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Helen Clark: Opening Speech at the Second International Conference on the Emergence of Africa

Mar 28, 2017

Emergence must lift not only GDP per capita; it must lift human development. Better infrastructure means improved services and access for African citizens. Credit: UNDP.

I am very pleased to join H.E. Alassane Ouattara, the President of Cote d’Ivoire, in welcoming you to this second International Conference on the Emergence of Africa.

I wish to thank the President and his Government most sincerely for organizing this important conference in collaboration with UNDP. I also thank the African Development Bank and the World Bank for their support for the conference.

The impressive turnout of participants from Africa and around the world underlines the importance of emergence for Africa.  I welcome you all and, in particular, thank the Heads of State and Government present for joining us here in Abidjan. 

Since we last gathered, in 2015, the international community has agreed on the ambitious and universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the associated Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs aspire to eradicate poverty and hunger, fight inequality and discrimination, and tackle climate change. They also recognize the importance of peaceful and inclusive societies for the achievement of sustainable development. 

Africa’s emergence will be a major contributor to realisation of the 2030 Agenda and of the African Union’s visionary Agenda 2063. Emergence must lift not only GDP per capita; it must lift human development in the broadest sense.  This is recognised in the important “High 5s” agenda of the African Development Bank, with its emphasis on improving the quality of life for the people of Africa.

The 2015 Abidjan Declaration from the First International Conference on the Emergence of Africa recognized the potential for emergence across the continent and the progress already made. It also offered recommendations on how to accelerate progress. This second conference is an important opportunity to take stock of progress since then, and to share experiences, from both within and outside the region. We can also reflect on how emergence will contribute to the success of global, regional, and national development agendas.

To set the stage for the discussions at the conference, let me:
•    elaborate on how emergence is already proceeding on the continent; 
•    note some of the challenges to emergence; and 
•    suggest some strategic actions which would be conducive to further progress.
 
1.    Africa’s emergence: progress to date

We can see progress in: 

•    the substantial growth in infrastructure investments, across electricity, transport, ICT, water, and sanitation. These include significant improvements in ICT in Mali, Ghana, and Nigeria; in transportation systems in Kenya and Mauritius; and in increased water supply and improved sanitation in The Gambia, Senegal, Madagascar, and Tanzania.  Better infrastructure means improved services and access for African citizens and improvement in the enabling environment for quality business investments.
 
•    the steady increase in manufacturing output on the continent.  In 2015, Africa’s total manufacturing output was worth around $500 billion, with Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tunisia leading the way. McKinsey and Company estimate that with continued improvements to the business environment on the continent, manufacturing output could rise to $930 billion by 2025; and 

•    rapid transformation of economies, with shifts in employment from traditional to modernized agriculture and to non-agricultural sectors. Countries such as Ghana, Ethiopia, and Rwanda are diversifying at an accelerated rate, while productivity and value addition to agriculture is increasing in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Rwanda .

The combined impact of these and other advances on economic and social development, is clear:

•    African economies continue to be among the fastest growing in the world. The ten fastest growing economies  on the continent increased their national income by five to 8.5 per cent in 2016, compared to a global average of 3.2 per cent ;

•    eighteen countries on the continent have now achieved medium to high human development status, reflecting improved health, education, and overall living standards. According to UNDP’s 2016 Human Development Report, Senegal, Zimbabwe, DRC, Mali, Niger, and Ethiopia were some of the fastest improvers on the global Human Development Index; 

•    significant strides have also been made in reducing multidimensional poverty - since 2005, it has fallen in thirty of the 35 African countries included in the global Multidimensional Poverty Index ; 

•    around seventy per cent of African citizens currently live in a country which has seen improved governance between 2006 and 2015.  This is positive for inclusive and sustainable development.

Emergence is driving transformation of the prospects of our host, Cote d’Ivoire, with preliminary figures estimating that it was Africa’s fastest growing economy last year. In 2016, Cote d’Ivoire’s GDP increased by around eight per cent,  which is significantly higher than the Sub-Saharan African continental average of 2.0 per cent. Cote d’Ivoire is also making consistent progress on health and education outcomes, its infrastructure has greatly improved, and there have been significant gains in agricultural productivity and access to electricity and ICT. The country’s Human Development Index has risen by 1.4 per cent per annum since 2010 which is 38 per cent higher than the regional average.

More transparency, accountability, and efficient public services are also improving social service delivery and contributing to human development here.  The Mo Ibrahim Index suggests that this country has made the most progress on the continent on improving citizen security and the rule of law. 

The experience of Cote d’Ivoire demonstrates the importance of forward looking policies, structural reforms, and key investments in driving emergence. The new National Development Plan for 2016-2020 prioritizes structural economic transformation through industrialization, infrastructure development, and inclusive growth. 

UNDP is proud to have supported the Government of Cote d’Ivoire in preparing the Plan, and in facilitating its alignment with the outcome of the 2015 International Conference on the Emergence of Africa and the 2030 Agenda. 

We are now working with the Government to set up a monitoring and evaluation framework to follow the implementation of the plan, and also to organize a national dialogue on inclusive public policies and efficient budgetary processes. Looking ahead, we stand ready to use our global presence to facilitate the exchange of development experiences in areas of interest to the Government of Cote d’Ivoire. 

2.    Challenges to Africa’s emergence

•    Continent-wide there is still an over-reliance on primary commodities, and the lower prices of some of these in recent years have dampened economic growth. Creating greater resilience to primary commodity price shocks calls for greater economic and export diversification and industrialization.

•    Trade restrictions remain higher in Sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world.  This, combined with a proliferation in bilateral and regional trade agreements , can negatively impact the policy space African countries need to promote emergence.  Successful completion of the Doha Development Round of the WTO would be an important step in putting trade to the full service of Africa’s development.  

•    Institutional capacities need to be improved to support forward looking analysis, implementation, and monitoring of strategies and policies aimed at emergence;

•    The gains from emergence to date are not equitably shared. On average, the top twenty per cent of earners in Africa have incomes which are more than ten times greater than those of the bottom twenty per cent.  The unequal distribution of resources, power, and wealth, combined with inequitable social norms, sustain persistent inequalities. Gender inequality costs sub-Saharan Africa on average $US95 billion a year, or six per cent of the region’s GDP.  Leaving no-one behind is a key element of the 2030 Agenda, and something which will be critical to the full emergence of Africa.  

3.    Accelerating Africa’s emergence 
The 2015 Abidjan Declaration highlighted three pillars of Africa’s emergence: structural economic transformation, building the developmental state, and lifting human development. At UNDP, we see action needed in five strategic areas to drive progress on across these pillars:

First, Africa’s industrialization should focus on areas of comparative advantage, including building on agriculture and the extractive industries. That would support the continent to move up the ladder of value chains, and to facilitate the development of industrial clusters and growth of SMEs as backbones of the economy. A successful example of this comes from Ethiopia, which has demonstrated the potential of industrial parks and special economic zones in transforming manufacturing and driving industrialization.  

Second, promoting entrepreneurship and leveraging the vitality of the private sector. This requires skills-building through education, technical, and vocational training to enhance employability and unleash the creative power of youth and women. By harnessing the potential of youthful populations, the emergent countries of Asia expanded their labour forces and became more competitive and productive.

Third, continued and large-scale investments in quality infrastructure are critical. The World Bank and the African Development Bank have estimated that in order to overcome critical infrastructure deficits, Sub-Saharan Africa needs to invest an additional $93.0 billion dollars per year in infrastructure until 2020. Stable electricity supply, good systems of road and rail networks, and efficient air and sea ports and communications systems are needed to drive emergence.

Fourth, sound social policies are needed to transform economic growth into human development gains. There are many examples of how social policies have translated into more inclusive growth, within and beyond Africa.  Experiences from countries such as Cabo Verde, Mauritius, Tanzania, Senegal, and Rwanda can be replicated and scaled up. 

Last, but not least, a developmental state with a clear and shared vision, accountable and transparent governance, and strong institutional capacity is vital. Accelerating emergence is one part of the equation; sustaining it is another.  A state which promotes risk-informed and resilient development, including through disaster risk reduction and climate action, and social protection and social cohesion, is better prepared to drive and sustain the emergence agenda.  

UNDP is actively working with African partners to document and share lessons and experiences from transformational initiatives on emergence.  The thirteen-country case study on successes and challenges associated with the implementation of emergence to be presented at this conference is an example of this effort. Working with the African Development Bank and the World Bank, UNDP also plans to expand the partnership on emergence to other multilateral and bilateral partners which could help accelerate progress on emergence in Africa. 

At the country level, UNDP is committed to supporting the integration of the three pillars of emergence into national development plans, and to align its own programmes with those pillars, the SDGs, and national development plans. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, let me emphasise that the pursuit and promotion of emergence will accelerate human development in Africa, and is central to achieving the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063 on the continent.

