Helen Clark: Keynote speech on Women's Economic Empowerment for Sustainable Development in Rural Areas

Mar 18, 2016


Event hosted by Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey (KAGİDER) & Vodafone Turkey Foundation

My thanks go to the Women Entrepreneurs’ Association of Turkey (KAGİDER) and the Vodafone Turkey Foundation for hosting this event. UNDP greatly values its partnership with both organisations, and we are keen to expand our collaboration around implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

I will speak today about the importance of women’s economic empowerment both in general and in rural areas, and about the platform for this which the new global development agenda and the SDGs provide. I will also share some examples of how UNDP is working to advance women’s economic empowerment around the world.

The Importance of Women’s Economic Empowerment

In the world of work, there continue to be significant inequalities between women and men in many societies, including in levels of formal participation in the labor market, income, entrepreneurship, access to credit, and inheritance rights and land ownership. Note, for example, that:

• The gender pay gap is real and persistent: globally, on average, women earn 24 per cent less than men.  

• An estimated 47.9  per cent of women are in work which is informal or precarious, and which limits their access to social protection. 

• In all countries, women are “time poor”, as they carry a disproportionate burden of unpaid care work. Women in developing countries work 73 more minutes per day than men; in developed countries women work 33 minutes more.  Unpaid work is a particular burden for women in poor, rural areas, where they bear the main responsibility for gathering firewood and water, and from where men often migrate to cities or abroad, leaving women as single heads of households with many more responsibilities. 

• Laws and policies often deny or limit women’s rights to inherit and own land.  Even when such rights are enshrined in law, legal loopholes, poor enforcement, and discriminatory practices can undercut the formal legal guarantees.

• In developing countries, women make up an average of 43 per cent of the agricultural workforce. Yet they have on average less access to resources, including to quality seeds, fertilizers and tools, agricultural extension services, and to financial services. This makes women less productive – even though they work as hard.

Yet women’s economic empowerment has significant multiplier effects. For example, increasing the share of household income controlled by women changes spending in the household in ways which benefit children. Strengthening women’s economic opportunities is also an essential contribution to eradicating poverty. 

Agenda 2030: giving momentum to women’s economic empowerment

Agenda 2030 and the SDGs have the potential to make a real difference for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Gender equality is acknowledged in the agenda as a fundamental right, and as a driver of progress across all development goals. Reflecting this, it is both the sole focus of one of the new SDGs - Goal 5 - and is also integrated into the other goals.

The SDGs address women’s economic empowerment – including that of rural women. SDG 2 on Ending Hunger, for instance, includes a target to  “double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment” by 2030.

To deliver on the new global agenda, we must address women’s economic empowerment on several fronts:

• We must close gender gaps in education, health, and access to productive resources: this will contribute to lifting women’s incomes, and in the rural sectors to lifting agricultural production – thereby contributing to the reduction of poverty and hunger.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has calculated that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase the yields on their farms by twenty to thirty per cent. That could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to four per cent per annum, and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by twelve to seventeen per cent. 

Climate change, however, stands to have a disproportionate impact on rural women and girls. It is likely to add to the burdens of their traditional roles of growing food and gathering water. And because of structural barriers like unequal access to credit and land ownership, women are less likely than men to have the resources to adapt to climate change. Climate action policies must address these gender dimensions of the challenge of adaptation.

• We must increase women’s overall participation in the labor force. A recent report by McKinsey Global Institute concluded that as much as $28 trillion, or 26 per cent, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025 if women participated in the labor force at the same rate as men. 

• We must remove the structural barriers to women’s economic empowerment: for example, women must have the right to own and inherit land and property and to access credit. Women with strong property and inheritance rights earn up to 3.8 times more income than those who don’t have those rights, and their individual savings are up to 35 per cent greater. Women with those rights are also up to eight times less likely to experience domestic violence. Families where women own more land devote more of their budget to education, and their children are 33 per cent less likely to be severely underweight and up to ten per cent less likely to be sick. 

