.

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, recalled that gender equality had been enshrined in the United Nations Charter at the Organization’s founding, but despite some great strides on that front, progress remained slow and uneven to the present day.  Noting that all his own grandchildren were girls, he expressed faith that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would enable them to grow up enjoying the same rights as their male peers.  In particular, Sustainable Development Goal 5 committed all stakeholders to achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women, he noted.  “I see the day when all forms of violence against women and girls are eliminated, when women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities are ensured.”

Recalling that the Commission had called for the 2030 Agenda to take a “transformational and comprehensive approach” to gender equality, he said that, rather than resting on its laurels, it had instead pushed for key gender-equality actions within the framework of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.  It had also placed emphasis on women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work, he said.  Technology and innovation could be the key to unlocking the approximately $28 trillion that could be added to the global gross domestic product (GDP) annually if women and men were treated equally in the world of work.  In addition, technology could help expand women’s access to the formal economy and markets, facilitate their employment through flexible work conditions, help monitor and enforce workplace and legal protections, and eliminate the global shame of violence against women.

PHUMZILE MLAMBO-NGCUKA, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), described the Commission as a “barometer of progress” towards a world free of gender discrimination and inequality — “a world that leaves no one behind”.  “Inclusive economies and a positive world of work are powerful ways to break repeating cycles of poverty,” she said.  Citing both progress in some areas and the erosion of gains already made, she emphasized that much-needed positive developments were not happening fast enough, calling for “constructive impatience” to help in reaching targets.  The current session was renewing focus on the needs of those furthest behind, including young women, refugees and migrants, women affected by gender-based violence, those denied sexual and reproductive health rights, and those facing multiple or intersecting forms of discrimination.

Noting that virtually all economies relied on the unpaid care and domestic work of women and girls, she emphasized the need for positive changes to enable such work to be valued and shared by parents within the family unit.  The relevant report of the Secretary-General — titled “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work” (document E/CN.6/2017/3) — paid greater attention to women working where they were at highest risk of being left behind, she said.  Calling on the Commission to focus on women’s participation in male-dominated sectors and in the informal sector, she said the latter — comprising low-wage farm workers, flower vendors, street-food vendors and others — offered a major opportunity, pointing out that there were 190 million informal-sector workers in India alone.  With the global pay gap at an average of 23 per cent, women were also consistently earning less than men, she said, underlining the need for action to address such “daylight robbery”.

DALIA LEINARTE, Chair, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, described ongoing work, saying dialogue with States parties aimed at consistently raising women’s economic empowerment, including calls for them to eliminate sex-based discrimination, gender pay gaps and sexual harassment.  It had also urged them to provide economic opportunities for women in rural areas, those with disabilities, refugees, migrants, victims of trafficking and those wishing to leave prostitution.  Education was crucial for economic empowerment and women’s full participation in economic, social and political life.  States must ensure safe school environments and diversify educational choices to promote women’s and girl’s access to scientific, technical and managerial professions.

She said the Committee was currently preparing a draft general recommendation on girls and women’s right to education to provide guidance to States parties.  Gender-based violence was another issue intrinsically linked to women’s economic empowerment, often preventing them from breaking out of poverty.  The Committee’s general recommendation would guide States parties in their efforts to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence against women.  It would also address the need for systematic data collection disaggregated by the relationship between victims and perpetrators and in relation to intersecting forms of discrimination.  The plight of migrants and refugees must also be addressed.  Natural disasters had added to large-scale migration movements of people, she added, emphasizing that climate change adaptation programmes had failed to address the structural barriers facing women.  Linking the Convention to the 2030 Agenda had great potential in advancing women’s economic empowerment.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIC, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said the struggle must be grounded in a quest for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in all areas.  Since the beginning of her tenure in 2015, she said, official visits to Argentina, Australia, Georgia, Israel, State of Palestine and South Africa had resulted in a country report with specific recommendations on actions needed to address gaps in combating violence against women.  Her next thematic report, on shelters and protection orders, which she planned to present at the Human Rights Council’s June session, would focus on States’ obligation to address violence against women through coordinated national legislation and prevention policies, including the provision of shelters, crisis centres, safe houses, help lines and civil and criminal protection.  “We have gone a long way in defining violence against women as a human rights violation and form of discrimination,” she said.  While the international community now had a solid understanding of required actions to combat those violations, States and international organizations were still not using all agendas and tools at their disposal to address the realities of women and girls living in conditions of normalized violence at home or in the workplace.