Let me assure you of UNDP’s commitment to work with all partners to ensure that emergence and the benefits it brings become a reality across the continent.

I wish you a very successful conference.
 

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Speakers Highlight Government Action, Challenges to Promote Gender Equality in 6 Countries, as Commission on Status of Women Continues Session

The Commission on the Status of Women today considered a range of Government efforts to promote gender equality, outlined in six national voluntary presentations spanning four continents, as it concluded the first week of its sixty-first annual session.

Despite citing a host of successful initiatives — from expanded access to women’s health care to quotas for female parliamentarians — ministers and other senior officials from Malta, Mongolia, Morocco, the Dominican Republic, Bulgaria and Indonesia nevertheless described a number of deeply-entrenched forms of discrimination against women and girls.  Many stressed the need for broad awareness-raising campaigns to combat such long-held attitudes, as well as robust political will and gender-responsive budgeting at all levels of Government.

One long-standing challenge spotlighted by many of today’s presenters was that of gender-based violence.  Mongolia’s representative, a Member of Parliament and social policy expert, said that while her country’s revamped Law on Domestic Violence had taken effect last month, a number of obstacles related to compliance remained.  Indeed, due to long-held social norms, the law’s criminalization of domestic violence had been seen as controversial by some segments of the population, she said.

Presenters from all six countries also relayed challenges relating to decent work, equal pay and fair treatment for women in the workplace.  Efforts to address such challenges included improved labour laws, support to female entrepreneurs and incentives for mothers to return to the formal labour market, as described by Malta’s Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties.

Three presenters from Morocco — including the country’s Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development and two female civil society leaders — also shared their perspectives on that issue, with the former stressing that 53 per cent of women were unemployed due largely to “social pressures” that existed both in Morocco and worldwide.  “Revenue cannot only be generated by men,” she stressed, joining other speakers in emphasizing the significant economic potential offered by increasing women’s empowerment. 

In addition, the Commission held an interactive expert panel discussion on the global “care economy”, focusing on women’s disproportionate burden of unpaid care work as well as related challenges and opportunities.

The Commission will meet again on Monday, 20 March, at 10 a.m. to hold an interactive expert panel on enhancing the use of data and gender statistics in sustainable development.

National Voluntary Presentations

This morning, the Commission heard national voluntary presentations from six countries on the theme “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls”.

HELENA DALLI, Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties of Malta, delivered her country’s voluntary presentation, stressing that Malta was committed to a feminist agenda to ensure the achievement of gender equality “during our lifetime”.  An equality act and a human rights and equality commission act were currently progressing through the country’s legislature, while laws on domestic violence and gender-based violence in compliance with the Istanbul Convention were also in place.  Malta had created a free childcare scheme aimed at providing an incentive for mothers to return to, or remain in, the formal labour market, and a maternity leave trust fund — financed through a minimum contribution by private companies — had begun operation in 2015. 

Noting that Malta’s female employment rate had jumped from 44 per cent in 2012 to 53.6 per cent in 2015 thanks to flexible working arrangements and free childcare, she also described national efforts to promote the participation of women and girls in science, prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, and eradicate violence against women and girls.  In that regard, a bill aimed at widening the remit of the Commission on Domestic Violence to cover all gender-based violence was currently progressing through Parliament. 

The representative of Australia, as the first respondent to that presentation, said Millennium Development Goal 3 had galvanized international attention to gender inequality and provided a transformative framework at the centre of inclusive strategies for sustainable peace and prosperity.  The Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment, went a step further, she said, recalling that Australia had been a strong supporter of that target. 

The representative of Canada, welcoming positive steps taken by Malta to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, asked if the country had considered implementing gender-based training in science- and math-related subjects, and whether it had any specific initiatives focused on providing support to victims of gender-based violence. 

Ms. DALLI, responding to those questions, said Malta was working through its Ministry of Education to promote the involvement of more girls in science, technology, engineering and math — or “STEM” — subjects, focusing especially on younger girls.  With regard to victim support services, the Government was working to coordinate among all relevant agencies, including those related to health, judicial and social policy, to help them work in tandem.

UNDRAA AGVAANLUVSAN, Member of Parliament and Member of the Standing Committee on Social Policy of the State of Ikh Hural of Mongolia, said the country had successfully met a number of the Millennium Development Goal targets to reduce child and maternal mortality, develop information and communications technology (ICT) and build an information society.  In addition, significant headway had been made in promoting gender equality and increasing women’s participation in decision-making.  Mongolia had improved its Law on Domestic Violence, which had previously suffered from lack of enforcement as well as inappropriate and incomplete legal specification, and had put in place steps aimed at combating trafficking in persons.  Ensuring gender equality — in particular through the prohibition of gender-based workplace discrimination — was clearly stipulated in the country’s draft labour law.

She went on to describe a number of efforts to implement girls’ rights to free education and to provide courses on sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, gender justice, gender rights and roles, as well as to strengthen the overall environment for gender equality and the empowerment of women across Mongolia.  A 2016 election law had legalized a quota requiring 20 per cent of parliamentary candidates to be female.  Major political parties had also introduced a quota of 20-50 per cent of governing bodies to be female.  In addition, in line with its National Programme for Ensuring Gender Equality, the Government was increasing its investments in enhancing women’s employment, promoting their social, economic and political empowerment, including the creation of a small and medium enterprises support fund.

The representative of Switzerland, responding to that presentation, described her country’s bilateral cooperation with Mongolia and underscored the central role of gender equality in those efforts.  In that context, she asked for more information about Mongolia’s recently revised law to combat gender-based violence, including the major challenges being faced in that area, as well as about the country’s specific efforts to expand women’s political participation.

The representative of Japan asked Ms. Agvaanluvsan to outline lessons learned and difficulties encountered in implementing Mongolia’s national gender equality programmes and the related mid-term strategy.

Ms. AGVAANLUVSAN, responding to the delegate from Switzerland, said her country’s domestic violence law had come into effect in February.  It had been somewhat controversial due to its criminalization of domestic violence, she said, describing long-entrenched social attitudes and noting that enforcement by police officers was a challenge.  With regard to increasing women’s political participation, quotas had been crucial, and the National Commission on Gender Equality continued to address the issue.  Responding to the delegate from Japan, she cited implementation challenges including a lack of political will and limited resources.

BASSIMA HAKKAOUI, Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development of Morocco, then delivered her country’s voluntary presentation, noting that women in Morocco currently enjoyed all of their inalienable rights.  In 2016, the country had passed a wide-ranging law aimed at mobilizing funds to meet the needs of women, children and families.  “This is the door through which we enter to ensure that all social groups enjoy their rights” as enshrined in the Moroccan Constitution, she said, describing particular Government initiatives aimed at supporting widows and helping all children — including those with disabilities — to enrol in school.  Describing the multisectoral Government plan for gender equality, she said laws to combat violence against women and protect working women had also recently been passed.

However, she said, a number of challenges existed.  Some 53 per cent of women were unemployed due largely to “social pressures” that existed both in Morocco and worldwide.  Only about 16 per cent of decision-making positions were held by women.  “Revenue cannot only be generated by men,” she stressed, emphasizing the significant economic potential offered by increasing women’s empowerment.  Morocco was focused on achieving gender equality goals on a local level, and it was actively working to improve disaggregated data collection in that regard.

FATHIA BENNIS, President of Women’s Tribune, Morocco, provided the perspective of a civil society representative and a female business owner.  Women’s empowerment began with the education of girls, she said, describing strides made in reducing Morocco’s gender wage gap and promoting their place in business sector decision-making.

ASMAA MORINE, President of the AFEM women’s association, Morocco, then described major gains in promoting women’s entrepreneurship in the country.  “We need to support these women,” she said, stressing it was the Government’s responsibility to raise awareness and empower women to “take power for themselves”. 

The representative of Belgium, responding to that presentation, underscored the cross-cutting nature of gender in his country’s development cooperation with Morocco.  He then asked Ms. Hakkaoui to describe specific measures aimed at combating violence against women, as well as specific initiatives to end early and forced marriage.

Ms. HAKKAOUI responded that Morocco had put in place a finance law mainstreaming the gender dimension into all the Government’s specialized budgets.  A law defining and criminalizing all forms of violence against women, and outlining support to victims, had also been adopted, and amendments to the national Criminal Code were aimed at eradicating early and forced marriage. 

IVAN RODRIGUEZ, Vice-Minister for Economy, Planning and Development of the Dominican Republic, said that in terms of social indicators, his country had received good grades in reducing poverty and redistributing wealth.  However, the task of achieving gender parity remained substantial.  Reducing maternal and child mortality was a critical priority for the Government.  In 2012, it adopted a national development strategy that promoted equal opportunity for men and women.  All public sectors were involved in ensuring inclusive participation in the plan, which comprised 57 specific goals and 461 courses of action.

