Taking Action for Transformational Change on Women’s Economic Empowerment

It was an honor to meet UN Secretary General António Guterres at the presentation of the report. He affirmed his commitment to the Panel’s agenda and emphasized the need for actions that would directly benefit women on the ground.

What does it take to create transformational change for women’s economic empowerment and how can we incite stakeholders around the world to take action? These were the questions at the heart of second report of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, Taking Action for Transformational Change on Women’s Economic Empowerment, which was launched Tuesday, March 14, 2017. I was immersed in the center of this discourse as the lead author of the report, and it was my responsibility to work with the entire Panel to create a document that would answer these questions in a way that also faithfully represented the Panel Members’ varied institutions and expertise.

The short answer, of course, is that there is no single “magic solution” that will achieve women’s full and equal economic participation. Instead, we focused on identifying concrete, measurable recommendations that would eliminate the most challenging barriers women face while also facilitating an enabling environment that would lead to further actions. Ideally, this will create a compounding, momentum building effect as multiple stakeholders take action simultaneously. It was natural to align the report with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – much of the world has already committed to the SDGs, and is in the process of developing strategies to achieve those goals. This report is intended to help with those strategic plans, as well as to instruct those who are starting to realize they will be left behind if they do not join the rest of the world in accepting and supporting women’s economic empowerment.

UNHLP Panel Co-Chairs President Solis of Costa Rica, and Simona Scarpaleggia, CEO of IKEA Switzerland, formally presented the report to the Secretary General at an intimate ceremony organized moments before the blizzard descended.

The report is deliberately short (only 15 pages of text) and written for a non-specialist audience, so is an easy read over coffee. It is organized by the seven drivers of women’s economic empowerment identified in the first report, and emphasizes 2-4 practical recommendations for each, as well as an expanded call to action for macro and sectoral economic policy advisors. The recommendations can be applied in any country or sector in the world, regardless of economic development status. Foremost to the economic argument, the report emphasizes the need to recognize women’s rights as the foundational step in creating any progress for women. The report will be complemented by a series of tool kits of resources prepared for each driver by working groups of panel members and expert consultants (including yours truly, who worked with a wonderful group for Driver 5: Changing Business Culture and Practice). These will be published online by the end of April.

Throughout all of its work, the Panel was guided by the principles of “no one left behind,” and “nothing for women without women” as laid out in the first report, and emphasized the need to reach the most marginalized women at the base of the pyramid whose economic contributions are often at risk and largely invisible. The Panel believes that by doing this it will be possible to economically empower 1 billion women by 2030, which, although ambitious, is achievable – just consider the size of some of the economies, such as India, that are already embracing this agenda and have large populations of informal and agricultural women workers. There was also a renewed focus on the four areas of work, and a deeper look at the different identities women have, and how their needs and aspirations differ depending on factors like ethnicity, age, and migrant or refugee status. Much of the discrimination and violence women face is directly a result of their gender, but eliminating such injustices requires an understanding of the larger context of the norms, laws, and expectations communities have for women, as well as the expectations women have for themselves. Only by being context specific can we achieve sustainable systemic progress on women’s economic empowerment.

Here are some of the highlights of the second report:

An enabling environment is essential for the advancement of women’s economic empowerment. It is characterized by supportive policies, laws, investments, partnerships, and the active participation of women through collective bodies and representation. Governments are predominantly responsible for creating this environment, but the private sector and civil society have essential roles to play as well through partnerships, advocacy, and investment.

The seven drivers will be familiar to anyone who read the first report, but the Panel members felt particularly strongly about emphasizing macroeconomic and sectoral policy in the second report as an eighth “meta-driver” because they create much of the infrastructure of the enabling environment:

As an example, the Panel’s first report noted that “supportive macroeconomic conditions investing 2 percent of GDP into the care sector could increase employment rates by 4–7 percentage points, with women filling 59–70 percent of the newly created jobs.” This is an extraordinary opportunity – not just to properly recognize and compensate care workers, but to create new decent jobs in the care sector, which everyone will benefit from throughout their lives.

Public procurement provided another statistic that particularly struck me. Women-owned enterprises currently receive about 1% of the public procurement contracts worldwide. Increasing that number to just 2%, would result in an addition $60-70 billion dollars for women-owned enterprises. That’s an astonishing outcome from a target that is quite achievable.

The compiled recommendations for each driver are presented at the end of the report in an “at a glance” table to make it as easy as possible for potential actors to see the full breadth of options and choose those that are most relevant to their work. The Panel invites all committed partners to share the actions they will take up and their subsequent progress on the HLP website – www.womenseconomicempowerment.org – and through social media — @UNHLP #WomensEconomicEmpowerment #HLP.

President Solis was exceptionally gracious about my rather cheeky request for a photo during our elevator ride down from the report presentation. His dedication has already resulted in another 16 heads of state committing to this agenda, and he is planning a major event with them at the next UN General Assembly in September.

I must acknowledge the extraordinary contributions of the Panel Members to the writing process. This was truly a collaborative effort and they contributed much time and expertise to ensure we produced a document that would truly catalyze transformational change for women. I also want to recognize my fellow expert consultants who drafted papers for each of the driver working groups, which directly informed the text of this report. It is exactly this type of community effort that is going to guarantee the success of the women’s economic empowerment movement.

In the final meeting of the panel, which was held in the midst of blizzard Stella, there was great energy and many ideas for next steps. Some members, such as Co-Chair Simona Scarpaleggia, have already begun engaging new partners in their respective fields (just last week, she led a group of 40 companies in Switzerland who made 40 commitments to women’s economic empowerment as part of International Women’s Day). Others expressed an interest in working across stakeholder groups and forming new alliances borne of the friendships developed through the Panel experience. The second report launch may be the final official act of the Panel, but its work is only just beginning.

The ultimate goal of this report, the High-Level Panel and the Sustainable Development Agenda is a world where women have their rights recognized and are empowered to be free and equal participants in a robust, inclusive and sustainable global economy.

– Taking Action for Transformational Change on Women’s Economic Empowerment

The final meeting of the UN High Level Panel for Women’s Economic Empowerment was full of enthusiasm and commitments to action for next steps. The second report will be launched by Panel Members at other events around the world and shared widely through personal networks and social media.

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