Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to be part of this important discussion.
Inequality has become one of the leading challenges of our time – and pervasive gender inequality is part of its leading edge, the most pervasive and universal form of inequality.
Since the 2008 global financial crisis, the international community has been grappling with the costs of high and worsening income and non-income inequalities within and among countries.
In many countries, extreme inequalities are fueling poverty, rising populism, social exclusion and conflicts. High and persistent inequalities are also hindering growth and dampening the poverty-reduction impact of economic growth.
These developments are occurring at a time when millions of people are also at risk of losing jobs thanks to the rapid pace of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, particularly the spread of automation.
The impact of these forces has been compounded by various forms of unequal access to opportunity -- from access to quality education and health care, to earning a decent income from labour.
This is particularly so for women and girls.
Indeed, deep-seated discriminatory attitudes, social norms, practices and gender stereotypes continue to constrain the ability of women and girls to go to school, own productive assets such as land or to access credit. When these elements combine, they severely narrow and even eliminate crucial life choices for those women and girls.
Data show that a girl who is born into a poor household and forced into early marriage is more likely to drop out of school, give birth at an early age, suffer complications during childbirth and experience violence, than a girl from a higher-income household who marries after reaching adulthood.
While two thirds of countries have reached gender parity in enrolment in primary education, girls of primary school age are still more likely to be out of school compared to boys.
In addition, when employed, young women regularly hold poorly remunerated jobs and are overrepresented in the informal sector, including in sectors where exploitation and lack of social protection are frequent. Women also bear a disproportionate burden of unpaid care work.
The gender pay gap remains unacceptably high, standing at about 20 per cent globally, and represents one of the extreme manifestations of social injustice today.
Young women are at risk of taking a back seat in the Fourth Industrial Revolution as their level of participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics studies and employment is much lower than for young men.
Moreover, the disadvantages that women and girls experience at the outset often follow them for decades, adding up to a lifetime of disadvantage.
This makes it harder for women to lift themselves and their families out of poverty or to have the income security they need in old age.
Women participate less than men in paid employment, spend more time away from paid employment owing to childbirth, often care for children or other family members who need it and tend to earn less than men while in employment. Over time, they contribute less to pension schemes and in turn receive lower payments in old age, despite having a longer life expectancy than men.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All of this adds up to a harrowing picture of systemic, structural injustice that hampers our efforts across all the Sustainable Development Goals.
But these inequalities are not inevitable. With the right set of policies and institutions, inequality in all its forms, including gender inequality, can be curbed.
We need well-designed and targeted policies that enhance the opportunities of women to participate in economic activities and in political and public life.
Public spending on health, education and social protection should be increased to build the capacities that women and girls need to succeed in a technologically-driven 21st century.
Social protection floors are increasingly recognized as an efficient approach to reduce vulnerability, strengthen resilience, recognize unpaid work and redistribute care responsibilities. Yet 4 billion people, many of them women and girls, still live without any social protection at all.
It is also essential for countries to develop policy frameworks across legal, economic, social and labour sectors that ensure wage equality, transparent pay scales and gender-neutral job evaluation systems.
In addition, there is a need to strengthen social policy and support, including leave provisions, childcare support, flexible working arrangements that support work-life balance, unpaid care work and social support for children.
Increasing women’s access and control over productive assets, financial services and basic infrastructure is also critical.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Gender equality is one of the critical social, economic and political priorities of our time.
This should not be such a struggle. After all, the benefits of gender equality are many and proven.
But as Secretary-General Guterres has stressed, this is a question of power and so it is a struggle for power.
I look forward to working with all of you to deliver on gender equality for the future well-being of all.