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CSW Side Event – Women’s Economic Empowerment: Strategies and Outlooks from the Regions: A Summary

 cswsideCSW Side Event – Women’s Economic Empowerment: Strategies and Outlooks from the Regions

11 March 2015, 6:30 – 7:45 pm


Jennifer Olmsted, Professor of Economics at Drew University and former UNFPA Gender Specialist began with an illuminating visual of the overall economy as layers of a cake, in which the Care economy and mother nature are the foundation upon which the informal economy, public sector, and private sector function. Reproductive and unpaid work is required to keep the overall economy sustainable, but often it is a barrier to women’s economic empowerment.

Women need access to decent work. ‘Decent’ means that they receive a living wage, have a safe work environment, and are able to support household members both financially and in unpaid care. The two main obstacles to achieving decent work for women are: the inability to hold corporations accountable, and the inability to control the conditions of the informal sector.

Though there are specific regional circumstances, many of the major thematic challenges for economic empowerment are universal. This idea became evident as the representatives from the five Regional Commissions made their presentations.


ECE: Christian Friis Bach, ECE Executive Secretary, discussed five key areas for action. With regard to female labor force participation, several countries have implemented strict legislation and made significant progress in boosting women’s participation in the work force. However, even with progress in labor participation, women tend to enter into part-time and low paid sectors. Furthermore, the gender pay gap in the ECE region remains significant (15% on average). Germany has implemented policies in which public procurement only goes to companies where there is equal pay for equal work. Countries like Monaco, Macedonia, the US, and Germany have implemented similar proactive legislation.

Another key area for ECE is female participation in decision-making. Belgium has introduced gender quotas for company boards, and both France and Ireland have quota schemes for female candidates in political parties. In terms of promotion of female entrepreneurship, Poland has implemented microcredit schemes and business exhibitions for women entrepreneurs.

Lastly, there was a call for gender-sensitive fiscal policies. Women have been most affected by the financial crisis. Pensions are lower for women throughout the ECE region (39% gender pension gap) and there is often a higher income tax on the lower paid partner. These discriminatory policies must be removed, and gender impact assessments in planning for macroeconomic policies must be put into place.

ECA: Thokozile Ruzvidzo from the African Centre for Gender focused on the ways that African countries can use Africa’s wealth in natural resources to achieve economic empowerment for women. While corporate companies run the majority of mines, 144.7 million women are employed in the small scale and artisanal mining. These female mining workers are often seasonal, and do sustenance farm work in the off-season.

Governments should invest in small-scale mining and agriculture through adequate training, resources, and linking small-scale miners to do business with corporate mines. This type of support could make the extractive industry profitable for women. She also highlighted that unpaid care work must be counted in the macro planning of countries.

ECLAC: Pamela Villalobos from the Gender Division began by stating that since Beijing there has been an increase in economic participation of women and a decrease in the level of poverty in Latin America. However, the feminization of poverty in the region is rising. Like the other regions, Latin American women are concentrated in unpaid care work and paid domestic work. Eighteen countries in the region have made efforts for gender disaggregated time measurement, and all countries show that on average women work longer hours than men.

She highlighted some innovative gender mainstreaming processes in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama and Peru, which began in 2013. They inter-disciplinary, inter-sectoral contracts promoting gender equality. Instead of involving only gender departments, the contracts bring together the economic, financial, innovation, technology, trade, labor, and tourism ministries. The outcome has been an agreement both in the political and technical spheres to work towards women’s economic autonomy. The major challenge for these processes is a lack of data. Although there is some data on time use, information on female access to financial resources, distribution of land by gender, and female participation in the corporate world are all lacking for governments.

Microcredit and conditional cash transfers should continue, but an emerging focus of concern is macroeconomic policy targeting the empowerment of women, which requires specific expertise and resources. Lastly, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Chile are working on the development of public care systems to reduce women’s burden of unpaid care work, but there is much work to be done in this area.

ESCAP: Nanda Krairiksh, Director of the Social Development Division, highlighted that although the Asia-Pacific region is a dynamic engine of growth in the world, men are prevailing according to labor force participation rates. Statistics show that in the region, many more women are exposed to vulnerable employment: casual contracts, hazardous environments, and a lack of social protection. Although some countries, like Thailand, do have a substantial number of female CEOs in the private sector, a glass ceiling for vertical occupational segregation persists throughout the region.

