Opening Remarks to Asia-Pacific Regional Preparatory Meeting for CSW63

“Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls” at UNCC, Bangkok, Thailand. Delivered by Anna-Karin Jatfors, Regional Director a.i., UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Date: Wednesday, February 13, 2019

[As deliverred]

Photo: UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking
Photo: UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking

Mr. Hongjoo Hahm, Deputy Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, all protocols observed.

On behalf of UN Women, I thank you for being here to prepare for the sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which is taking place in New York next month.

I want to thank our UN partners, particularly ESCAP, FAO, UNDP, and UNFPA, for their partnership in organizing this meeting. We are also grateful to ILO and other members of the UN Regional Coordination Mechanism Thematic Working Group on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women for all their technical inputs.

I also want to thank the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development – APWLD – and the Government of Canada for supporting the representation of civil society at this meeting. And of course, all participants for taking time out of your busy schedules to be there. We appreciate our partnerships with all of you, and the richness of expertise this allows us to bring together in one room.

We also recognize that partnerships are essential to advance this year’s priority theme for CSW: “Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and empowerment of women and girls”.

To illustrate this point, I’d like to tell you a story. A few months ago, I had the privilege to visit Fiji, where I met with some of the women market vendors involved in UN Women’s Markets for Change project, funded by Australia and Canada and, which works together with the government to ensure that marketplaces are safe and inclusive environments that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. Marketplaces are especially relevant to the theme of this CSW, as they are used first and foremost by women, both as vendors and as consumers. In Suva, I saw the accommodation centre that had been built to house the women vendors coming from the rural areas — who until then had slept under their market tables. I saw the new restrooms that had been built for women after the City Council recognized that you could not have the same number of bathrooms for men and women when 75 per cent of the vendors are women. I learned that through partnerships with the Ministry of Local Government, the Ministry of Health and private banks, health services and financial services were brought to the market directly — as it was difficult for the women vendors to leave their stalls and to seek these services outside the market. Local authorities are applying gender-responsive planning and budgeting to the market, including for disaster preparedness, and I understand that the Ministry for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation is interested in exploring child care services for market vendors.

So, this is just a small illustration that this year’s theme is really critical not just to gender equality, but to all aspects of sustainable development.

2019 is an important year — as we gear up for the 25-year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – at the regional level in November, and globally at the 64th session of CSW in March 2020. In 2020, we will also mark the first 5-year milestone in implementing the 2030 Agenda. I am glad that we will have the opportunity to discuss the linkages between the Beijing Platform for Action and the 2030 Agenda during our meeting.

If we look back at the past two decades, we see that the Asia-Pacific region has seen significant social and economic progress. In just one generation, the region has seen more than a billion people lifted out of extreme poverty. Maternal mortality has been reduced by half since 2000, and gender parity in primary education is now a reality in many countries.

But there is a different side to this story. While the region continues to be a main engine of the global economy, the benefits of growth have not been evenly shared, with growing inequalities within and between countries. These inequalities are not limited to income but span across various indicators of well-being, participation and opportunities. Amongst these, gender inequalities are the most pronounced and entrenched. Our region has amongst the highest levels of violence against women in the world. We are behind the global average regarding the share of women in decision-making. Asia and the Pacific is the only region in the world where the gender gap in labour force participation is increasing.

Why is that?

A recent study on “Gender Equality and the Sustainable Development Goals in Asia and the Pacific” produced by UN Women and the Asian Development Bank, sheds some light on this question.

The report finds that persistent gender norms and societal expectations continue to shape the lives of both women and men in a way that is deeply discriminatory towards women. In developing and developed countries alike, many women have to leave the workforce to have families or are forced to ‘choose’ jobs that are less secure. More than 8 out of 10 working women in the region are in informal and vulnerable employment. Recent data shows that women and girls in the region still spend on average four times more than men on unpaid care and domestic work. This significantly limits women’s opportunities to move into higher quality jobs where they are able to both contribute to, and benefit from, social security.

The region is also experiencing a number of emerging trends which require a gender lens.

First, new technologies and innovation offer tremendous opportunities for employment and social protection. But these trends can also make women more vulnerable to losing their jobs and related benefits. This is because women are over-represented in low-skilled jobs that can be automated by advances in technology.

To support women most at risk of being left behind, UN Women supports second chance education and vocational learning for women – including by leveraging innovative e-learning platforms for women to acquire new skills so that they can take advantage of future employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.

Secondly, rapid urbanisation is putting immense pressure on public services and infrastructure, such as water and sanitation, electricity and transportation. Investments in these sectors require a gendered response, simply because women and men use these services differently and are impacted by them in different ways.

We also need to recognize that women’s and girls’ lack of safety in urban areas directly limits their mobility and reduces their ability to participate in school, work and public life. This is why from Pakistan and Papua New Guinea, UN Women, together with local government and other partners, are working to expand the provision of safe public bus systems so that that women and girls can get to work and to school without the risk of sexual harassment and violence in public spaces.

The third important trend concerns demographic shifts; the youth bulge in some countries, aging populations in others, increasing migration. We need to invest in policies that take the gendered impact of these trends into account.

A last important trend is climate change, which now accounts for more than 80 per cent of all disasters in the Asia-Pacific region. Data shows that women and girls are not just much more likely to die in disasters but are also disproportionately affected – through loss of assets, income security, and the destruction of public services and infrastructure that women and girls depend on.

And these are just some illustrations of why it is so important that the CSW this year is focused on tackling gender inequalities in social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure. And we have the evidence to know what is needed:

One: We know that well-coordinated and gender-responsive investments in social protection are key to closing gender gaps in poverty and income security. We have examples of good practice across the region, but still need to expand coordinated policy action and financing.

Two: We know that gender-responsive public services that are affordable, accessible and of high-quality are essential to support women’s livelihoods, health, and well-being – be it child care services, health and education, or public transport. And of course, all women and girls who experience violence must have access to multi-sectoral essential services to ensure their safety and protection.

Three: We know that accelerated action to advance basic infrastructure (roads, water and sanitation, energy, etc.) is critical to free women and girls from physically taxing and time-consuming domestic work – while of course we also need to have more equitable sharing of this work between women and men.

Lastly: We know that women’s participation and leadership are crucial for successful policy-making and implementation. Without women’s voice and representation, solutions to address these issues will miss the mark.

Yet, despite all that we know, actions remain too slow, insufficiently coordinated and under-funded to meet the deadline of 2030 the world has set for gender equality.

For the next two days, we will put our minds together to identify how to turn knowledge into action. We have the benefit of having diverse representation from governments and civil society in this meeting. I encourage all of you to take advantage of these two days to interact with one another and learn more about the issues that we are all facing. It’s only by working together that we will deliver on our commitment for a gender equal world by 2030.

At this meeting, we hope that you will come up with a set of concrete recommendations that you can take forward at national level and at the CSW next month – and as we move forward into the Beijing +25 review.

I thank you again for being here, and I wish you fruitful deliberations.

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Asia-Pacific Regional Preparatory Meeting for CSW63