Opening Remarks by Roberta Clarke, Regional Director UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

For Asia-Pacific Regional Seminar on “Transformative financing for the achievement of the gender equality by 2030”, in preparation for the 60th session of Committee on the Status of Women

Reberta Clarke among 70 participants for the seminar. More photos are available on UN Women Flickr. Photo: UN Women/Niels den Hollander


Good morning Excellences,
Development partners,
Ladies and gentlemen

On behalf of UN Women I join my colleagues in welcoming you to this Expert Group meeting which is in preparation and intended to feed into the 60th session of the Commission on the status of women. As you know, the Commission which first convened in 1947, will be considering Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development.

It does so fully engaged with and informed by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as the Political Declaration made at the 59th session of CSW where member states pledged to ensure accelerated action to ensure the full, effective and accelerated implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, including through:

  • increased investment to close resource gaps, including through the mobilization of financial resources from all sources, (domestic resource mobilization and allocation and increased priority on gender equality and the empowerment of women in official development assistance); and
  • Strengthened accountability for the implementation of existing commitments.
  • These pledges are consistent and build on the outcome of the Asian and Pacific Conference on the Beijing plus 20 in which many of you would have participated.

    So we all know the commitments, we are all aware of the rhetorical flourishes in the Declaration as well as the SDGs. We know and use all the key words and phrases: universal, transformative and ‘leave no one behind’.

    In the feminist and activist world, we say the personal is political. This is a complex phrase, capable of being deconstructed in any number of ways. But one of the demands of that phrase is to acknowledge where one is located personally in the work on inequalities and women’s empowerment.

    We speak often of the one percent, as the other. Those 62 (of whom 53 are men) who control resources equivalent to that of half the world. We speak about those others because we call upon the state to tackle extreme inequalities, for example by ending the era of tax havens, which is fueling economic inequality and preventing hundreds of millions of people lifting themselves out of poverty. According to OXFAM, 188 of 201 leading companies have a presence in at least one tax haven. But we too and the agencies we represent are part of another minority, another small percent. Those with public sector decision making authority, those with access to others who control the levers of the state, those connected to networks of knowledge and networks of policy influence.

    We are amongst the minority who have been engaged in reflecting on achievements and disappointments related to MDGs and BPFA. And so, recognising our differential political and knowledge capital, we are called on to make the SDG and Beijing rhetoric real.

    We are called on to counteract the scepticism and cynicism of those who do not know what the SDGs are, because in fact they are those left behind. They live the realities of exclusion from influence and resources, they live the impacts of intersecting discriminations, they live with poverty, they live with insecurity in a world challenged by fundamentalisms, whether market, religious or ethnic based.

    Despite the important normative achievements which SDGs represent, everywhere we are witnessing the impacts of neglect, of blithe indifference, of wilful ignorance as we fail to fully appreciate how inextricably we are linked to each other and to the planet.

    Indivisibility is a word which occurs within the human rights world and finds its way too into the SDGs. It is a different word I believe from the other big words in the SDGs, different from universal, different from transformatory. Both of those are aspirational. Indivisibility is a reality, it describes an existential truth and also points to an obligation to work together respond to the urgent and complex challenges of our time - increasing inequalities within and between countries, persistent conflict, environmental degradation and the ongoing impacts of the economic and financial crises.

    In this agenda, ending gender inequality is both an outcome as well as a necessary condition for securing sustainable development. It is a necessary condition in the sense that women must be empowered to bring their differential experiences and interests to inform the development agenda as and we must be included in all the decision making we define as governance.

    We know it, but it bears repeating, that socio-economic policy progress is best assured where independent women’s movement are engaged. Participation matters. Voice matters.

    Across Asia and the Pacific, we have acknowledged that gender inequality remains the most pervasive form of inequality and progress in reducing it remains unacceptably slow with stagnation in several areas. The women’s movement, both within and outside the state, is also quite clear that gender equality while at the core of the agenda, will not solve all issues. We know that other inequalities must be addressed, whether based on income, ethnic, geography, sex, gender, indigenous or minority status or disability.

    While the SDGs call upon the engagement of all, including private sector, the state remains at the centre of accountability. One of the main barriers to progress is under-investment.

    In 2014 member states in Asia Pacific, urged on by active civil society engagement pledged

    “To enhance and diversify the sources of financing for the achievement of gender equality, including through domestic resource mobilization, official development assistance, taxation of financial transactions, private sector investment and the engagement of philanthropic foundations”.

