Rebeca Grynspan: Remarks on "Rebuilding the Global Economy"

Feb 23, 2011

Opening remarks by Rebeca Grynspan, UNDP Associate Administrator

Rebuilding the Global Economy: Toward Sustainable and Gender Equitable Development

New York

Your Excellency, Ms. Bathabile Dlamini Minister of Social Development
of South-Africa
Your Excellency Carsten Staur Permanent Representative of Denmark

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Round Table on “Rebuilding the Global Economy: Towards Sustainable and Gender Equitable Development.”

Allow me to begin by expressing my gratitude to the Governments of South Africa and Denmark for co-sponsoring this important and timely event with UNDP, and thank Minister Dlamini and Mr. Carsten Staur for joining us today.

I am also delighted to have with us two internationally-known feminist economists, Dr. Mariama Williams and Dr. Stephanie Seguino.

Before we begin I would like to offer some reflections for today’s discussion.

Decades of advocacy, research, policy dialogue, and actions have yielded unprecedented recognition of the importance of gender equality as an important prerequisite to poverty reduction and human development.  

Gender equality is now not only perceived as an important cause on its own, but also as an important pathway to the development and advancement of society as a whole.  And important progress has been made:

  • First of all, with the establishment of UN Women, the UN and I think the World, now has for the first time  an agency with both normative and operational functions solely dedicated to advancing gender equality and women´s empowerment.
  • More girls are enrolled in education at all levels and women are more educated than ever before.
  • Overall, we see women playing enhanced roles in decision-making processes, which is reflected in the fact   that the global average of women in parliament has increased from only 13 per cent in 1990 to 19 per cent in  2009; and
  • Women’s pivotal role in conflict prevention and peace building has been increasingly recognized – as   reflected in a number of Security Council resolutions on the subject. 

However, the positive global trends can hide uneven progress and critical challenges. For example:

  • While the proportion of women in parliament is in high in some countries, others lag behind, with the  highest proportion being 56.3 per cent in Rwanda, the lowest being 0.3 per cent and 0.9 per cent in Yemen  and Papua New Guinea. Also the world average is far from the 30 per cent target set in Beijing World  Conference on Women in 1995.
  • The maternal mortality continues to be a critical issue. In 2008 the world maternal mortality was estimated  at 260 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
  • Too many women continue to be subjected to different forms of violence including sexual violence. The  situation is particularly grave in conflict areas. 

The recent food crisis and fall-out from the financial crises, compounded by the effects of climate change make addressing these challenges more difficult, and even risk reversing the progress already made.

The World Bank has estimated that the 2007-2008 food crisis combined with the subsequent financial and economic crises left an additional 50 million people in extreme poverty in 2009 and some 64 million by the end of 2010 relative to a non-crisis scenario.

The World Bank’s latest released food price index data also shows dramatic increases in global food prices since June 2010. This increased is estimated to have pushed 44 million more people into extreme poverty in low and middle-income countries.  

Because of preexisting gender biases in assets, capacities, and opportunities, women and girls are disproportionately affected by these challenges.

For example:

ILO estimates that from 2007 to 2009, women’s unemployment went up by 19.2 million compared to an increase of 14.6 million in men’s unemployment. This comes on top of persistent gender inequalities in labor markets around the world, which can be seen in women’s limited participation in formal labor markets, poor working conditions, occupational segregation, and discrimination in the workplace – including lower pay.  To address these issues it is critical to consider not only social policies and instruments but also the economic policies that pretend not to have differentiated effects on men and women.  To make visible the gender dimensions of economic policy is still an uphill battle and an unmet objective.

The food crisis has also weakened the already fragile livelihoods of poor households and has led to increased food insecurity and hunger. The FAO has estimated that in 2010 about 925 million people live in a state of chronic hunger compared with 1 billion high in 2009, which marks an improvement but still remains unacceptably high.

Due to a combination of cultural norms and beliefs, women, girls and children are more affected by food shortage. Historical data shows that women and girls tend to more likely suffer from hunger during food crisis, and 7 out of 10 of the world’s hungry people are estimated to be women and girls.

Climate change and extreme weather events such as drought, floods, have also been shown to affect poor women disproportionally. 

For example, increased water insecurity in many countries means that women and young girls have to walk even further to collect water and biomass for fuel for cooking and heating. That impacts on their health, and the time available to engage in productive activities making it difficult for them to cope with poverty.

The extra vulnerability of women can also be a matter of life and death in time of disaster.  Research now suggests that natural disasters cause more deaths among women than among men.  Women’s vulnerability to disasters is increased by factors like the feminization of poverty, lower levels of education, and cultural constraints on women’s movements. 

The recent floods in Pakistan are a case in point, where by some estimates, 85 percent of persons displaced by the flood are women and children. They are also facing critical poverty challenge and it is estimated that the nutritional crisis related to the floods has led to 90,000 under-five children malnourished and high levels of malnutrition among women.

UNDP has taken a number of measures to address the gender dimensions of climate change and in the recovery from the economic crisis.

For example:

  • In 2010, we launched the Gender and Economic Policy Management Initiative, a capacity development programme  aimed at making poverty reduction and economic policies deliver equally for women and men, boys and girls;
  • Through the Women’s Green Business Initiative, UNDP aims at promoting green employment and entrepreneurship  opportunities for women;
  • For the climate negotiations in both Copenhagen and Cancun, UNDP and partners of the Global Gender and  Climate Alliance, including the Government of Denmark, trained women delegates from developing countries and  conducted sessions on the gender dimensions of climate change. Strong inroads have also been made in  integrating gender into the operational frameworks of the Climate Investment Funds and the Adaptation Fund.
  • The 2010 Human Development Report introduced a new Gender Inequality Index (GII). It looks at women’s status  in the areas of labour force participation, civic participation, and through reproductive health-areas which  are all critical to advancing human development. It is a measure of the shortfall in human development that  can be explained by disparities between women and men within a society. The world average score on the GII  is 0.56, reflecting a percentage loss in achievement across the three dimensions due to gender inequality of  56 percent. Regional averages range from 32 per cent in developed OECD countries, to 74 per cent in South  Asia. At the country level, losses range from 17 per cent (Netherlands) to a massive 85 per cent (Yemen).This loss can be interpreted as a percentage loss to potential human development due to shortfalls in the  dimensions included.

While current global challenges risk impede progress towards gender equality, women’s empowerment and achievement of the MDGs, they may also trigger unique opportunities for a transformational change that have positive effects for women and men, girls and boys if innovative responses to reconstruct the economy and the society are pursued.

In fact, if there is one single positive outcome emerging from the experiences of recent years, it is the growing recognition that we can no longer do business as usual.

In short - we need to aim for a transformational change which encourages both sustainable and equitable development.

For this, we not only need to demand that public policy (economic, social, and environment) is gender sensitive, but we also need to participate in a proactive, not defensive, mode in the national, regional, and global dialogue with respect to society as a whole discussing inequality and gender inequality, discussing inclusiveness and gender inclusion, discussing sustainable growth and women contribution to it.

From that perspective what does it means rebuilding the global economy in a sustainable and equitable way? What does it require?

This is exactly the subject of today’s event, and I am certain that we will have a very interesting and interactive discussion.

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