JANET CAMILO, Minister for Women, noted that the national development strategy spearheaded efforts to mainstream gender inclusion across the Government.  Interinstitutional coordination among the Ministries of Women; Finance; Public Information; and Economy, Planning and Development, was critical, she said, reiterating the need for more cohesion among all 22 Government ministries, each of which had a gender office.  Another important achievement was securing financing for gender equality initiatives through specific programmes and within ministry budgets.  A guideline document with a gender perspective was enacted to help manage the national budget.  Women’s organizations alone would not be able to achieve gender equality, she said, stressing the need to invest in rural women and provide them with economic opportunity.

The representative of Germany asked, given that the Dominican Republic’s national development strategy encompassed 57 goals, whether the Government had specified any areas of focus that were instrumental for achieving stability and development.

The representative of the Republic of Korea commended the Dominican Republic’s efforts to mainstream gender perspective through its development work and to implement gender goals and targets.  She also outlined several ways her country was doing the same.

Responding to the representative of Germany’s inquiry, Ms. CAMILO said the Dominican Republic had two pending laws awaiting approval from Congress aimed at promoting Dominican women to positions of power, both in the Government and the private sector.  It was essential to work with businesses to promote more women to decision-making positions in the private sector.  Another prerequisite was fighting violence against women.  Achieving development would be extremely difficult so long as women remained victims.  The Government was also working to prevent teenage pregnancies and early marriage, which must be addressed to achieve gender equality and move forward. 

GEORGI PANAYOTOV (Bulgaria) said special laws against discrimination, including on domestic violence, had been adopted and were critical in promoting women’s entrepreneurship.  In 2016, a law on equality between men and women established equality as a State policy in Bulgaria.  The national policy to end gender-based discrimination was supervised by a national council set up in 2004.  The national mechanism on human rights had a gender equality dimension and comprised high-level officials.  Special policies had also been enacted recently to ensure equal participation for men and women in the workforce, equal pay for equal work, and the promotion of the role of the father in family life.  In the last 25 years, the number of female members of Parliament had doubled.  The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was a Bulgarian woman.  Bulgaria ranked second in the European Union’s ranking of women in high-level positions in the private sector, he said, emphasizing the very active role of civil society in promoting gender equality.

GENOVEVA TISHEVA, Managing Director of the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation, noted the important collaboration among the Government and non-governmental organizations in enacting anti-discrimination laws.  She also commended the work of a human rights training institute for providing a four-year course and in educating more than 100 lawyers from 25 countries during the last seven years, many of whom were women.  Those women then returned to their countries and helped their Government make life better for other women, she stressed.  It was important to educate lawyers, as well as psychologists and social workers, about women’s and girls’ rights and gender stereotyping.  Every year the Government allocated funds for such initiatives.

The representative of Austria asked for more information about efforts to combat sexist hate speech on social media platforms.  Such hate speech presented severe obstacles to gender equality.  She also asked which measures were most effective to combat gender stereotyping.

The representative of Kazakhstan commended the efforts of Bulgaria in promoting equal participation in the workforce, equal pay for equal work, and fighting gender stereotypes.  He asked about Government funding for civil society organizations.

Answering the latter question, Mr. PANAYOTOV said civil society was independent from the State and did not receive direct funding from it.

Ms. TISHEVA said that sexist hate speech was a big challenge in Bulgaria and existed also in different forms, including body shaming, Internet hate speech, and the over-sexualisation of women and girls in commerce and industry.  She said that new and developing Government provisions would target the incitement of discrimination.

SUBANDI SARDJOKO, Deputy Minister for Human, Society and Cultural Development at the Ministry of National Development Planning of Indonesia, said it was important to improve poverty reduction initiatives that targeted women.  It was also critical to decrease the rate of maternal and child mortality.  Ensuring access to clean water and sanitation was vital, he added, emphasizing that the availability of such basic services immeasurably improved the lives of women and girls.  The percentage of women in non-agricultural sectors had increased slightly.  Several ministries were collaborating to ensure Indonesia achieved the Millennium Development Goals.  Gender mainstreaming policy had boosted the number of women in high-power positions in Government and the private sector.  He highlighted several national initiatives aimed at increasing access of services to migrant workers, particularly women.  However, challenges persisted, including limited resources and the economic opportunity gap between rural areas and cities.

The representative of Morocco asked about quotas to empower women and sought more information on follow-up mechanisms. 

The representative of Colombia asked the Deputy Minister of Indonesia to share the obstacles that nation faced in increasing the number of women in Parliament, adding that he hoped to have a constructive dialogue with Indonesian officials to transform the lives of women.

Mr. SUBANDI said Indonesia was implementing a 2016-2019 national action plan for development as well as a road map to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  All stakeholders, including such representatives as academia and businesses, were involved.  Answering the question about increasing women’s participation in Parliament, he said training was provided for female political candidates.

Panel Discussion

Moderating the Commission’s afternoon panel discussion, titled “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work”, was Sejla Durbuzovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina).  It featured the following panellists:  Diane Elson, Emeritus Professor, Department of Sociology, Essex University; Patricia Cossani, Adviser to the Director, National Care Secretariat, Ministry of Social Development, Uruguay; Ito Peng, Professor of Sociology and Public Policy and Canada Research Chair in Global Social Policy, University of Toronto; Naomi Wekwete, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Population Studies, University of Zimbabwe; Ida Le Blanc, General Secretary, National Union of Domestic Employees, Trinidad and Tobago; and Emanuela Pozzan, Senior Regional Specialist on Gender Equality, International Labour Organization Regional Office for the Arab States in Beirut.

Ms. ELSON said investing in the care economy had long-term benefits beyond the immediate recipients of care.  The care industry was disproportionately female, while the construction industry was disproportionately male.  Although men were not often directly employed in the care sector, they benefited from investment in that industry.  Employment for both men and women increased with investment in the care industry, she said, noting that there would be a net gain for the economy with higher tax revenue and a decrease in social security spending.  The quality of care mattered as well.  Skills training and reasonable pay in the care industry were vital for gender equality.  Paid care with private for-profit companies produced the worst working conditions because businesses sought to decrease cost and increase output.  Care was highly labour intensive, and thus, the pressure to reduce costs meant employing fewer trained personnel.  Investing in care would shift work from the non-paid to the paid sector and reduce the gender employment gap, she added.

Ms. COSSANI focused on the national care system in Uruguay, describing a law that established a system which ensured “a right to be cared for in the right way”.  Historically, women provided care.  Uruguay promoted sharing that social responsibility, meaning that the family would provide care along with support by the State.  Women usually provided care on a non-paid basis, she said, adding that the Government had enacted the first national care plan with five components.  The care-giving task must be seen as a valuable service, she said, highlighting various training programmes to combat gender stereotyping and change mindsets.  Uruguay’s care services aimed at freeing up women’s time.  Providing childcare was also an important goal for the country.  “We have to include men,” she added, emphasizing the need to make men co-responsible with women.  Awareness-raising had a role to play in communicating the public services available to families. 

Ms. PENG provided an overview of policy and legislative changes made to support working women, particularly working mothers, in Japan and the Republic of Korea.  Both countries had extended and increased child support and childcare, implemented universal care for elderly people, and expanded maternity and parental leave.  Both had provided full parental leave up to one year for both parents and had embedded institutional structures to promote gender equality.  Total Government investment in family services had risen dramatically since 1990.  In both countries, women’s employment had risen since the 1900s.  Although those were laudable achievements, closer examination of women’s status indicated that significant challenges still existed.  The gender wage gap remained high, especially in the Republic of Korea, while a significant portion of women in Japan were working in part-time and contract type work.  Non-standard employment was not only insecure but also linked to low wage.  Women in both Japan and the Republic of Korea, despite the increase in employment and family supportive policies, faced many challenges.  Gender equality could not be achieved by policy alone; institutional and cultural changes were also needed. 

Ms. WEKWETE said women in Africa, particularly Southern Africa, bore the brunt of care work due to local norms, social attitudes, recurring drought and the HIV epidemic.  The gender gap in care work must be tackled in order to address gender inequality successfully, she emphasized, adding that care work referred to caring for children, the sick and the elderly.  It was not valued and “you will not find men involved in such work”, she noted.  They were involved in paid work while women, often elderly ones, made up two thirds of primary care-givers.  Gender inequality in care work consequently affected women’s leisure time and well-being.  Persistent drought required women to travel long distances to find water and firewood, carrying those resources on their heads.  Formally employed women were still expected to do the care work and household chores.  Emphasizing that inequity was due to prevalent gender stereotyping, she said men who helped with child care were often viewed as being under the control of their wives.  “It’s not an easy thing to change our culture,” she said, welcoming the involvement of religious figures, community leaders and men.

