Trade, Women and Youth in the context of the development of the United Nations’ Post 2015 Agenda

25 November 2014
ITC News
Speech delivered by ITC Executive Director Arancha González at the Graduate Institute of Geneva

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you for the invitation to address the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies on the topic of ‘Trade, Women and Youth in the context of the development of the United Nations’ Post 2015 Agenda’. And to do this today when we celebrate International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The Graduate Institute enjoys an excellent reputation so I commend those of you studying here for your choice of institution. An additional value is that this places you geographically at the heart of where trade matters are negotiated and where decisions are taken on the trade-investment-development nexus. Geneva is also a pole of business and civil society. All of these are essential ingredients to ensure a better governance of our global commons. This is why la Geneve Interntionale matters for global governance. And nurturing and stimulating it matters even more.

The International Trade Centre (ITC) is a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. We are mandated to work with the public and private sectors to boost the competitiveness of small and medium sized companies in developing countries, to help them achieve export success and to use trade and increased competitiveness as a route to sustainable development. In a nutshell, through Aid for Trade, we help transform trade opportunities into realities This year we are celebrating 50 years of service.

And during the last 50 years, ITC has worked within a landscape of changing trade and development priorities and realities.

The way that the world trades has completely transformed with the network of value chains, the reach of technological innovations and the entry of many new actors onto the trade and development scene. Fifty years ago the pool of actors debating growth and trade was very small. Issues related to women and youth were rare topics on the global agenda. The World Trade Organisation did not even exist!

But this world is no more. The decision making board room has been unlocked with developing countries, NGOs, academic institutions, the private sector...and yes even women… having a major role at the table.

But even with this changing landscape the overarching role of the United Nations and hence of the ITC remains absolute: address poverty, inequality and promote sustainable and inclusive growth and development. The discourse of 2014 on these matters very much includes a debate on integrating women and youth in economic development.

And the departure point for this is very much embodied in the very purpose of the United Nations. Article 1, paragraph 3 of the Charter of the United Nations – 1945 - tasks the UN as the body:

“To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.

What is important to note here is that we have – all of us – agreed that one of the primary purposes of the UN is to cooperate on international problems of an economic nature in a manner that is non-discriminatory, what we call today ‘inclusive’.

Since 1945, there have been various international treaties, from the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, through to the “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women”, amongst others, that have contributed to the ongoing refinement of what ‘without distinction’ or non-discrimination, actually means. These extend to and include the right to work, women’s economic rights and areas where discharging obligations at the national level are sometimes fraught with challenges, such as women’s right to the ownership and control of land, the right to inherit or issues related to the financial inclusion of women.

Whilst there has been increasing acknowledgement of women’s rights in development discourse, even though there remains a huge gap in the realisation of those rights, the recognition of ‘youth’ as a group that must also be ‘included’ in discussions and in the design of development agendas, has lagged. This is evident when we consider the relative absence of references to ‘youth’ in the Millennium Development Goals. In the MDGs there is at least a stand-alone goal in support of women.

By way of background, the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 – form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the poorest in the world.

These goals, in sum, encapsulate eight agreed development priorities:
1. Eradicate extreme poverty
2. Achieve Universal Primary Education
3. Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
4. Reduce Child Mortality
5. Improve Maternal Health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases
7. Ensure Environmental Sustainability
8. Global Partnership for Development

As the youth of today, you might wonder under which category your interests are represented. Depending on how you define ‘youth’ you may find yourself outside the goal of ‘universal primary education’ or ‘child mortality’ or ‘maternal health’. Each of these most definitely has a ‘youth’ dimension but if you are looking for a ‘hook’ for youth interests, you may find it more in the shift articulated in the Millennium Declaration itself. It is a shift well worth mentioning here as this sea-change in attitude has only gained momentum since the advent of the Post 2015 discussions.

