Investing in Women, Girls — Especially Education — Drives Development, Makes Good Economic Sense, Deputy Secretary-General Tells International Women’s Day Forum

9 March 2011

Investing in Women, Girls — Especially Education — Drives Development, Makes Good Economic Sense, Deputy Secretary-General Tells International Women’s Day Forum

9 March 2011
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Investing in Women, Girls — Especially Education — Drives Development, Makes Good

Economic Sense, Deputy Secretary-General Tells International Women’s Day Forum

Following are the closing remarks, as delivered by UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, to the event organized by the United Nations Office for Partnerships, and the Business Civic Leadership Center, on “Investing in Women And Entrepreneurship:  Solutions To Addressing MDG 3”, yesterday, 8 March, in New York:

I congratulate all the participants in this forum for their contributions to the discussions today on how we can work together towards achieving Millennium Development Goal 3 on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

As we celebrate the centenary of International Women’s Day, our message is simple and clear:  Investing in women and girls is not only morally right; it advances development and it makes good economic sense. 

Evidence indicates that countries with greater gender equality are more competitive and grew faster.

And yet, our message still needs constant repeating if it is to be fully realized.  Investing in women will require partnerships between Governments, the private sector, civil society and the United Nations system.

I am pleased that all those constituencies are represented here today.

The United Nations system’s efforts will be led, coordinated and scaled up by the newly created United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women — UN Women — headed by my colleague Michelle Bachelet.

An example of its work is our expanding collaboration with the United Nations Global Compact on the Women’s Empowerment Principles — namely, the Equality Means Business initiative.

These Principles offer practical guidance on concrete steps that businesses can take to empower women in the workplace, the marketplace and the community. 

I thank those of you who have embraced the principles and urge others to follow that same example.

Studies continue to show a strong correlation between the number of women in leadership and company boards and greater diversity, with improved financial performance.

Going forward, we need to build partnerships that will facilitate women’s access to the labour market, especially in light of the ongoing financial and economic crisis, which has cost more than 18 million women their jobs.

We also need to explore how the private sector can integrate women in developing countries into global value chains.

For example, how can women farmers in Africa connect with consumers and companies in the United States?  How can the transport and construction sectors help build roads that meet the needs of rural women farmers?  How can we build the capacity of women entrepreneurs so that they are aware of market demands and quality standards?

In some countries, the private sector has indeed played an important role in investing in solar energy and other renewable energy sources.  In these countries, solar power has not only allowed women’s businesses to grow, but has also helped to reduce the burden of women in meeting their household energy needs. 

We need to see more of this kind of progress.

The private sector can also promote gender equality and women’s economic empowerment through the use of popular culture, media and positive role models.  Geena Davis spoke persuasively on this earlier today.

Products and marketing strategies all shape perceptions about the role of women in the economy and other realms.  Positive messages of women in non-traditional sectors and leadership positions can help eliminate persistent gender stereotypes. 

Negative messages serve only to reinforce them.  We have the power to choose what to show, as well as the power to choose what to say.

We cannot talk about investment in women’s empowerment without focusing on investing in education.  It has been well established over the past decades that as female education rates rise, fertility, population growth and infant and child mortality fall, and family health improves.

Children of educated mothers, especially daughters, are more likely to be enrolled in school and to have higher levels of educational attainment.  Educated women are also more politically active and better informed about their legal rights and how to exercise them.

We have seen important progress.  In some countries, women’s education levels now surpass that of men and boys.  Yet women still find it difficult to attain decent work.

Too often, what is being taught at school does not correspond to the demands of the labour market.  Education systems need to do better at correcting this imbalance. 

For example, skills in information and communication technologies have become a critical component in children’s education.  Without these skills, women’s economic opportunities will remain limited. 

I encourage you to work closely with the education system to better communicate the needs of your businesses so that investments in education lead to full employment and decent work for women.

Access to training at the workplace is also critical.  Not only does it expand leadership opportunities, it also leads women onto a path of life-long building of knowledge and skills.

I thank the organizers for this successful Forum, and all the participants for their contributions.  I look forward to our continued partnership as we pursue this important agenda.

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