Ms. LE BLANC stressed the need to protect and empower female workers, in particular domestic workers, who provided vital care to the world’s aging population.  Care workers were among the world’s most isolated and vulnerable, she said, stressing that domestic workers must be protected by employment legislation, as they were often fired for joining unions, becoming pregnant or taking sick days.  They also often lacked social protection, a major challenge for female empowerment.  Governments and other stakeholders must take action to ensure decent work for all women by implementing relevant international conventions.  After decades of struggle, care workers in Trinidad and Tobago had begun to organize a cooperative.  The idea was to establish a legal instrument that demanded higher pay standards and work conditions.  The Commission on the Status of Women must send a strong message to the Government to promote decent and quality jobs in both the public and private sectors.  Sustaining workers’ cooperatives was essential as they enhanced bargaining power.

Ms. POZZAN outlined a number of key challenges facing both women and men, including balancing work and life, managing the “deficits of care” and instances of abuse, harassment and unfair treatment at work.  With a rapidly ageing population in much of the world and many of today’s young people soon to be of child-bearing age, the demand for care was growing.  “We have to care about care,” she said, noting that about half of countries provided no long-term care solutions for their populations.  In that context, some 13.6 million additional long-term care workers — as well as 10.3 million health workers — were needed worldwide, providing an opportunity to expand the creation of decent jobs.  Pointing to a relationship between Government policy planning and women’s employment, she said the strong commitment of employers was also critical and that care workers were entitled to a full package of rights, equal pay for equal work and social protection.

In the ensuing discussion, many speakers highlighted the urgency of investing in women’s economic independence, which could have a profound impact on the global economy.  Many agreed with the panellists that it was particularly crucial to bridge the wage gaps between traditionally male-dominated fields and traditionally female-dominated ones, such as education and care work.

Similarly, some speakers spotlighted the enormous economic opportunity presented by regularizing care jobs that existed in the informal economy, as well as paying women for the care they had provided — without any remuneration — for generations.

The representative of the non-governmental organization Canadian Labour Congress, in that vein, stressed that the devaluation of care work needed to change urgently.  Noting that an investment of just 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in that sector would deliver millions of new jobs, she asked the panellists for their views on how to realize that important shift.

The representative of Switzerland said the panellists’ presentations had demonstrated that care sector work could be a significant source of revenue and empowerment for women.  “We’re all — men and women alike — links in the global care industry,” she stressed, outlining a number of Switzerland’s own policies to support female care workers.  She also asked panellists about the specific needs of migrants care workers. 

The representative of Iran, similarly, spotlighted the particular challenges facing rural women, who often spent more time in unpaid reproductive, agricultural and care work.  In Iran, hundreds of women’s rural cooperatives provided such women with a voice, while women across the country had benefitted from a “paradigm shift” brought about by the wide expansion of ICT services.

Ms. LE BLANC, responding to those questions and comments, said migrant workers in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) single market region had the ability to move across borders freely with the appropriate legal paperwork.  However, they sometimes faced bureaucratic and legal hurdles in accessing such paperwork.

Ms. ELSON, highlighting several common themes that had emerged from the discussion, said many speakers had agreed that investing in the care economy was a shared responsibility that could not be left to families or market forces alone.  The discussion had also revealed that the care economy could be a vibrant place for the creation of “good quality jobs that will provide good quality care”, she said, stressing the importance of viewing that potential investment in a positive light instead of as a burden.

Ms. COSSANI echoed that sentiment, calling on stakeholders to take a long-term view of such investments.  While Governments bore the primary responsibility in that regard, all actors must take a more active role.

Ms. PENG, returning to the question of migrant care workers, emphasized the need to examine the role of both the origin and receiving countries.  In the former, it was crucial to address the social, economic and political context — including the lack of opportunities — that led women to emigrate.  Ensuring the safety and dignity of migrant care workers also meant looking closely at the “intermediary businesses”, such as recruiters and brokers, which benefited from the phenomenon.

Ms. POZZAN stressed that both Governments and the private sector must be involved in protecting migrant care workers who often found themselves in vulnerable positions and could be easily exploited.  In addition, while a number of countries had explored the improvement of protective laws and wage standards, migrant care work usually took place in the private sphere and could be difficult to monitor.

Ms. WEKWETE, agreeing that the enforcement of laws protecting care workers was essential, also stressed the importance of educating those workers on their human rights.

Also speaking were representatives of Italy, Philippines and the European Union, as well as speakers from Help Age International and Daughters of Charity.

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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.

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Commission on the Status of Women

Note:Full coverage of today's meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women will be available after their conclusion.

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.

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'The world needs science and science needs women,' UN says on International Day

11 February 2017 – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today urged greater investments in teaching science, technology, engineering and math to all women and girls as well as equal access to these opportunities.

&#8220For too long, discriminatory stereotypes have prevented women and girls from having equal access to education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),&#8221 said Mr. Guterres in his message for International Day of Women and Girls in Science, marked annually on 11 February.

&#8220As a trained engineer and former teacher, I know that these stereotypes are flat wrong,&#8221 he said, explaining that they deny women and girls the chance to realize their potential &#8211 and deprive the world of the ingenuity and innovation of half the population.

&#8220On this International Day, I urge commitment to end bias, greater investments in STEM education for all women and girls as well as opportunities for their careers and longer-term professional advancement so that all can benefit from their ground-breaking future contributions,&#8221 he said.

Earlier this week, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization released its UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030.

'Female engineers and computer programmers wanted,' is the main message of the report, which shows that women are increasingly graduating with life science degrees, but still rare in engineering and computer science, especially in developed economies.

&#8220An analysis of computer science shows a steady decrease in female graduates since 2000 that is particularly marked in high-income countries,&#8221 it states.

The share of women graduates in computer science between 2000 and 2012 slipped in Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United States, as well as in Latin America and the Caribbean.

&#8220This should be a wake-up call,&#8221 UNESCO said. &#8220Female participation is falling in a field that is expanding globally as its importance for national economies grows, penetrating every aspect of daily life.&#8221

The share of women working as engineers is also higher in some developing countries, with increases observed in sub-Saharan and Arab countries. Women in the United Arab Emirates, for example, have benefited from national polities that promote training and employment of Emirati citizens, and in particular women.

In her message on the Day, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova called for empowering women and girls to learn and research.

&#8220We must raise awareness about the work of women scientists by providing equal opportunities for their participation and leadership in a broad spectrum of high-level scientific bodies and events,&#8221 Ms. Bokova said, calling also for mentoring opportunities for women.

In 2016, UNESCO and the L'Oréal Foundation launched the manifesto For Women in Science, to engage governments and stakeholders in promoting the full participation of girls and women in science.

For its part, UN Women noted that science and technology offer unique opportunities for women and girls to overcome a number of the barriers they typically face. For example: mobile money has empowered and transformed the lives of millions of women previously thought to be &#8220unbankable&#8221 by enabling them to directly access financial products and services.

Women with skills in science and technological fields can help improve vital infrastructure such as water and power supply, and in doing so ease the responsibilities that women and girls carry of providing unpaid care work for the household.

Similarly, Internet and mobile technology can help bridge barriers to education for the 32 million girls who are out of school at the primary level and the 29 million at the lower secondary level, explained the main UN entity on women's empowerment and gender equality.

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics estimates based on data from its database, July 2015
Encouraging women to do research

Women now account for 53 per cent of world's bachelor's and master's graduates in science and 43 per cent of PhDs, according to the UNESCO report. Since 2000, there has been a steady increase in female graduates in agricultural sciences, likely driven by an emphasis on national food security and the food industry.

In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, female graduates in agricultural science have been increasing steadily, with women comprising 40 per cent or more of graduates in Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Medicine is also a field increasingly popular with women, with six out of 10 researchers being women in both medical and agricultural sciences in Belarus and New Zealand, for instance.

In research, however, women still lag men at 28 per cent. The figure fluctuates geographically with women in Southeast Europe are on par with men, and at 44 per cent in Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the report, the numbers are particularly low in the European Union, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

To encourage women and girls to study and work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the UN has organized a number of events around the world.

In New York, a high-level event is underway today tying gender, science and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The event was organized with support from the Government of Malta, as the president of the Council of the European Union.

AUDIO: American astronaut Peggy Whitson is making history as the first woman ever to command two missions aboard the International Space Station.

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'The world needs science and science needs women,' UN says ahead of International Day

10 February 2017 – 'Female engineers and computer programmers wanted,' is the call from a new United Nations report that shows women are increasingly graduating with life science degrees, but still rare in engineering and computer science, especially in developed economies.

&#8220An analysis of computer science shows a steady decrease in female graduates since 2000 that is particularly marked in high-income countries,&#8221 the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization found in its UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030, released yesterday ahead of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, marked annually on 11 February.