One of the transformative aspects of the Millennium Declaration, underpinning the Goals, is that it went beyond the traditional parameters of State obligations. In 2000, in the interests of ‘Strengthening the United Nations’, the Members States resolved “to give greater opportunities to the private sector, non-governmental organizations and civil society, in general, to contribute to the realization of the Organization’s goals and programmes.”

This represented a significant step forward in determining the types of relationship we as UN entities can form, in the delivery of our work. It means, for example, that if you are a youth entrepreneur – man or woman – in a developing country and you are part of an organisation representing the interests of youth or women in your country, you are in a position to engage.

There are several levels of ‘engagement’: global, regional, national, local and sectoral, to name a few. Let me focus on two: global and national.

Global level: The good news is that as we transit from the MDGs to the Post 2015 Development Agenda, there is stronger support for broader engagement in achieving a common outcome. The stage we are collectively engaged in at present is in determining precisely what that ‘common outcome’ will be.

There have been several high-level bodies established and reports commissioned to contribute to the shaping of the agenda. To date, the report that is, at this point in time, closest to the contours of what we might reasonably expect to see in the successor to the Millennium Development Goals, is contained in the Open Working Group Proposal for Sustainable Development Goals. I repeat (so you can Google it!): The Open Working Group Proposal for Sustainable Development Goals. This report proposes 17 Goals.
The report proposes 17 Goals:

Goal 1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Goal 2 End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Goal 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Goal 4 Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Goal 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 6 Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Goal 7 Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Goal 8 Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Goal 9 Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Goal 10 Reduce inequality within and among countries
Goal 11 Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Goal 12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
Goal 14 Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Goal 15 Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Goal 16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Goal 17 Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Did you notice the transition in language between the MDGs and the proposed Sustainable Development Goals? The language is already crafted with a broader group of beneficiaries in mind. Note the use of ‘inclusive’ and ‘for all’. It is evident that at a high level, there is recognition that we need to look very closely at our development efforts, including with a view to addressing inequality within countries.

You may wish to reflect on this as the youth of today – ‘inequality within countries’ is typically interpreted as the gap between the rich and the poor. However, it can be considered in terms of sex and age. Indeed, as the second target under the proposed goal makes clear:

“By 2030 empower and promote social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status”.

A reminder: these have been proposed as goals, with underlying targets. Over the next 12 months negotiations will take place to determine the final set of goals, with their attenuating targets and indicators. The work at the national level will then intensify as we move to implementation.

Let me now move to the national level. If this is an area of interest for you and you would like to be part of the dialogue there are several entry points. The most direct line you have as a citizen, is through the government official holding the portfolio on what might be called either the ‘sustainable development goals’ or the ‘Post 2015 Development Agenda’. In addition, there are several forums you can uncover by searching ‘Post 2015 youth’ or ‘Post 2015 women’. Note also that the UN Secretary General has appointed a Special Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi - in recognition of this youth dimension. As students here’s an opportunity to conduct your own research: put more light into how gender and youth can be better mainstreamed and tracked in our efforts to reduce poverty and foster inclusive societies.

In the meantime, let me tell you a bit about what we’re doing at ITC to foster inclusiveness.

For a start, ITC is an advocate for the robust integration of an economic dimension in the Post 2015 Development Agenda. As the UN Secretary-General has made clear:

“A new era demands a new vision and a responsive framework. Sustainable development, enabled by the integration of economic growth, social justice and environmental stewardship, must become our global guiding principle and operational standard.”

The addition of two pillars, on economic growth and the environment, to the social pillar that was central to the MDGs, has generated much discussion. We are breaking new ground. This takes time and persuasion. This is in particular where you, as the youth of today, can use your intellectual acumen in drafting articles for publication on why an inclusive economic agenda is imperative in achieving sustained and sustainable development.

For ITC we are approaching it from three angles:

The first one is trade: the UN Secretary-General has observed that “international trade is an essential component of an integrated effort to end poverty, ensure food security and promote economic growth”. He has stated that “an ounce of trade can be worth a pound of aid”.