She said that under the Commission’s priority theme for 2017, the international community must look at violence against women in the workplace.  Indeed, evidence showed that around 50 per cent of women experienced unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at work.  For women in politics, recent studies had found that sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians were real and widespread, and that they existed in every country, albeit in different degrees, she said, calling upon Governments to enact, strengthen and enforce laws and policies to eliminate that phenomenon.  In her first vision-setting report, she had called for stronger cooperation between global and regional mechanisms to improve synergies and accelerate the use of existing instruments.  Also concerning were gender-related killings of women, she said, noting that preventing that pandemic was one of her priorities.  Turning to the ongoing existing work on data collection on femicides, she proposed a flexible model to establish a “national femicide watch” to work as a preventive mechanism.

MANUELA TOMEI, Director of the Conditions of Work and Equality Department, International Labour Organization (ILO), said the Commission’s priority theme resonated with the ILO mandate.  In many ways, the quest for women’s economic empowerment would be lost or won depending on how well they gained entry into the labour market.  While the world of work was changing in profound ways, where those changes would lead in terms of supporting women’s economic empowerment was not preordained.  To secure a better future for all, better policies must be put in place now.  A striking feature of today’s landscape was the lack of progress made on global women’s economic empowerment and gender equality.

To address those issues, she said the ILO Women at Work Centenary Initiative had sought to understand the obstacles to progress and challenge assumptions of what they wanted in the working world.  Launched on 8 March, an ILO report, titled “Towards a better future for women and work: Voices of women and men”, had included a poll interviewing 149,000 people in 142 countries and territories.  It offered the first ever account of global attitudes about working women, finding that most preferred that they had paid jobs.  Most participants had cited the work-family balance as among women’s top challenges, followed by unfair treatment, sexual harassment and unequal pay.  The findings supported a policy agenda that included a focus on the care economy — a rich source of future jobs — and on the link between paid and unpaid work.  Ensuring equal pay for work of equal value was also essential, as women earned 23 per cent less than men, mainly due to the way wages were structured.  ILO was committed to making the future of work one where gender equality and women’s empowerment were drivers of a better world.

Delivering a joint statement were three representatives of the Commission’s recently-concluded annual Youth Forum: Hannah Woodward, youth delegate from Australia; Aminata Gambo, activist from Cameroon; and Mary-Kate Costello of the Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development’s Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality in the United States.

Ms. WOODWARD, speaking for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, recalled that the Youth Forum had brought together more than 750 young leaders to discuss emerging challenges and opportunities to achieve equality, justice and the economic empowerment of all people.  That dialogue had been anchored in the experiences of young people, especially young women, she said, noting that the Forum’s Outcome Document had recognized the reality that gender was not binary and that prioritizing marginalized voices meant going “beyond tokenism” to address discrimination against all young people.  Stressing that men and boys must also be involved in those key actions, she went on to outline the various priorities identified by the Youth Forum, including:  young women’s leadership; technical and financial support for the involvement of young women in policies that affected their lives; protection and support for human rights defenders; the creation of conditions that would allow young women to participate in policy development; and investments in youth-led campaigns.

Ms. GAMBO, speaking for Cameroon’s Mbororo Pastoralists Community, outlined a number of additional priorities, including the need to address the crisis of unemployment and under-employment that disproportionately affected women and young people; to build partnerships with the private sector and other actors to improve training, education and workforce development, thereby ensuring decent work for women; and to recognize the need for equal pay for equal work in order to close the unjust wage gap between women and men.