The share of women graduates in computer science between 2000 and 2012 slipped in Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United States, as well as in Latin America and the Caribbean.

&#8220This should be a wake-up call,&#8221 UNESCO said. &#8220Female participation is falling in a field that is expanding globally as its importance for national economies grows, penetrating every aspect of daily life.&#8221

The share of women working as engineers is also higher in some developing countries, with increases observed in sub-Saharan and Arab countries. Women in the United Arab Emirates, for example, have benefited from national polities that promote training and employment of Emirati citizens, and in particular women.

In her message on the Day, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova called for empowering women and girls to learn and research.

&#8220We must raise awareness about the work of women scientists by providing equal opportunities for their participation and leadership in a broad spectrum of high-level scientific bodies and events,&#8221 Ms. Bokova said, calling also for mentoring opportunities for women.

In 2016, UNESCO and the L'Oréal Foundation launched the manifesto For Women in Science, to engage governments and stakeholders in promoting the full participation of girls and women in science.

For its part, UN Women noted that science and technology offer unique opportunities for women and girls to overcome a number of the barriers they typically face. For example: mobile money has empowered and transformed the lives of millions of women previously thought to be &#8220unbankable&#8221 by enabling them to directly access financial products and services.

Women with skills in science and technological fields can help improve vital infrastructure such as water and power supply, and in doing so ease the responsibilities that women and girls carry of providing unpaid care work for the household.

Similarly, Internet and mobile technology can help bridge barriers to education for the 32 million girls who are out of school at the primary level and the 29 million at the lower secondary level, explained the main UN entity on women's empowerment and gender equality.

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics estimates based on data from its database, July 2015
Encouraging women to do research

Women now account for 53 per cent of world's bachelor's and master's graduates in science and 43 per cent of PhDs, according to the UNESCO report. Since 2000, there has been a steady increase in female graduates in agricultural sciences, likely driven by an emphasis on national food security and the food industry.

In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, female graduates in agricultural science have been increasing steadily, with women comprising 40 per cent or more of graduates in Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Medicine is also a field increasingly popular with women, with six out of 10 researchers being women in both medical and agricultural sciences in Belarus and New Zealand, for instance.

In research, however, women still lag men at 28 per cent. The figure fluctuates geographically with women in Southeast Europe are on par with men, and at 44 per cent in Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the report, the numbers are particularly low in the European Union, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

To encourage women and girls to study and work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the UN has organized a number of events around the world.

In New York, a high-level event is underway today tying gender, science and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The event was organized with support from the Government of Malta, as the president of the Council of the European Union.

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Social Development Commission Integral to Helping World’s 786 Million Poor Reach Their Human Potential, Speakers Stress at Opening of Fifty-Fifth Session

The Commission on Sustainable Development — whose past work had been critical to the evolution of many principles underpinning the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — now had a critical role to play in that framework’s implementation, stressed delegates as they opened the Commission’s fifty-fifth annual session today.

Many speakers welcomed the relevance of the session’s theme, “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all”, underscoring the Commission’s enormous potential to guide inclusive policies aimed at leaving no one behind.

“The adoption in 2015 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was a historic step forward in our common approach to tackling the many challenges all societies and countries face,” said Commission Chair Philipp Charwath (Austria), who was elected by acclamation at the meeting’s outset.  While progress had been made in promoting the rights of vulnerable people — including persons with disabilities and the rapidly growing number of older persons around the globe — poverty remained a major threat.  As part of its work, the Commission would help address such issues by supporting the thematic reviews of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, he said.

Peter Thomson (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, said the Commission’s longstanding work to promote people-centred development had helped shape key sustainable development concepts and laid the foundation for the 2030 Agenda.  The body would now help ensure that that “master plan for people, planet and prosperity” was implemented, he said, expressing confidence that the achievement of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals was “firmly within our reach”.

“Today’s generation can be the one that eradicates poverty and turns the tide on inequality, exclusion and environmental degradation,” agreed Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council.  Noting that it was increasingly difficult to reach people living in extreme poverty and that progress was often temporary, he emphasized that achieving the 2030 Agenda’s objectives would require a broad set of mutually reinforcing social and economic policies, as well as leveraging the synergies among them.

Delivering a statement on behalf of Secretary-General António Guterres, Lenni Montiel, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, said the Commission was meeting at a time of global contradictions.  While significant progress had been made in eradicating extreme poverty, conflicts were reversing gains in social well-being and the gap between rich and poor was growing.  Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals would require whole-of-society approaches tailored to national contexts, he stressed, adding that diversity must be viewed as an asset rather than a threat.

As the Commission began its general debate, many Government ministers and other high-level officials expressed optimism that the Commission’s unflagging support of inclusive, rights-based development strategies would dovetail with the 2030 Agenda’s implementation and continued reductions in poverty.

Nomtoibayar Nyamtaishir, Mongolia’s Minister for Labour and Social Protection, was among those reporting significant strides made towards achieving sustainable development, as well as positive returns on social investments.  Noting that his country had eradicated poverty while preserving its ecological balance, he described a number of key laws and strategies, including a policy aimed at job generation and several efforts to empower Mongolia’s youth.

Ecuador’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, urged the Commission to send a clear message to the High-Level Political Forum that the Sustainable Development Goals were inextricably linked to the rights of women, young people, indigenous people, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.  He also noted that the slowdown of global economic growth, volatile world financial markets, high youth unemployment, humanitarian crises, climate change and others challenges had obstructed the achievement of global social development goals.

Malta’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that across Europe, 119 million people were at risk of poverty and social exclusion, with children and young people most vulnerable.  In response, the bloc had prioritized job creation and the connection between economic and social issues, while tax and benefits schemes were increasingly geared towards providing social support and work incentives.  National pension systems were also better reflecting life expectancy and efforts were being made to ensure that health policies supported social safety nets, he said.

Ana Helena Chacón, Vice-President of Cost Rica, delivering a statement on behalf of the Group of Friends of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, stressed that growing global inequities challenged the universality of human rights.  Youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, minorities and migrants, and women and girls continued to face paramount obstacles to their development, while people living in extreme poverty lacked the political power and the material and educational opportunities to take charge of their destiny.  Human dignity must be at the centre of any sustainable development process, she stressed, warning against the notion that people should be passive beneficiaries of the State.

Also today, the Commission held a panel discussion on the session’s priority theme, which was moderated by H. Elizabeth Thompson, Executive Director of the State University of New York-University of the West Indies Center for Leadership and Sustainable Development.  It featured a keynote speech by Martin Ravallion, Professor of Economics at Georgetown University and former Director of the World Bank’s research department, as well as presentations by a number of social development experts and Government ministers from around the world.

At the outset, the Commission elected, by acclamation, Lot Dzonzi (Malawi) and Alanoud Al-Temimi (Qatar) as Vice-Presidents of its fifty-fifth session.

Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, introduced a number of reports related to the Commission’s work, while Daniel Perell, Chair of the NGO Commission for Social Development, reported on the outcome of the Civil Society Forum held from 30 to 31 January.  In addition, Rozemarijn Ter Horst, a youth representative, briefed the Commission on the work of the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, also held from 30 to 31 January.

Also participating were ministers and other representatives from Viet Nam (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Austria, Brazil, the Russian Federation, Paraguay, Turkmenistan, Portugal and France.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 2 February, to continue its work.

Opening Remarks

PHILIPP CHARWATH (Austria), Chair of the Commission for Social Development’s fifty-fifth session, declared:  “The adoption in 2015 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was a historic step forward in our common approach to tackling the many challenges all societies and countries face.”  In that context, the Commission’s mandate was to discuss, evaluate and make policy recommendations in the field of social development, a task made all the more relevant by the Agenda’s promise to leave no one behind.

While extreme poverty continued to decline fairly rapidly, 786 million people still lived in poverty, he said, pointing also to worrisome trends of rising inequality and social exclusion in both developing and developed countries.  “Growth continues to disappoint,” he said, highlighting the particular need for prosperity to reduce unemployment and for effective youth policies around the world.  Through the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth, the United Nations was already hard at work with many partners in that field, he said, drawing attention to the needs of girls and young women, youth with disabilities, indigenous youth, young migrants and rural youth.

While some progress had been made with regard to the rights of persons with disabilities, he said, they nevertheless continued to face marginalization and barriers in daily life.  Poverty remained a major threat for older persons, whose numbers were growing rapidly and would reach about 1.4 billion globally by 2030.  The long-term success of strategies to end poverty also depended largely on policies targeting families with children.  The Commission would contribute to the follow-up to the 2030 Agenda by supporting the thematic reviews of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, and would focus on the theme, “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all”.