We see this in the results we generate at ITC: linking entrepreneurs to new markets, be it through our “Women and Trade Programme”, or our “Youth and Trade Initiative”, expands possibilities to do business. Through the trade-related technical assistance and capacity building we provide we have, for example, facilitated sales and letters of intent to do business to the value of over USD30m for women in developing countries.

These women entrepreneurs are present in all sectors from agro-food to manufacturing and more and more into services. This has significant developmental impact as research shows women reinvest up to 90 per cent of their income in their family and communities.

The second one is women: Women, particularly women in fragile states, in post-conflict societies, rural women and, increasingly urban women, need to be an integral part of eliminating poverty as they constitute the majority of the poor.

In ITC’s work we include in our assessments, analyses not only of products but of factors that inhibit the people – in particular women and poor communities– from achieving trade success as entrepreneurs. We focus on entrepreneurs – on helping small and medium sized enterprises in developing countries succeed in trade – because small and medium sized enterprises are the main source of jobs. Across the developed and the developing world SMEs account for almost 80% of jobs. Increasing entrepreneurs’ success increases jobs.
Helping foster women entrepreneurship – through skills development, through facilitating setting up SMEs by women, through setting aside a part of government procurement for the benefit of women owned enterprises, through linking women owned SMEs to regional and global markets – as ITC does, needs to be part of the Post-2015 development landscape.

The third one is youth: It would be difficult to imagine a more relevant subject than the situation of young people. With 1.8 billion youth between the ages of 10 and 24, we are witnessing the largest generation of young people in history. Yet, this generation of youth, across developed and developing economies alike, is facing particular challenges. This includes the risk of not having the opportunity to engage in the economy in a productive way. Almost 74 million young people are estimated to have been unemployed in 2013. Youth have been disproportionately affected by job losses since the start of the global economic crisis and such trends tend to be higher for young women.

Many of these young people have simply stopped trying as we can see from the growing number of ‘NEETs,’ or youth who are ‘not in education, employment or training’. This poses a major challenge to integrity and social cohesion. While youth unemployment has been the main international headline-grabber, another hidden crisis is youth underemployment. Youth are often trapped in low-paying jobs without basic benefits or opportunities for advancement.

Whether this youth bulge can be transformed into a demographic dividend for sustainable growth will depend on what policies, and initiatives are in place to leverage the competitive advantages of youth.

Negotiations shaping the Post 2015 Development Agenda present a unique opportunity to not only determine how we meet the needs and aspirations of young people but to include youth in the discussion to drive the future they want. We are at a crucial junction where we can find meaningful ways to unlock their potential to become problem-solvers, innovators, entrepreneurs, change agents and leaders.

We are at a cross roads: We are closing out on 15 years of development that has been guided by the eight Millennium Development Goals and we are negotiating a new development agenda. There is broad agreement that this will not only be a social agenda, but that economic growth and environmental stewardship are equally important pillars. But if we want this to happen, we will have to put our money where our mouth is. I do therefore hope that sustainable inclusive economic growth – but clearly growth – will be central to the post 2015 agenda. And that the role of trade in this growth will be given its place.

Building on the stated inclusion of a broader group of partners to achieve the MDGs, the Post 2015 Agenda is being formulated with unprecedented consultation with civil society, the private sector and others.

You, in your endeavours need to understand your chosen area of substance, be it the contribution of youth or women to economic development and contribute to the debate. In doing so, may I counsel you to do so in a manner that recognises the equal rights of men and women. I am sure that your voice can amplify attention on youth. And if we want this to translate on the ground, let’s make sure that we capture progress in an age and sex disaggregated manner. Because what we cannot measure, we cannot effectively manage.

I thank you for this opportunity. I encourage you to be active voices in shaping the Post 2015 Agenda. And welcome you to attend ITC’s First Open Doors and Innovation Day on 2 December to learn more about the organisation. We want to get closer to you and this is why next year we will be working with you in the “Just Innovate” your collaboration for Social Impact.

And if you are unable to attend take a look at our website and follow us on twitter and facebook. See ITC as your partner moving forward.

Thank you