Discriminatory inheritance practices and customary laws in countries like India and Pakistan are major barriers to economic empowerment. Underlying stereotypes must be challenged and patriarchy must be replaced with gender justice. Countries should allocate resources towards removing obstacles for female entrepreneurship. Lastly, she stressed that women’s economic empowerment is smart economics; the exclusion of women from the labor force is associated with a 40% drop of productivity.

ESCWA: Samira Atallah, Director of the Centre for Women, began by stating that women’s economic empowerment is as much about perceptions, women’s rights and cultural norms as it is economic policy. The ESCWA region is diverse and contains differences in government policies, but in many countries social norms and the perception of a woman’s place in society cause women to leave jobs in order to start families. Furthermore, the region is characterized by conflicts, long wars, and occupation, which are circumstances that further expose vulnerabilities.

The region has achieved significant progress on furthering girl’s education, this has not translated in progress for women’s economic empowerment: Arab women have the lowest labor force participation in the world (23% in 2013). There must be efforts towards school to work transition policies. Additionally, many women that are employed are at the lowest level of the service industry and thus lack social protection. Governments must also address the need for protection from sexual abuse and violence in the workplace and home.



An OECD representative noted that unpaid care work had been a theme throughout the regional presentations. Measuring unpaid care work had been a promise at Beijing, and is now a broken promise as only 80 countries worldwide are doing this. She asked what indicators the Regional Commissions would like to see in the agenda in this respect and overall.

A representative from Mexico stressed that health systems are inefficient and do not reach the informal sector. She asks ECLAC and other regions about the strategies there are to address this problem.

Meg Jones, the Chief of Economic Empowerment at UN Women spoke about data on the number of business registrations by women. She emphasized that the government can present these statistics to businesses that are searching for women to source from. Jones asked if any countries are already collecting sex-disaggregated data on business registrations. If not, is there any capacity in this area? Would Regional Commissions like to see this statistic being collected?

A Kenyan representative asks the panelists why programs to empower women through government procurement are not gaining momentum. He also asks for advice on the best ways to measure unpaid care work in national accounting systems.



ESCWA: Individual initiatives that target women through programs are often at the request of a donor from abroad whose intention may not be fully consistent with the goals of economic empowerment. Instead, there should be an overall government-led strategy for gender mainstreaming.

ECA: Recording new business registration by gender is a very positive idea. However, often women do not know how to register a business, or they are in the informal sector and do not see a need to register their business. Therefore, governments must focus on easing the business registration process for women first. Gender statistics in Africa are difficult and ECA has worked with UN Women for statistical systems. This has begun on the basic level with the registration of births and deaths, leading up to disaggregation at every level. Lastly, the land policy initiative in ECA shows that climate change and peace and security issues are really about good governance. Thokozile also congratulated the Kenya Women’s Trust Fund for its 50.6 million USD for women in business.

ECLAC: The solution is not merely in counting the unpaid care work, but also in promoting integral national systems for care for children, elderly, and people with disabilities. Although governments do not have the money for this now, public care systems can be an objective in the horizon. ECLAC supports new indicators to measure women’s autonomy, and mentioned that only 3 countries in the region are currently recording the registration of new businesses by gender.

ECE: The Conference for European statisticians has developed a set of indicators for gender statistics. This includes unpaid care work. However, the conference noted that for measuring entrepreneurship by gender they could not come up with an indicator ‘given the difficulties of translating the definition of entrepreneurship to gender statistics.’ Christian Bach plans to suggest the statistics on new business registration to their statisticians. Overall, he expressed great enthusiasm for partnerships between regional statistical offices in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals, and supports using the Regional Commissions as a platform to cooperate on sustainable development statistics.

ESCAP: ESCAP wants to focus on strategies for childcare schemes, and social protection schemes that address he vulnerability of the informal sector as well the formal sector. In response to the question on business registrations, she discusses a three-year project with Goldman Sachs that addresses the legal and policy barriers to business registrations for women. This project is in China, Indonesia, India, and Malaysia and so data on the subject exists for these four countries. The study found that the inconsistent, cumbersome, and difficult regulations for licensing processes are disproportionately impacting women. There are plans are to expand this study to ten countries in the ASEAN region.


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