Ms. COSTELLO said other priority areas included creating and strengthening intergenerational dialogue; ensuring access for all young women - including refugees and migrants - to free, safe and affordable education through secondary school; ensuring access to comprehensive, youth-friendly health services and information, including on sexual and reproductive health and rights; increasing leadership by women and girls in developing policies to combat climate change; and enhancing interreligious and intercultural dialogue that would contribute to the economic empowerment of women.

Round Table A

Moderating an afternoon ministerial round table titled “Gender pay gaps in the public and private sectors: how can equal pay for work of equal value be achieved in the changing world of work?” was Elke Ferner, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and youth of Germany, the discussion featured statements by ministers and senior officials.

Ms. FERNER said that despite advances in securing formal employment for women and raising their education levels, gender pay gaps characterized all labour markets.  Defined as the difference in average wages paid to women and to men, it was the cause of an overall lifetime income gap, estimated globally to be at 23 per cent.  While varying in size, it persisted in all countries and was often greater in the private than in the public sector.  She asked participants for examples of national laws and policies that had reduced gender pay gaps and about steps for ensuring women were paid the same as men for work of equal value in the private sector.

With the floor opened for discussion, speakers agreed that women’s empowerment was essential for economic growth, with many outlining ways in which their countries were addressing the pay gap.

KRIS PEETERS, Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, said the pay gap in his country had been reduced to 8 per cent, among the smallest in the European Union.

LYDIA MUTSCH, Minister for Equal Opportunities of Luxembourg, said the Government sought to reduce the 8.6 per cent wage inequality through legislation, advocacy, and preventative and partnership actions.  Companies should set goals for eliminating the gender gap on boards of directors, she added.

PIRKKO MATTILA, Minister for Social Affairs and Health of Finland, said the Nordic experience had shown that investing in equality made economic sense.  Women’s employment in Finland stood at 67 per cent, nearly the same as that for men, she said, pointing out, however, that the gender pay gap was still almost 17 per cent.  Pay transparency was an important in tackling wage discrimination.

EGLĖ RADISAUŠKIENĖ, Vice-Minister for Social Security and Labour of Lithuania, said under his country’s pay transparency policy, companies with more than 20 employees were required to disclose the size of the pay gap.  Lithuania’s pay gap had been 15.6 per cent in 2015 and continued to grow, he said, adding that the largest gap was in financial and insurance activities, at nearly 40 per cent.

SOLVEIG HORNE, Minister for Children and Equality of Norway, said most of her country’s gender pay gap could be explained by the segregated job market.  To counter that problem, the Government was working to increase the number of girls choosing an education in technology.

WAJIH AZAIZEH, Minister for Social Development of Jordan, said his country had established a commission to ensure pay equality and was working towards more flexible workplaces so that women could enjoy a work-life balance.  Jordan had been signatory to the ILO Convention on revenue equality since 1966, he noted, declaring:  “This is a cultural issue and it is important that men are fully aware of women’s rights to work in all sectors.”

NEZILHA LABIDI, Minister for Women of Tunisia, said her country was among the most advanced Arab States in terms of respect for women’s rights, thanks in part to its personal status code.  Tunisia had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1985, and Articles 21 and 46 of the 2014 Constitution addressed equal participation in decision-making and combating gender inequality.  Despite such measures, women still earned less than men, with an average 485 dinars for women and 600 for men in 2011, she said, noting that the gap was especially pronounced for rural women working in agriculture.

BASSIMA HAKKAOUI, Minister for Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development of Morocco, said there was no salary discrimination in her country’s public sector, but it persisted in the private sector, where only 12 per cent of entrepreneurs or company leaders were female.  Men did not see women as equals, she added.  “They hire who they want and fix salaries at will,” preferring single women without children she said, emphasizing:  “We must tackle stereotypes and mind sets.”

MUNGUNCHIMEG SANJAA, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Mongolia, said her country had closed the gender pay gap in the public sector through a pay grade system based on skills, education and performance.  However, the gap persisted in the private sector, with the annual average between men and women in various industries standing at 15 per cent.