• We must intensify our efforts to prevent sexual and gender-based violence. This is an important factor in empowering women economically. The risk of sexual and gender-based violence can limit women’s and girl’s mobility, which in turn keeps them from accessing education, resources, and services and engaging fully in  entrepreneurship. It can impact on women’s health, and keep them out of work, threatening their livelihoods and incomes. 

• We must invest in the care economy. A study of seven countries by the International Trade Union Confederation shows that investing just two per cent of GDP in the care economy could create over 21 million new jobs and lighten the burden of unpaid work on women.   

Infrastructure improvements also play a critical role in reducing women’s care burden – including through investments in access to water supply, sanitation, electricity, roads, safe transportation, and health care, as well as in high quality family care services, maternity and paternity leave policies, and flexible work arrangements. These issues are addressed in SDG 5, which has an explicit target to recognize, reduce, and redistribute unpaid care work. It calls for public provision of services, social protection and infrastructure to address the care burden carried by women.

• And we must make the invisible, visible. Development investments must include resources targeted for gender equality. To achieve this, the situation of women at work and in the household and in the community must be made visible, through the collection, analysis, and use of data which is disaggregated by sex, age, and rural/urban status. 

Some of these measures can be implemented quickly and show results sooner than others. Facilitating access to credit; providing targeted skills training, and including women in agricultural training and extension services could have visible results in a relatively short time span. 

To transform women’s economic status, we must focus on addressing structural inequalities and entrenched biases. This calls for taking into consideration gender concerns across the board, so that all policies and plans are based on an assessment of how they impact both women and men. This is the integrated approach which UNDP pursues to ensure that our development efforts leave no one behind.

How UNDP approaches women’s economic empowerment

UNDP integrates gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in all its efforts to end poverty. We support countries to develop pro-poor strategies which address the barriers women face in accessing and controlling assets, resources, and services.

This includes support for the empowerment of women in rural areas – which in turn has a direct impact on ending hunger and improving food security. For example:

1) Employment generation

• In Turkey, UNDP is working in innovative ways to empower rural women to make a living. In Misi, a village near Bursa, UNDP provides women’s organizations with guidance and resources to contribute to the sustainable tourism sector, and facilitate partnerships with public and private institutions. 

• In Southeast Anatolia, UNDP and the GAP  Regional Development Administration teamed up to establish the fashion brand Argande to train rural women to manufacture clothes and accessories which are sold online and in retail stores.  

UNDP is now building on this experience to reach out and provide opportunities to Syrian women in Southeast Anatolia. Such initiatives also foster connections between migrants and their Turkish peers thus contributing to social cohesion in this difficult situation.  

2) Access to land and credit

• In India, UNDP supported a network of civil society organizations aiming to enhance women’s ownership of land. As a result, more than 5,300 women claimed land rights. In Gujarat, issues of women and land ownership are now integrated into the training of government officials, including those holding land records, and fifteen Land Legal Literacy Centres have been established in twelve districts. 

UNDP also supported the first-ever active involvement of women in decision-making bodies related to land use and rights in the North Eastern Indian State of Nagaland. Women there now own and lease land on a long-term basis from village councils for agricultural and horticultural production. This has increased the average annual income of the women by 20-25 per cent, and improved their social standing in their communities.

3) The care economy 

UNDP has also focused on the care economy.

• In Uruguay, for example, UNDP partnered with other UN agencies, the government, civil society, and the private sector to integrate early childhood, disability, old-age, and care services in the government’s social protection agenda. Subsequently, a national system of care was established.

• In Turkey, UNDP, along with UN Women and the ILO, has supported independent research by Istanbul Technical University Women’s Studies Centre. It showed that investing in early childhood and education and care would create almost 720,000 new jobs directly. 

Conclusion

Keeping gender equality and women’s empowerment at the centre of our development efforts will be key to the success of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. Central to this is addressing the rights and needs of women living in rural areas who must not be left behind in development progress.

At UNDP we firmly believe that there can be no sustainable development if the tangible and intangible barriers which hold back half the population are not addressed. Women are powerful agents of change – and empowering women benefits whole societies. We look forward to working with all partners on this important agenda.

 

Leadership
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Helen Clark became the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme in 2009, and is the first woman to lead the organization. She also chairs the United Nations Development Group.

Full Biography