ITC Executive Director opening remarks at the W20 Virtual Summit
Good morning, Good afternoon, Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
In the midst of a global health pandemic which has today claimed the lives of over 1 million people;
… and in a year when many important events have had to be either cancelled or rescheduled, including the global climate change conference COP26, the WTO Ministerial Conference and UNCTAD XV;
… and in an unprecedented time of growing and cascading uncertainties across the breadth and depth of the globe - including for the multilateral trading system, climate action, SDG financing and geopolitical relations;
… it is “telling” that today we are gathered here at the Women 20 Summit.
What it tells me is that we really cannot afford to sit back and ride out the overlapping waves of populism, protectionism and COVID 19 infections and restrictions.
As you will find in the W20 publication “Women Entrepreneurs: An Action Plan to Build Back Better,” which is being launched here today through this event – the consequences of doing nothing range from an increase in failed women-owned businesses to a host of psychological disorders and a range of other challenges in between.
I will get back to the publication in a moment.
First, I want us to take a step back and take stock of what has been happening along this journey to gender equality since the start of COVID 19 lockdown measures. The degree to which we are seeing rollbacks of hard-won gains for gender equality is alarming:
In terms of employment, women bore the brunt of widespread job cuts. In Bangladesh, more than 1 million garment works were laid off, 80% of them women. In the US, nearly 60% of the jobs eliminated in the first wave of pandemic cuts were held by women. The situation is particularly acute in lower and upper-middle-income countries, where 56% of women work in hardest-hit services sectors compared to 39% of men.
Looking at women-owned businesses, ITC found about 64% of women-led firms declared their business operations were strongly affected by the crisis, compared with 52% for companies led by men.
Additionally, there are 740 million women globally working in the informal economy, with little to no social or economic protection. Informal cross-border trade has been a major characteristic of the African economic and social landscape, representing up to 40% of regional trade. Women make up the largest share of informal traders, representing 70% to 80% in some countries. As borders close, restrictions on freedom of movement are taking a particularly heavy toll on those women who earn a living by making regular trips between countries.
In the field of economic research, the proportion of female authors working on research related to the pandemic is 14.6%, which is considerably lower than the average 20% during normal times.
At home and in the refugee camps, we are seeing a jaw-dropping rise in domestic violence against women. A recent UN report on COVID-19 reported increased violence against women around the world, with surges in many cases of upwards of 25% in some countries and a lot more in others. Moreover, ten months since COVID-19 was first identified, a survey of refugee and displaced women in Africa reported a 73% increase in domestic violence, 51% in sexual violence, and 32% observed a growth in early and forced marriage.
To borrow a cricket reference from my native Jamaica....sitting out this innings is not an option. Despite the odds, we need to keep on batting away the impediments to gender equality.
This is why ITC has joined forces with ICC, UPS and W20 to provide an action plan, outlining nine practical areas of action for policymakers, corporate stakeholders and the international community to leverage and support women’s entrepreneurship as an engine for growth in the post-COVID 19 era.
“Women Entrepreneurs: An Action Plan to Build Back Better” is both the title of this publication as well as this event. Both of which have truly been a collaborative effort. The brief would not have been possible without the generous contributions from a wide range of stakeholders including, the Gambian Vice President; Ministers from Australia, Canada, Chile, South Africa and Spain; as well as international experts, SMEs, corporations and other partners who have lent their valuable insights and expertise.
For those who have not had a chance to dive into the brief yet, it identifies a number of measures corporations can take to increase women’s participation in corporate supply chains and provide flexible supply chain financing options. It calls upon policymakers to support women’s access to finance and financial services and ensure women-owned businesses are able to take greater advantage of public procurement opportunities. The brief also highlights the significant role the international community has to play in strengthening global cooperation and how to concretely support women entrepreneurs to leverage digital technologies.
As we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and with only a decade until the culmination of the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, we cannot risk losing hard-fought progress towards gender parity. Recalling the W20 Statement commemorating the Beijing +25, this is the time for all governments, including the G20, to recognize, affirm and realize women’s human rights.
It is our hope that this joint brief is a catalyst for discussion, advocacy and collective action by trade and development actors for a gender-just post COVID- 19 society, starting with today’s event. We have an exciting panel discussion ahead, so without further ado, I am pleased to hand the floor over to our master of ceremonies, Mai Bin Dayel, to moderate and kick off the discussion.