CHOI YONG SHIK, Director of International Cooperation, Ministry of Gender Equality and Family of the Republic of Korea, said the Government was working to realize equal pay for the same job by focusing on the disruption of women’s careers since many of them dropped out of the workforce after age 30.

MADINA ABYLKASSYMOVA, Vice-Minister for National Economy of Kazakhstan, said 60 per cent of all women in her country were economically active and had achieved gender parity in small and medium-sized enterprises.  However, women tended to be employed in economic sectors offering lower compensation, she said, calling for free skills training to be made available in more productive sectors of the economy.

JANET CAMILO, Minister for Women of the Dominican Republic, said Central Bank data revealed a gender pay gap of 21 per cent in her country, and all efforts were being made to eliminate discrimination against women.

FATIMA PELAES, Minister for Women Policies of Brazil, said constitutional changes had been made in favour of the rights of domestic workers.

ANA MARIA ROMERO-LOZADA, Minister for Women and Vulnerable Populations of Peru, said her country’s equal-opportunity law promoted the economic, social and political participation of rural, indigenous and Afro-Peruvian women.

ANA BAIARDI, Minister for Women of Paraguay, said public policies governing the care sector should ensure that child care was addressed on an equal basis.

Also speaking were ministers and other senior officials representing France, Switzerland, South Africa, Canada, Poland, Spain, Greece, Sudan and Portugal.

Round Table B

Valentin Rybakov, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, moderated the round table titled “Technology changing the world of work: how can technology and innovation be harnessed to accelerate women’s economic employment?”

Mr. RYBAKOV opened the discussion by asking for examples of national policies that had increased women’s access to digital and mobile technologies, ideas for public and private sectors to channel digital change in order to create jobs for women, and for Governments to encourage public and private investment in women’s fluency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

When the floor opened, ministers and senior officials from around the world agreed that technology had the power to increase women’s independence, change stereotypes and reduce gender inequality.  Many outlined ways in which their countries were working to increase the hiring of women for high-paying jobs.  Several speakers described measures for eliminating gender gaps in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

MICHAELIA CASH, Minister for Women and Employment of Australia, emphasized the particular importance of such an education since 75 per cent of her country’s fastest-growing sectors were in those fields.  Because women represented only one in four employees in Australia’s workforce, the Government was subsidizing doctoral and other fellowships to attract and retain female talent, she said.

Other speakers described measures for integrating gender issues into major policies and programmes.

SANGARE OUMOU BA, Minister for the Advancement of Women, Children and Family of Mali, cited her country’s national scientific research policy for and its “Digital Mali 2020” programme.  Another law mainstreamed gender issues into administrative processes, she said, noting also that women had achieved 20 per cent representation in recent elections, as opposed to 9 per cent in years past.

EDWIN JENAMISO TATSHU, Minister for Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs of Botswana, described his country’s science and technology mentorship programme for women and girls, saying the Government had also launched a young innovators competition and Information and Communications Technology Day to promote the involvement of women and girls in those fields.  Given the low female participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Botswana would intensify efforts to enrol women in those fields, notably through an inter-ministerial coordination committee.

FAZILA JEEWA-DAUREEAWOO, Minister for Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare of Mauritius, said her country’s new cyber cities initiative would open opportunities for women and girls.  Information and communications technology was recognized as a tool for promoting gender equality, and the national computer board advocated equal access to such tools, she said, pointing out that 15 computer clubs established in empowerment centres served some 250,000 women.

VICTORIA KALIMA, Minister for Gender of Zambia, said her country had reformed its regulatory framework to create a one-stop business centre to encourage greater women’s participation in business.  The Government had reviewed the Patent Act to promote innovation among energetic young female entrepreneurs who were able to multitask, she said.

RAIT KUUSE, Deputy Minister for Social Policy of Estonia, said online platforms had fostered gender equality in her country, and starting a company could now be done online.  That offered women a chance to start businesses and fostered a work-life balance, allowing both men and women to work from home.

