Women’s Economic Empowerment ‘a Human Rights Issue’, Secretary-General Tells High-Level Panel, Saying Labour Force Excludes Half Those of Working Age

SG/SM/18695-ECO/276-WOM/2120
19 September 2017

Women’s Economic Empowerment ‘a Human Rights Issue’, Secretary-General Tells High-Level Panel, Saying Labour Force Excludes Half Those of Working Age

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, in New York today:

Allow me before I read a few more orthodox remarks a more subversive reflection.  I am very happy to participate in a meeting about empowerment because when we discuss gender equality, in my humble belief, there is essentially a question of power.  It’s power at all levels in a male-dominated world where there is still a male-dominated culture — power in family relations, power in society, power in the economy, power in politics.  To a large extent there is a serious question of power.

The economy is probably the area where this problem is more serious and where equality is lagging behind more clearly, and on top of that, where I see risks in the future, if one looks at the new sectors of the digital economy.  If you look at Silicon Valley, it is probably one of the best examples of a male-dominated culture in the world, which means that even in the areas where progress is more evident and where we are more advanced, this question may lag behind.

And so I am very happy to see you all discussing the question of empowerment, and you can be absolutely sure that in whatever I can do, I will be always acting based on that analysis.  This is the reason why I gave full priority to establish parity in all bodies of the United Nations as quickly as possible.  We are doing it already at the top level of the United Nations, seeing parity as a crucial instrument to change power relations in our Organizations.

Now I will go into the more orthodox part.  I welcome you to this round table and look forward to our discussion today.  I would like to acknowledge President Luis Guillermo Solis of Costa Rica and Simona Scarpaleggia, CEO of IKEA Switzerland, for their leadership as co-chairs of the High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.  And I am very grateful to the Group of Champions and its 17 members for continuing to advance this agenda.  I would also like to thank Prime Minister Theresa May for her Government’s support to this initiative.

Our discussion today builds on the work of the Panel and its two important reports.  The Panel has developed concrete, practical and actionable recommendations for Governments, the private sector, multilateral institutions and other stakeholders to achieve full and equal participation for women in the economy.

Women’s economic empowerment is also a human rights issue.  Currently, only 50 per cent of women of working age are in the labour force.  This compares to 77 per cent of men.  Women tend to be concentrated also in informal and precarious employment.  They are paid on average 23 per cent less than men and carry out at least two-and-a-half times more unpaid household and care work.  This is not only detrimental to women, it represents a loss for society as a whole.  Studies show that if women were able to participate equally in the economy, global GDP [gross domestic product] could increase by 26 per cent — the equivalent of $12 trillion – by 2025.

Women’s economic empowerment contributes to more stable and resilient economies, and more peaceful societies.  It is also a necessary condition for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  So today I call on all of us to translate the Panel’s guidance into actions that will bring results for women and girls.

I salute all the stakeholders that have already made concrete commitments to implement the Panel’s recommendations and I call on all partners to do so going forward.  It is the time to take concrete measures to realize our shared vision of gender equality and women’s rights in the economy.  So let us deliver on the promises we have made to promote peace, inclusive sustainable development and human rights for all.

Thank you very much.

For information media. Not an official record.