FREDERICK MUSIIWA MAKAMURE SHAVA (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Commission’s work would set an example for all other commissions that would meet this year to discuss socioeconomic issues.  It played an essential role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  Given that it was increasingly difficult to reach people living in extreme poverty, and that progress was often temporary for those who had moved out of poverty, he had identified infrastructure development and industrialization as his top priorities.  “Today’s generation can be the one that eradicates poverty and turns the tide on inequality, exclusion and environmental degradations,” he said, adding, however, that achieving those objectives would require a broad set of mutually reinforcing social and economic policies, as well as leveraging the synergies among them.  The Commission’s deliberations would provide important guidance to Member States in that regard.

LENNI MONTIEL, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, delivering a statement by António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the Commission was meeting at a time of global contradictions.  Significant progress had been made in recent decades in eradicating extreme poverty, and the adoption of the 2030 Agenda had set the bar higher with its goals aimed at leaving no one behind.  However, these were challenging times, with conflicts reversing gains in social well-being, and a growing gap between rich and poor.  Even in peaceful societies, prosperity had not been shared.  Anxiety meanwhile was growing as societies dealt with such megatrends as urbanization and climate change.  The Sustainable Development Goals would require whole-of-society approaches tailored to national contexts.  Social development was an end in itself and the best way to secure and ensure lasting peace.  Top priority must be given to gender equality and women’s empowerment, he said, adding that diversity must be seen as an asset rather than a threat.

Introduction of Reports

DANIELA BAS, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, introduced several reports related to the “Follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly”, including a report of the Secretary-General on “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all” (document E/CN.5/2017/3).  The report provided an overview of progress made towards the eradication of poverty and highlighted strategies implemented by countries to achieve that objective.  It focused on challenges faced by countries and concluded with a set of recommendations for further action.

Among other things, she said the report demonstrated that new policy approaches and strategies were required to tackle poverty in all its forms, including extreme poverty.  It also underlined the importance of political will, institutions, governance, partnerships and the combination of mutually reinforcing social, economic and environmental policies.  Importantly, it cautioned that mainstreaming the policy “status quo” would not get the job done.  Strategies must be in line with varying national contexts, priorities, capacities and fiscal constraints.

Turning to the Secretary-General’s report on “Social Dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development” (document E/CN.5/2017/2), she said it highlighted progress made in implementing the Partnership’s various programmes and priorities, including reducing poverty and hunger, promoting employment creation, improving education and health outcomes, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment and infrastructure development.  It urged African countries to continue to accord priority to investing in agriculture, promoting structural transformation, increasing investments in health, education, skills development and social protection, and strengthening inclusive and accountable institutions.

She said the Secretary-General’s report on “Mainstreaming disability in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (document E/CN.5/2017/4) provided an overview of disability inclusion in existing international development frameworks, as well as the status of persons with disabilities in social and economic development.  It examined the evolution of the Commission’s role in mainstreaming disability in the development agenda and made related recommendations for the implementation of global development goals.

Next, she said a report of the Secretary-General on “Policies and programmes involving youth” (document E/CN.5/2017/5) spotlighted the need for robust, stand-alone youth policies coupled with consistent cross-sectoral efforts.  It also provided a compilation of recent youth policy initiatives based on input from Member States, United Nations entities and civil society organizations.  It made a number of recommendations under three broad themes of gender, participation and inclusion, and marginalized groups.

She also drew attention to the Secretary-General’s report on the “Third review and appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing:  preliminary assessment” (document E/CN.5/2017/6), which analysed the preliminary findings of the third review and appraisal exercise, including the identification of emerging issues and policy options.  Noting that the Commission in 2018 would conduct the global segment of the third review and appraisal cycle, she said the report listed substantive and organizational suggestions offered by regional commissions for consideration by Member States.  Delegations might consider those recommendations when elaborating the work programme for the Commission’s fifty-sixth session in 2018.

Finally, she said, a report of the Secretary-General on “Emerging issues” (document E/CN.5/2017/7) focused on areas that were important for promoting integrated poverty eradication policies in the context of youth development in the 2030 Agenda, for which the Commission could play a key role.

DANIEL PERELL, Chair of the NGO Commission for Social Development, reported on the outcome of the Civil Society Forum, held from 30 to 31 January.  Its deliberations had emphasized the role of social protection as a fundamental tool for alleviating poverty, he said, underscoring the need to reconsider the relationship between independence and interdependence in the context of development.

ROZEMARIJN TER HORST, a youth representative, then updated the Commission on the work of the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, also held from 30 to 31 January.  Highlighting the Youth Forum’s focus this year on youth and poverty eradication, she said its outcomes would inform the Commission’s work.  Issues raised stretched from gender equality to youth unemployment to the meaningful participation of young people in decision-making.

Statements

HORACIO SEVILLA (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, recalled that 2015 had been a historic year when the international community had come together around a universal set of commitments to guide its work in the coming years.  The 2030 Agenda, in particular, had acknowledged that poverty eradication was a sine qua non for the achievement of sustainable development, he said, stressing that the international community must bolster current commitments in that critical area.  It must also implement an ambitious sustainable development agenda to ensure that no one was left behind, he said, underscoring the Commission’s own responsibilities in that regard.  “This Commission must send out a clear message to the High-Level Political Forum” that the Sustainable Development Goals were inextricably linked to the rights of women, young people, indigenous people, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, he stressed.

Reaffirming the Group’s commitment to the goals agreed at the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen more than 20 years ago, he went on to express deep concern about uneven progress in achieving those targets.  The slowdown of global economic growth, volatile world financial markets, high youth unemployment, humanitarian crises, climate change and others challenges had created obstacles for the achievement of social development goals.  “The eradication of poverty is perhaps the most imperative objective facing the global community,” he stressed, adding that social exclusion was still a major challenge around the world.  Warning against a “business-as-usual” approach to tackling those issues, he called for adequate financing for social development goals and underscored the Commission’s role in supporting the rights of vulnerable people, including those living under foreign occupation and colonial domination.

DAVID MANSFIELD (Malta), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that across Europe, 119 million people were at risk of poverty and social exclusion, with children and young people most vulnerable.  Priority had been placed on job creation and millions of young people had already benefitted from investment measures to combat the cycle of poverty.  More emphasis had also been placed on the connection between economic and social issues, while tax and benefits schemes were increasingly geared towards providing social support and work incentives.  National pension systems were also better reflecting life expectancy and efforts were being made to ensure that health policies supported social safety nets.

Further, he said, a plan launched last year sought to improve people’s skills and address the 70 million Europeans lacking adequate reading and writing abilities.  Efforts to engage with European Union and national public and private actors included those to promote better dialogue with social partners and civil society.  Going forward, the European Union would continue to promote an international development policy in the area of the environment, agriculture, and fisheries, while a new European Consensus on Development, once adopted, would provide the framework for a common approach to development policy.   While that proposal reflected that each country had a primary responsibility for its economic and social development, it also promoted a new global partnership for sustainable development encompassing shared policy and financial means.

NGUYEN PHUONG NGA (Viet Nam), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, reiterated ASEAN’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda, which complemented its efforts to raise living standards in the region.  Over nearly three decades, the share of people living in extreme poverty in the ASEAN region had fallen from one in three to one in eight.  While the 2030 Agenda would guide poverty eradication efforts in South-East Asia, there was no one-size-fits-all approach to its implementation, she said, emphasizing that efforts should be tailored to meet the unique needs, priorities and backgrounds of each country and region.  It was also important for any comprehensive strategy to build resilience against potential shocks such as economic instability, food insecurity and climate change, she said, citing ASEAN initiatives in that regard.

She said more could be done through participation and partnerships to eradicate poverty and advance sustainable development.  In that regard, she drew attention to annual ASEAN forums on rural development and social welfare, as well as the Association’s efforts in promoting public-private partnerships and strengthening its relations with international partners, including through the ASEAN-United Nations Plan of Action for 2016-2020.  ASEAN called for a strengthened global partnership that would include the fulfilment of official development assistance commitments, enhanced capacity-building and technology transfer, and the creation of favourable conditions for developing countries in the formulation and implementation of poverty eradication strategies.

ANA HELENA CHACÓN ECHEVERRÍA, Vice-President of Costa Rica, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said that despite all achievements, many countries had been left behind and growing global inequities challenged the universality of human rights.  Poverty was a system and the poor continued to be deprived, above all, of the capacity to claim their inalienable rights.  Human dignity must be at the centre of any sustainable development process, he said, warning against the notion that people should be passive beneficiaries of the State.  To the contrary, people must be genuine agents of change, entitled to certain basic living conditions, such as reaching their potential.

And yet, he said, the realization of economic, social and cultural rights remained a “mirage” for millions.  Youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, minorities and migrants, and women and girls continued to face paramount challenges to their development.  Moreover, people living in extreme poverty had neither the political power nor the material and educational opportunity to take charge of their destiny.  Respecting, promoting, and protecting rights required Governments to take positive action, which in turn, demanded national compliance with international obligations, particularly the 2030 Agenda.  Highlighting the vital role of civil society and other stakeholders in promoting human rights, he stressed that attaining sustainable development required commitment from all.