KUMAR KHADKA, Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare of Nepal, also described a Government-established initiative — an online business portal that allowed entrepreneurs to register from anywhere in the country.  Integrated media campaigns had helped to break stereotypes against women, while phone-based services had increased their access to finance, he added.

MOTOME TAKISAWA, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, addressed challenges ahead, saying that not many Japanese women chose advanced education in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, even if they wished to do so, due in part to the influence of their parents.  There was a lack of female role models in those areas, which made it difficult for female students to imagine a career path.  Japan had established a teacher-training programme because fostering a change of mind-set called for a favourable learning environment, he said.

Also speaking were ministers and other senior officials representing the Czech Republic, Niger, Argentina, Italy, South Africa, China, Burkina Faso and the United Arab Emirates.

Round Table C

The Commission also held an interactive ministerial-level round table on the theme “Informal and non-standard work:  What policies can effectively support women’s economic empowerment?”  Chaired by Motome Takisawa, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, it featured a short summary by Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN-Women, and statements from ministers and other high-level Government officials.

Mr. TAKISAWA opened the session by declaring:  “As the world of work is changing, women continue to be confronted with pervasive and persistent inequalities and discrimination that need to be tackled for a better and more just future.”  The informal sector was the primary source of employment for women in developing countries, he said, adding that a defining feature of the sector was the lack of social protection and labour rights.  Women comprised more than 80 per cent of home workers, or industrial outworkers, as well as 30 to 90 per cent of street vendors and 83 per cent of the world’s 53 million domestic workers.  Noting that countries were currently taking a range of measures to make informal employment more economically viable, he asked speakers to describe measures aimed at creating favourable environments for women workers, steps to extend social protection coverage to those in the informal economy and efforts to better regulate part-time work.

Responding to those questions, many speakers stressed the need to raise the visibility of women in the informal sector, especially in rural and domestic labour, and to enact strong laws to protect their rights.  Several ministers outlined their Governments’ concrete strategies to support women workers through the provision of microfinancing and other credit schemes, underscored the importance of investment in women’s livelihood projects and emphasized the need to eliminate workplace harassment and ensure equal pay for equal work.

LORENA CRUZ, President of the National Women’s Institute of Mexico, was among the speakers calling for decent work for women, as established by ILO.  In Mexico, only 43 per cent of women participated in the formal labour market — a low number considering their high educational achievement.  Describing the Government’s efforts to increase that percentage, she said it had recently generated more than 2 million new jobs and established a national programme to provide loans to women in the informal sector and train them to enable a transition to the formal market.

DOREEN SIOKA, Minister for Gender Equality and Child Welfare of Namibia, said 78 per cent of her country’s rural population worked in the informal sector, and the majority of such workers were women.  Actions that the Government had taken to protect those labourers included the 2016 introduction of a minimum wage law, the establishment of a national gender policy and the implementation of various credit, technology and equipment aid schemes for small and microentrepreneurs.

VALENTINE RYBAKOV, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, described similar efforts, including the adoption of a national plan for human rights that enshrined gender equality and laid out plans to work with media outlets to reduce stereotyping.  The Government was also supporting women in opening their own businesses and working to expand child care and preschool services.

MERESEINI RAKUITA VUNIWAQA, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation of Fiji, emphasized that each country’s strategies aiming at the economic empowerment of women must be context-specific and sensitive to communities’ cultural nuances.  Fiji was implementing such policies in a targeted and multifaceted manner, focusing primarily on building a strong legal framework and collaborating with stakeholders on the ground.

HAYFAA Al-AGHA, Minister for Women’s Affairs of the State of Palestine, said the informal sector was also the major source of women’s employment in territories chafing under foreign occupation around the world.  “This is a marginalized sector” in Palestine, she said, where women suffered disproportionately from the Israeli occupation, in particular from the absence of legal protections and market standards protecting their products.  Among other things, she called for the elimination of forced and child labour and for an urgent end to the occupation in general.

