Women’s human rights and participation in power and decision-making (en)

22 junio 2015
ITC Noticias
ITC Executive Director’s statement at a panel during the 29th session of the Human Rights Council, 19 June, Geneva

Let me start by thanking the organisers of this panel for the invitation extended to the International Trade Centre to be with you today.

My grandmother always told me:

To tell a woman everything she may not do is to tell her what she can do”.
[Decirle a una mujer todo lo que no puede hacer es decirle lo que puede hacer.]

I will focus my intervention on an often neglected aspect of women’s participation in power and decision-making: economic empowerment, the oil that ensures that human rights “in words” can be human rights “in deeds” for women

Economic empowerment turns women into independent and confident stakeholders in the economy and society. And trade can play an important role in empowering women economically.

Trade as an enabler of economic independence and empowerment At the International Trade Centre (ITC), we support small and medium enterprises to connect to international markets and thus contribute to generating growth and jobs. 90% of the economic tissue of any economy is SMEs. Around half of them are either women-owned or large employers of women. And yet, many of these women are in the informal sector, and even when they are not, are paid less than their male counterparts.
Women can be true actors of prosperity Women’s participation in the workforce is not just a numbers game- it can boost production, create more consumers and create jobs.

Women make up around half of each country’s population. Not creating economic opportunities for more than half of your population is not a smart economic decision! Gross Domestic Product per capita will be lower than it could be; job creation, growth and innovation are needlessly restrained, and the social spill overs of economic livelihoods are undermined.

Studies show that including women as productive actors in the agriculture value would increase total agriculture output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4.7%, while reducing the number of undernourished people by 12-17%.

This is why at ITC we care about women economic empowerment: not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it makes economic sense. We help build the capacity of women to produce and offer services that the market wants and we help connect them to regional and international markets.


I often say we must ensure that the world’s “third billion” - women as workers, consumers and entrepreneurs are better harnessed for sustainable economic growth. 


The social and business case for women’s economic empowerment There is a very straightforward business case for gender equality: companies employing great number of women perform better. A McKinsey study shows that corporations having greater gender diversity at the top perform better. For example Mercedes Erra, CEO and co-founder of the French advertising company BETC, says that if her company is the best one in France, it is thanks to her gender parity policy. Meanwhile, BETC is the first agency that puts sustainable development at the heart of its strategy in both its internal operations and its customer service strategy.


In addition, women’s participation in the paid economy benefits their family and society as a whole. World Bank research shows that women reinvest up to 90% of their earning in their family and communities, mainly in the nutrition, health and education of children, compared to 40% for men. Employed women can have a significant effect on poverty reduction, universal primary education and reduced child mortality. They increase not only their own but also their children's economic prospects. It is trans-generational economic empowerment.

So, in a nutshell, women economic empowerment is not only a human right; it also makes great economic sense. It is therefore a no-brainer that we must act to accelerate women economic empowerment.

Our global economic system can better support women’s empowerment and the realization of human rights by removing the barriers that still restrain women from fully participating in the economy.

2015 is the 20th anniversary of the Beijing declaration on women. We have collectively made many important strides since then. But there is still much more we can do, especially in the economic field.

Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Margot Wallstrom is now conducting a ‘feminist foreign policy’. When asked what that meant by an audience at the United States Institute of Peace, she answered that it meant “striving toward gender equality is not only a goal in itself, but also a precondition for achieving our wider foreign, development and security-policy objectives." She presented her ‘feminist toolbox’ of three ‘Rs’ for women: Rights, Representation and Resources. These three are indeed largely absent in our global trade and economic system.

Participation of women in the workforce remains unequal: in 2013, the male employment-to-population ratio (in total number of inhabitants) was 72.2%, while the ratio for females was 47.1%.

Women are generally paid less than men for equal work: their wages are between 70 and 90% of men’s.

• Across Africa, men and women own roughly the same number of businesses. However, the larger and more export-oriented enterprises tend to be dominated by men, while women are often are focused on microenterprises that have not yet internationalised. This is a pattern that is often replicated across the developing world. 


What shall we do to pave the pave towards gender equality?


Let’s begin with ensuring the legal structures are in place: ensure gender parity in law – on paper and implemented – together with access to resources.


- In 15 countries, husbands can prevent their wives from working.
- In 79 economies, laws restrict the types of job than women can do.
- Women represent 43% of the agricultural workforce globally, but in some cases still face restrictions on land and property ownership, as well as access to credit. 

We must approach women’s rights as human rights across the entire empowerment chain. The challenge is to work together to build on the progress achieved in health and education by better linking the economic component to these social dimensions.

How can we do this? First, we must ensure trade and business-related training for girls and women.

At ITC we train women in business skills to enable them to tap into their entrepreneurial spirits. We help women entrepreneurs to better understand pricing, contracts, and product quality requirements, and facilitate business-to-business transactions to allow them to meet buyers and increase their sales. We help them develop competencies that an entrepreneur must have in order to succeed and be competitive in international markets.
Second, we have to encourage gender parity at work.

ITC promotes gender equality in our projects and amongst our clients - but to be credible we have to also ensure our house is in order. We have just appointed a gender focal point and agreed to a gender parity strategy across all levels.

Third, analyse and address trade barriers that affect women disproportionally.
In September we will be issuing a report from our work with SMEs analysing some of these barriers, which will enable the trade policy community to placed focused attention on dismantling them.
Fourth, encourage public procurement practices that include women-owned companies.

Governments can directly help women-owned businesses through public procurement, which accounts for 30% of GDP in developing countries and some 10-15% of GDP in developed countries. Governments can change the way they use their purchasing powers to support women-owned enterprises. This would increase social benefits without costing taxpayers significantly more. 


What shall we do to pave the pave towards gender equality?


Some companies develop the inclusion of women-owned businesses in their procurement process. The American multinational Walmart aims to source $20 billion from women-owned businesses for its domestic markets, and plans to double this amount in its international markets by 2016. ITC’s annual Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum in São Paulo this September will launch a global initiative to promote the inclusion of more women suppliers in value chains. Not just at the bottom of the chain, but across the entire chains, including the more lucrative value added activities. 

To conclude, let me sum up: Trade empowers women, women empower trade. But to do so effectively we have to first understand the barriers that prevent women from being economic citizens and then remove them.

At today’s pace, we know that we will have to wait 80 more years – four generations – to see the gender gap close.

Why wait so long? If we see women as crucial agents to end poverty and boost global prosperity, lets ensure we help increase their economic power and participation in economic decision-making. Let’s ensure this dimension is an integral part of the post 2015 development agenda.