High-level dialogue, Economies that Work for Women - Speech by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women



Members of Government,
Representatives of Civil Society,
Private Sector Leaders,
Friends from academia,
UN colleagues
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you all for joining us today.

On behalf of UN Women, I extend our appreciation to the Government of the Philippines, in particular the department of Trade and Industry and the Philippine Commission on Women, for co-hosting this High Level Dialogue on “Economies that work for women”.

This is a good moment to take stock, and gather up our collective energies for the challenges ahead.

2015 marks 20 years after the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

And this month the global community stands poised to adopt a strong and transformative agenda.

We are determined to mobilize behind this agenda and achieve our goal of a 50-50 Planet by 2030.

There have been significant achievements since Beijing.

  • More girls are enrolling in school, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

    Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have made the greatest progress towards universal primary education for girls with an increase of their net enrolment by 20 and 19 percentage points, respectively.
  • and more women have access to contraception

    In Southern Asia, the proportion increased from 39 per cent to 59 per cent between 1990 and 2015.
  • Governments in every region have made legally binding commitments to respect, protect and fulfil women’s human rights.

    Women have gained greater legal rights to access employment, own and inherit property and get married and divorced on the same terms as men.

    Since 2011, 115 countries guarantee women’s equal property rights.

    78 per cent of countries have no legal restriction on women’s right to work.
  • The Philippines is in the top 10 most gender-equal countries in the WEF 2014 Global Gender Gap Report.

But despite these advances, progress in gaining gender equality overall has been slow and uneven.

In an era of unprecedented global wealth, millions of women are still trapped in low paid, poor quality jobs, denied even basic levels of health care, water and sanitation.

This is particularly true of women facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, based on factors such as age, income level, ethnicity and location.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Today we look at what needs to change to make the economy work for women.

The facts: Women and work

The pay gap in formal labour

  • Women almost universally earn less for the same job than men, or do precarious work.
  • Globally, women are paid 24 per cent less than men.

    20 per cent less in East Asia and the Pacific and 33 per cent less in South Asia.

    Pensions: In Nepal 1 per cent of women compared with 4 per cent of men contribute to pension schemes; and in Bhutan 6 per cent of women compared with 12 per cent of men

    Large lifetime income gaps: up to 75 per cent of what men earn (Turkey)

Informal employment

  • In some developing regions, upwards of 75 per cent of women’s employment is informal, unprotected by labour laws or social protection.
  • (Honourable exception: To date, the Philippines is the only country in the East Asia and Pacific region that has ratified the ILO Domestic Workers Convention adopted in 2011.)
  • In East Asia and the Pacific (excluding China), 78 per cent of women are in informal employment and over one third are in informal agricultural self-employment.
  • Globally, millions of women in developing countries make their living through small-scale farming.
  • And in South Asia, 64 per cent of women are informally self-employed, with 31 per cent in informal wage employment.

The gender penalty

  • Over a lifetime these add up to a devastating loss of security and status.
  • They are reflectionsand reinforcements – of economies and societies that chronically undervalue girls and women.
  • These are fundamental attitudes and conceptions of relative human value that play out in sexual violence, in discrimination, or in the decisions about who stays home, who misses school, who fetches water and fuel.


Transform paid work

  1. Enact policies to implement and enforce minimum wages
  2. Equal pay for equal work
  3. Equal access to pensions and social protection
  • Support the livelihoods of self-employed women, such as market traders and small farmers.

    62 per cent of women work in family businesses
  • Farmers: make their jobs decent, ensure their control over land, and access to credit so they can buy seeds and fertilizers to make their land productive,

    And increase their resilience to climate change
  • Ensure that social protection, such as employment guarantee schemes, reaches rural women to bolster their income security.

    Extend social protection to informal workers

    More than 75 per cent of women’s jobs are informal in developing regions

Transform unpaid care work


  • In the Republic of Korea women do five times as much unpaid care work as men, four times more in Cambodia, and almost three times more in China.
  • In Pakistan women report performing 10 times as much unpaid care work as men and almost 7 times more in India.
  • Unpaid care work is a structural cause of gender inequality
  • Includes caring for children, elderly parents, the sick, providing household necessities

    In all countries children are made by both men and women. But child care is a woman’s responsibility in almost all countries.

    Why should an 11 year old girl, on frail legs, have to fetch the water to quench the thirst of a muscular man?

If women stopped having children, caring for them, or shaping them into productive and creative human beings, there would be no labour force and the global economy would grind to a halt.

Caring for people generates real economic value.

  • In the Republic of Korea, the total value of time spent on unpaid care and domestic work is estimated to be equivalent to 18 per cent of GDP.
  • In India, that number is equivalent to 39 per cent of GDP.

Support for this work through public social spending on childcare, for example, should be classified as an investment.

Yet we also need to go beyond the old metrics of GDP growth, instead measuring success in terms of the realization of human rights.


  1. Governments must provide better public services and investments in basic infrastructure.
  2. Social transfers, including child benefits, pensions and employment guarantee programmes
  3. Social services, such as healthcare, child- and elder-care services, and water and sanitation.

We know that these services are effective in reducing poverty.

  • In China and the Republic of Korea, social transfers cut poverty of single mothers by 18 and 32 per cent respectively.

The design and delivery of social services must be transformed to address the barriers to access that women face.

  • In Nepal: women were the most affected by the recent earthquake yet had least access to essential social services.

We need macro-economic policies that create stable economies and support the realization of human rights.

These policies need to have the explicit aim of expanding employment, mobilizing resources to ensure that services can be sustainably financed, and preventing crises, which always hit the poorest hardest.

We can learn from the Asia-Pacific region how to make positive infrastructure decisions.

  • Cambodia has reduced spending on security and the military and redirected resources to fund social protection.
  • Thailand’s Government introduced the Universal Coverage Scheme (UCS) which uses general revenue to pay the healthcare contributions of 80 per cent of the population.

We must also ensure that corporations are doing their share, through policies that support decent work and equal pay for women, and by honouring their existing tax obligations.

  • Annual tax revenue lost to developing countries due to trade mispricing by multinational corporations is estimated at between 98 and 106 billion dollars.
  • This is nearly 20 billion dollars more than the annual capital costs needed to achieve universal water and sanitation coverage.

Resources to fund essential infrastructure and public services can also be raised by reducing debt burdens or restructuring the national debt to free up financial resources.

We can consider how women can be involved in the design and execution of national infrastructure projects to make them better targeted to community needs.

The new economic agenda that we need

  • Must recognize the linkages between economic and social policies, and ensure that they are working together in harmony.
  • Readjust the imbalances in our global economy
  • Support human rights

These elements are essential ingredients in the realizing the ambitions of the post-2015 agenda.

This will take combined commitment to action by governments, civil society, corporations, and individuals.

To hold them accountable, we will need a close focus on measured progress.

What gets measured gets done.

Yesterday’s announcement of the partnership between UN Women and ADB is significant:

  • It will ensure that countries in Asia Pacific have a baseline against which to measure their progress towards gender equality, and
  • The essential tools for monitoring this aspect of their implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

And through the rest of our discussions today, we look forward to exploring how to build economies fit for women, and thus progress for all.

Thank you.