Ms. Chacón, speaking in her national capacity and associating herself with the Group of 77 and with the statement to be delivered by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), described a number of her Government’s strategies aimed at meeting the needs of vulnerable people and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.  Among other vulnerable groups, those instruments addressed the needs of persons with disabilities, women, young people, persons living on the street, persons of African descent, refugees and indigenous peoples.  Costa Rica’s poverty, as measured by traditional indexes, had decreased from 22.3 per cent in 2015 to 20.5 per cent in 2016, with extreme poverty having dropped significantly over the same period.  In addition, she said, the country was working to build a fairer, more inclusive society that fully respected human rights.

SOPHIE KARMASIN, Minister for Family and Youth of Austria, said war, famine and natural disasters in one region could have direct impacts on countries in other regions.  “We can longer deny the globalized, interlinked world we live in,” she stressed.  The global fight against poverty could only be won by improving the lives of children, and as such, families should be at the centre of economic policies.  Describing the “Companies for Families” network and efforts to combat gender-related inequality, she said Austria was working to support women in returning to work after giving birth and had allocated funds for child care.  Poverty eradication also depended on the availability of decent work, particularly for young people.  Associating herself with the European Union, she said the bloc’s Youth Guarantee initiative was an excellent tool to reduce youth unemployment.  She also described national efforts to enhance digital competence for those seeking to enter the workforce, underscoring the importance of both social protections and multi-stakeholder partnerships aimed at eradicating poverty.

NOMTOIBAYAR NYAMTAISHIR, Minister of Labour and Social Protection of Mongolia, said his country had eradicated poverty and preserved its ecological balance as it continued to build a strong and stable country.  It had integrated the Sustainable Development Goals into its policies, plans and budgets, including the Mongolia 2030 Sustainable Development Vision and the Action Plan for 2016-2020.  That framework was focused on establishing a national economic policy that collaborated with regional and international economic trends, while remaining absolutely sovereign from political influence.  Further, the new law on national development sought to create sustainable economic growth by generating jobs and shifting people from welfare beneficiaries to contributors to the achievement of the Goals.  Highlighting Mongolia’s various investments in its youth, he recalled that the country had hosted a regional forum on youth involvement in the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.

ALBERTO BELTRAME, Vice-Minister of Social and Agrarian Development of Brazil, said his country, through a rights-based approach, had made consistent efforts to reduce inequality.  It had overcome extreme poverty, reduced poverty and taken itself off the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) hunger map.  Going forward, Brazil understood that poverty was multidimensional and that policies to address it must be socially sustainable.  He outlined some of Brazil’s social policies, including the “Bolsa Família” cash transfer programme.  While income transfer strategies were important, he said, there was still a need for policies to address the intergenerational reproduction of poverty, create opportunities for human development and encourage labour market inclusion.

ALEXY CHERKASOV, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, said the Commission would be an effective coordinator within the United Nations on a range of social development questions.  In his country, special attention was paid to such vulnerable groups as families with children, older people, those not in regular paid employment, and persons with disabilities.  The employment situation in the Russian Federation was stable, with unemployment lower than global Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and European Union standards.  However, citizens without a legal source of income represented a serious socioeconomic problem, as they comprised 23 per cent of the working population, which had an impact on the national budget.  He outlined Government efforts to address the legal status of self-employed persons and the prevalence of low-paid, low-output workplaces, and to increase the minimum wage.

HECTOR RAMON CARDENAS MOLINAS (Paraguay) stressed the need to step up country efforts to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and combat climate change, all while leaving no one behind.  “We need to overcome the challenges of uniting political will to ensure more inclusive societies,” he added, reaffirming his country’s zero tolerance policy for discrimination.  In recent years, and thanks to the Government’s strategic efforts, Paraguay’s poverty – including extreme poverty – had dropped significantly.  Nevertheless, the Government continued to push forward to improve the participation of all people in the achievement of sustainable development, and provided support through such programmes as responsible cash transfers, school feeding programmes and the building of affordable housing.

MUHAMMETSEYIT SYLAPOV, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Population of Turkmenistan, recalled that following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, his country had immediately begun to integrate its targets into its national policies.  Noting that the goal of development was to bolster the material and spiritual well-being of people while respecting their fundamental rights and freedoms, he described several recent changes to Turkmenistan’s Constitution, which reflected the country’s accession to various international human rights treaties.  In that regard, the Government had drafted a national action plan to combat human trafficking and was working on similar strategies for the protection of the rights of children and other vulnerable groups.  Economic and productive growth was another priority.

ANA SOFIA AUTUNES, Secretary of State for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities of Portugal, associating herself with the European Union, said poverty took different forms in different parts of the world, but it had one common consequence:  depriving people from fulfilling their potential and well-being.  Eradicating poverty required strategic, integrated and coherent measures at all levels, targeting such groups as persons with disabilities, migrants, refugees, and those from ethnic and religious minorities.  She described a social benefit that Portugal had introduced for those certified as disabled, and emphasized the difficulties that the long-term unemployed, particularly those over the age of 50, faced when returning to the labour market.

MARIE-CHRISTINE BAUDURET, Head of Labour, Employment, Social Affairs and Human Rights, European and International Delegation, Ministry for Social Affairs of France, associating herself with the European Union, said the Government maintained an integrated approach to poverty eradication that took into account the views of vulnerable populations.  France’s tool for achieving Goal 1 (no poverty) was a multi-annual plan to fight poverty and promote social inclusion that drew on input from private and public stakeholders.  She emphasized the importance of lifelong learning, noting that the digitization of jobs might bring with it employment loss for those lacking qualifications.

Address by President of General Assembly

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, said the Commission’s longstanding work to promote people-centred development had helped shape key sustainable development concepts and laid the foundation for the 2030 Agenda.  The body now had a key role to play to ensure that that “master plan for people, planet and prosperity” was implemented over the next 14 years, he said, adding that this year’s theme on poverty eradication could not be more timely or relevant.  Expressing confidence that achieving those goals was “firmly within our reach”, he pointed out that the number of people living in extreme poverty around the world had been reduced from 1.9 billion in 1990 to about 702 million in 2015.

In that regard, he called for continued efforts to build sustainable, inclusive economic growth, in particular through people-centred investments such as the provision of equitable, quality education.  Peace must also be sustained, as people in conflict-affected countries were among those most at risk of being left behind.  “Without sustaining peace, sustainable development is not possible”, he stressed, noting that the United Nations had now accepted that the two concepts were deeply interlinked.  Finally, he underscored the need to secure long-term financing for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals — estimated to cost between $5 trillion and $7 trillion annually — through policies that supported both private and public funding efforts.

Interactive Discussion

In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion on the priority theme “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all”.  Moderated by H. Elizabeth Thompson, Executive Director of the State University of New York-University of the West Indies Center for Leadership and Sustainable Development, it featured a keynote speech by Martin Ravallion, Professor of Economics, Georgetown University, and former Director of the World Bank’s research department.

It also included presentations by Ana Helena Chacón Echeverría, Vice-President of Costa Rica; Aisha Jumai Alhassan, Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria; Michelle Muschette, Vice-Minister for Social Development of Panama; Michel Servoz, Director-General of the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion in the European Commission; Ifeyinwa Ofong, development consultant and a national coordinator of women in development and environment in Nigeria; and Alberto Beltrame, Vice-Minister for Social and Agrarian Development of Brazil.

Mr. RAVALLION said “fantastic” progress had been made against extreme poverty.  “That’s great news, but there are continuing challenges, real challenges,” he said, emphasizing that poverty monitoring must be relevant to social policy dialogue.  While there had been good overall progress in reducing absolute poverty, challenges remained and poorer countries that had relied on economic growth — rather than direct interventions — to combat poverty might need to adapt their policies.

Maintaining growth trajectories since 2000 without a rise in overall inequality would lift about 1 billion people out of extreme absolute poverty over the next 15 years or so, he said.  Such an optimistic path would require economic reforms that would make markets work better for poor people.  It would also need a measure of good luck, such as avoiding a major financial crisis or success in dealing with climate change.  Given that path, however, more than 1 billion people would still be living in relative poverty.

Among his recommendations, he said policies must be tailored to the realities of local situations.  Local information — including greater community-based participation — could help identify those in need, reinforced with strong Governments.  He also emphasized the crucial nature of monitoring and evaluating progress, and the need for policymakers to learn from mistakes and adapt to evidence of failure.  Bureaucratic inertia appeared to be a common problem, he said.