Ms. PURI, delivering a brief summary, said the speakers had highlighted women’s overrepresentation in the informal employment sector.  Many had also described women’s disproportionate burden of unpaid and care work, their concentration in low-wage domestic work and frequent lack of social protection.  In that context, many speakers had spotlighted the need to tackle violence and harassment and raise the visibility of women’s work.  The measures they described ranged from tax breaks to entrepreneurship support and improved access to finance and credit, as well as laws, policies and labour market interventions that were both transversal and targeted in nature.

Also speaking were ministers and other senior officials from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Mozambique, Hungary, Angola, Eritrea, Chile, Congo, Guatemala, Romania, Madagascar, El Salvador, Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Round Table D

The Commission’s final round table of the day addressed the theme “Full and productive employment and decent work for all:  How can Sustainable Development Goal 8 be realized for women by 2030?”  Chaired by Fatma Al-Zahraa Hassan (Egypt), it featured statements by ministers and senior officials and featured a closing summary by Ms. Puri of UN-WOMEN.

Ms. HASSAN, noting that an estimated 600 million new jobs would be needed by 2030 to keep pace with the growth of the global working-age population, said that conditions also needed to be improved for the 780 million women and men who were currently working, but not earning enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.  While entrepreneurship could be an important vehicle in that regard, discriminatory social norms and family responsibilities often prevented women from even starting a business.  Other obstacles included structural barriers, such as discriminatory property and inheritance laws.

Describing the various policy options available to Governments to increase the number of decent jobs for women, she raised a number of questions to guide the discussion, including what measures Governments were taking to stimulate public provision of full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men and incentives and regulations that were encouraging the private sector to create decent work for women.  She also asked how Governments could encourage women’s entrepreneurship in the context of decent work, and which policies had helped to remove structural barriers.

Speakers in the ensuing discussion outlined interventions and other best practices, ranging from innovative tax policies to fines levied on companies that paid women and men differently for the same work.  Many also underscored the importance of instituting paid family leave and making child care affordable and accessible, while some spotlighted the important role of a responsible private sector in realizing those policies on the ground.

ALEJANDRA MORA MORA, Minister for the Status of Women of Costa Rica, described her country’s Seal of Gender Equality management tool that aimed at achieving equity and reducing productivity and wage gaps in both private and public institutions.  Costa Rica had also implemented training programmes offering tools to help women to join the labour market, with a focus on science and technology sectors, where the widest gap between women and men existed.

ALEXEY VOVCHENKO, First Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, said his country was actively engaged in efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 8 on decent work for all.  It was building and subsidizing more preschools and kindergartens, embracing flexible work schemes and significantly increasing salaries in traditionally female-dominated sectors such as health care and education.  In addition, it was supporting women’s entrepreneurship by subsidizing start-ups, leases and loans.

MARIÉTOU KONÉ, Minister for Women, Protection of Children and Solidarity of Côte d’Ivoire, recalled her country’s 2013 decision to open its military schools to women and described its efforts to employ more people — both women and men — from vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities.  Other recent legislative reforms now required private sector companies to provide women with 14 weeks of maternity leave.  Côte d’Ivoire was also increasing its investments in women’s microfinance loans and village associations.

ÅSA REGNÉR, Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality of Sweden, said her country had achieved near parity in women and men’s employment as a result of policies such as individual taxation and the introduction of parental leave for both women and men.  Ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including contraceptives and safe abortions, had also been critical.  However, Sweden still struggled with a gender pay gap and more diversity was needed in sectors that remained male- or female-dominated.

Ms. PURI said the speakers were all trying to assess the gaps and structural barriers women faced in accessing decent work.  They had described interventions on the demand and supply sides of the labour market, addressing gaps in entrepreneurship, access to technology and essential services in particular.  Many had also spotlighted women’s disproportionate burden of unpaid care work and outlined efforts to make public sector employment more gender responsive, she said.

Also speaking were ministers and other senior officials representing Ukraine, Guinea, Egypt, Guatemala, Georgia, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Philippines, Ireland, Afghanistan, South Africa, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba and Uganda, as well as the European Union.

For information media. Not an official record.