    This regional commitment was subsequently reflected in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, wherein governments globally stated that they “will work for a significant increase in investments to close the gender gap”.

    It is on this commitment that this CSW preparatory Expert Group meeting is focused. The background paper which informs the content of this meeting notes the continued under-funding of NGEM, and women’s organisations

    For 17 national women’s machineries in the Asia-Pacific region, annual funding ranged from 0.003 per cent to 3.12 per cent of their national budgets. For 15 of those national women’s machineries, the national budget allocation was less than one per cent. Moreover, in some instances, government funding was sufficient to meet staffing and operations costs only.

    The paper also refers to a 2010 survey of 740 women’s organizations which revealed a combined income of 106 million US dollars, as compared to 309 million USD for Greenpeace and 1.4 billion for Save the Children International This under-funding is apparent across development, human rights and the peace and security agendas. And is also unfortunately observed within the UN system. The report speak to a 2010 analysis that of 394 project budgets in multi-donor trust funds and joint programmes in six post-conflict, just 5.7 per cent of total resources were allocated to activities directly related to advancing gender equality.

    So this global focus on financing for development must also we insist be focused on financing gender equality. We call for transformatory financing, as a way of telegraphing the urgency to change lives. And we can only do so through a transformation of the collection and allocation of public revenue, whether at the domestic or international levels. Addressing inequalities within and between states, Goal 10, is inextricably linked to Goal 5.

    Recently UN Women convened a meeting on social norms and sustainable development. At this meeting, the participants reiterated that development still seems to be defined by growth in the economy. For development to occur, this economic growth must result in an encompassing flourishing of the many and be accompanied by inclusive political institutions, and a guarantee of human capital development and civil liberties.

    As was noted at a UN Women meeting with ministries of finance in November 2015, transformative financing entails significantly increased, prioritized and sustained investment in gender equality commitments in scale, scope and quality, from all sources at all levels.

    Our economic models must realise decent jobs. Most of the growth experienced in the region remains jobless. During 2009-2013, employment grew by only 1.3 per cent, compared to an average GDP growth of 6.4 per cent in developing Asia-Pacific economies.

    We must finance a more comprehensive social protection model in the Asia Pacific region. Almost half the countries in the region spend less than 2 per cent of GDP on social protection, covering only about 40 per cent of the population. None fully take into account the large numbers of women who are engaged in unpaid productive and reproductive work across the entire lives.

    It is a matter of concern therefore that the dominant macroeconomic paradigm has resulted in a decline in corporate taxes and tax rates on the wealthiest. And indeed, while we speak about domestic resource mobilisation, trade agreements have tended to undermine the capacity of the state to generate revenue.

    Tax exemptions and other incentives, including relaxing labour and environmental standards, to attract foreign direct investment are depriving developing countries of a significant amount of revenue and regulatory efficacy. Especially affected are the poorest countries where the possibilities for sustainable development are most compromised by the disappearance of tax revenues.

    The substantial reduction in corporate and trade taxes has led to national tax systems becoming more regressive and a shift to consumption taxes. This has a disproportionately negative implications for women who, owing to their lower incomes and primary caregiver roles, spend a greater proportion of their income on basic goods and services and rely on public infrastructure and social services.

    A range of policy options are available, including tax and fiscal policies. Official development assistance and other sources of funding, including for women’s organizations, should prioritize gender equality and women’s empowerment to complement domestic resources. This meeting allows to discuss how we move on our commitments to increase the financing and therefore the realisation of gender equality and social justice.

    In closing I wish to take this opportunity to recognise the work of Shireen Lateef who died last week. Retired from the Asian Development Bank in 2015 as Senior Advisor (Gender), she was the architect of ADB’s Policy on Gender and Development (1998) which provides the guiding framework for ADB’s gender and development activities. ADB's "famous" 4-tier gender rating system of projects is one of her many innovations to measure the extent to which ADB operations address gender equality.

    In the words of Imrana Jalal who delivered her eulogy last week in Brisbane, was her “focused energy,” allowed her to change a huge institution, profoundly and hopefully forever– with a gender policy in 1998, and to create a unique gender mainstreaming architecture in 2010, for ADB, to persuade ADB to adopt it and through that to inspire many women and men at ADB to do better for women in Asia and the Pacific, “do more, do better and do it fast,”

    Do more, do better, and do it fast. These are good words to live by.

    Can I ask that you join me in a minute of silence in memory of Shireen.