Ms. CHACÓN stressed the need to design public policies to meet the needs of people facing constant hunger, exclusion and poverty.  No development could be sustained if millions of people were left behind.  Poverty was the most flagrant violation of human rights.  Social policy must end the income gap and move towards peace, justice and inclusion.  Costa Rica had worked to implement since 2015 the national “bridge for development” poverty-reduction strategy.  It entailed social maps to track impoverished areas and understand their socioeconomic conditions.  A poverty index was used to measure poverty beyond income and to take into account shortages in education, health care, water and housing.  The strategy focused particularly on women, with substantial results.  If current strategies continued, Costa Rica was poised to eliminate extreme poverty in less than 10 years.

Ms. ALHASSAN said that despite its immense natural and human resources, Africa remained underdeveloped and plagued with extreme poverty.  Fully, 48.5 per cent of the global population and one third of the sub-Saharan African population experienced malnourishment and exclusion.  To address that, in 2013 African Union Heads of State adopted 2063 Agenda to eradicate poverty.  Since 1995, Nigeria had adopted an affirmative action strategy, whereby 30 per cent of the Bank of Industry’s investment funds were earmarked to reduce female poverty.  The Government had set up a basic education scheme to end illiteracy and equip beneficiaries with lifelong skills to be self-reliant.  It provided free immunization for infants to reduce infant mortality.  Among other things, she cited a capacity-building scheme to reduce youth unemployment; an agriculture scheme for 3 million rural farmers to reduce hunger and end poverty; programmes to improve farming techniques and enhance food production; and an $800 million revolving loan scheme of the Central Bank of Nigeria for small business entrepreneurship.  The current Administration was rolling out new initiatives to end poverty, such as cash transfers, a school feeding programme, and scholarships for science and technology classes.  Annually, $164 million was earmarked for no-interest loans for rural businesses.

Ms. MUSCHETT, discussing Panama’s policies for poverty reduction, emphasized the importance of taking stock of available resources and for a consensus with civil society to be in place.  In her country, macro policies such as an increase in 2016 of the minimum wage and a monetary transfer programme had assisted those in extreme poverty.  Reducing poverty brought challenges, however.  She explained her Government’s new strategy which focused on reinforcing links between existing policies, with the goal of reducing extreme poverty to the lowest possible level, guaranteeing social protection and halving multidimensional poverty by 2030.  The results should help families emerge progressively out of poverty.

Mr. SERVOZ, reviewing the features of the European Union’s approach to poverty, emphasized the importance of a comprehensive and integrated strategy, with specific instruments for the most vulnerable.  He also underscored the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships.  Noting that the European Union was still struggling from the 2007 economic crisis, he said an integrated approach that covered a range of issues, including education and fiscal matters, was needed.  The bloc regarded trade policy as essential to creating decent jobs and supporting its social protection systems.

Mr. OFONG said a one-size-fits-all strategy to end poverty would not work.  She asked whether people were poor because they were lazy or because institutions had failed to create policies for an enabling environment in which people could be well fed and cared for.  Among the lessons learned from poverty-eradication programmes was that data was vital in order to know whom to target.  In surveys of poor people in her country 95 per cent of respondents said they preferred to receive funds, rather than training.  Poor people had an important role in helping to develop strategies for charting their own path out of poverty.  Poverty eradication must be linked to rural development.

She said it was necessary to talk with the poor — many of whom had resigned themselves to their lot — and help them understand the meaning of sustainable development.  All strategies must enhance their capacity to help themselves.  Governments must develop good road networks and markets for their products, she said, noting that many developing countries lacked a well-functioning financial system to grow economies and create jobs.  Investment, particularly in domestic production chains and economic diversification, were vital.  Most African parliamentary systems, derived from European or United States models, were too costly to enable Governments to spend limited resources wisely.  New models were needed.

Mr. BELTRAME said remarkable achievements in recent decades, with millions of Brazilians lifted out of poverty and the nation removed from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Hunger Map, had helped raise quality of life and reduce inequality.  The challenge was to sustain those gains.  The national poverty reduction strategy entailed conditional cash transfers, social inclusion, and promotion of human development, with a focus on early childhood care.  Through the Bolsa Familia cash transfer programme, 13.6 million low-income people received stipends provided they kept their children in school and following a vaccination schedule.  This year, the Government would launch a National Strategy for Social and Productive Inclusion to build professional skills and generate income.  The Happy Child Programme was launched last year and would give regular assistance, including home visits, to 530,000 children in 2017 and 1.5 million in 2018.

In the ensuing discussion, the moderator asked Mr. SERVOZ why, for the European Union, partnerships were important.  He replied that, to implement the Goals, the commitment of Governments was not enough; others must participate as well.  However, he stressed, Governments had an obligation to mobilize other actors, particularly social partners.

A representative of the Baha’i community asked how to develop policies that did not create a sense of separateness between haves and have-nots.

Responding, Ms. MUSCHETT emphasized the importance, when identifying target populations, of understanding contexts and expectations.  Most policymakers were never going to understand “in their skin” what experiencing poverty was really like.  Panama’s history with cash-transfer programmes was fairly new and under constant assessment, but to judge from the experience of other countries, such as Brazil, those programmes alone would not free people from poverty.

Mr. RAVALLION added that it was expensive to address poverty at a micro level, especially for poor countries.  Policies must be tailored to local realities or they would not work.  There should be more discussion around State capacities and building effective Governments in poor countries.  Tension could emerge between finely targeted programmes and middle-class support, and in such instances, it would be necessary to strike a balance, appropriate to each country.

A representative of UNAMANA International said people living in poverty must be asked what they needed.  In that regard, she asked the panellists what interventions countries might take in consultation with their local communities, and how their success could be monitored.

Mr. RAVALLION responded that it was critical to consider what would work best in each situation.  “We have a menu of options,” he said, and there was no single magic bullet.  While the science of measurement and evaluation had come a long way, he warned against generalizing and stressed that methods should be adapted to the local context.

Ms. THOMPSON raised questions related to the role of governance, how best to address environmental issues in the eradication of poverty, and ways to galvanize people around the 2030 Agenda.  A representative of the International Association of Schools of Social Work then asked panellists how to ensure that the world’s current power concentrations did not hinder efforts to leave no one behind.

The representative of Romania said the best measure of social development was “jobs, jobs, jobs”.  Leaving no one behind meant moving forward together, he said, stressing that the motto represented the “best equation” for eradicating poverty.  He then responded to several questions by Ms. Thomson relating to his choice of the word “jobs” as opposed to “decent work” and whether jobs should be targeted to groups such as youth and women, stressing that he was talking about a “decent way of life” in general.

Ms. CHACÓN said the Sustainable Development Goals, while ambitious, were more realistic than their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals, which had not been achieved by many countries.  In Costa Rica, the Government had created a public alliance through which it engaged academia, civil society and State institutions in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.  Measurable and specific targets and indicators, as well as implementation time frames, had also been put in place.  She underscored the importance of investing in education, which would help countries remain competitive and generate “jobs, jobs, jobs”.

Ms. ALHASSAN said that, without the appropriate frameworks, the roles of Government and other stakeholders remained unclear and those entities could not be held accountable.  Policies required adequate legislation to enforce them, she added, calling in particular for social safety nets for the most vulnerable and citing a number of examples from her country.

A representative of SustainUS, also speaking on behalf of native Hawaiians, raised a question about land rights and displacement, their relationship to poverty, and the situation of indigenous peoples.

Ms. OFONG said those who lived in poverty needed to know what the Sustainable Development Goals were about.  Civil society felt that Governments must simplify the Goals and translate them into local languages.  Thought should be given to teaching the Goals in schools.  Regarding governance, she said it was costly for most African countries.  Each country should revisit their political structures and reduce costs in order to have more money for poverty eradication.

Ms. ALHASSAN addressed the topic of land-holding by women.  In most of Africa, and especially in Nigeria, women had had no land-owning rights, despite that they represented the majority of farmers.  The Government in Nigeria was addressing that issue in equal opportunities legislation.

Mr. SERVOZ said many poverty strategies were about education, fiscal policies and other issues.  However, education ministers did not get along well with counterparts who dealt with social policies, and it was the same for finance ministers.  He also addressed a question from the moderator about the environment, saying the European Union was committed to full implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change and reducing energy poverty.

Ms. THOMPSON, emphasizing that environmental resources could not be squandered, said nobody got along with environment ministers, as they were considered too “restrictive”.

Ms. MUSCHETT said that, following a major consultative process, Panama was developing a national plan for indigenous peoples.  Poverty in her country was concentrated in five regions populated by indigenous peoples, but each of those regions was different.  She added that environmental vulnerability was one dimension of Panama’s multidimensional poverty index.

Mr. CHARWATH, Chair of the Commission, in brief closing remarks, highlighted the importance of data, stressing that without data, there could be no policy formulation.

__________

*     The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release SOC/4837 of 12 February 2016.

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