EU-UN Women programme ‘WeEmpowerAsia’ to ‘unleash bigger opportunities’ for China’s women in business

Date: Monday, December 23, 2019

Author: Bovornpong Vathanathanakul

Representatives of UN Women, European Union, Embassy of Sweden, European Commission and the All-China Women’s Federation take a group photo before the launch of WeEmpowerAsia in China. Photo: UN Women/Shao Tao
Representatives of UN Women, European Union, Embassy of Sweden, European Commission and the All-China Women’s Federation take a group photo before the launch of WeEmpowerAsia in China. Photo: UN Women/Shao Tao

Beijing, China — China has strong policy frameworks in place, but there is room to “unleash bigger opportunities” for women in business and society at large, said Katja Freiwald, WeEmpowerAsia Regional Programme Manager.

The ‘WeEmpowerAsia’ launch was held as part of the annual International Conference on Gender Equality and Corporate Social Responsibility on 26 November 2019 in Beijing. UN Women China hosted the conference in partnership with the European Union Delegation and the Embassy of Sweden.

“The enormous opportunities presented by China’s rapid innovation and economic growth are clear,” Freiwald said, adding that the programme is “working to actively engage women to achieve parity in the private sector while unlocking their full economic potential.”

“Let us all join the movement,” she urged the over 250 business leaders and entrepreneurs who attended the conference. “Show your commitment for women, for your business and for society by signing the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs).

WeEmpowerAsia Regional Programme Manager Katja Freiwald speaks at the launch ceremony. Photo: UN Women/Li Liang
WeEmpowerAsia Regional Programme Manager Katja Freiwald speaks at the launch ceremony. Photo: UN Women/Li Liang

Private sector companies can take a first step to carrying out their commitment to responsible business conduct by signing the WEPs, a set of guiding principles on empowering women in the workplace, marketplace and community. To date, 41 companies in China, including Zhilian Zhaopin and Tongyue Mingxin Cultural Media, have signed on. More than 2,700 companies have done so globally.

Nona Deprez, Head of the European Commission’s Partnership Instrument Unit, drew the attention of the Beijing conference delegates to the EU’s commitment and progress on gender equality, and noted that the Commission will now have its first female president.

Nona Deprez, Head of the European Commission’s Partnership Instrument Unit, speaks at the WeEmpowerAsia launch ceremony. Photo: UN Women/Li Liang
Nona Deprez, Head of the European Commission’s Partnership Instrument Unit, speaks at the WeEmpowerAsia launch ceremony. Photo: UN Women/Li Liang

WeEmpowerAsia, a joint programme of the EU and UN Women, aims to increase the number of women who lead and participate in private-sector businesses in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam, thus advancing inclusive and sustainable growth along with more gender-equal trade opportunities with Europe. The programme contributes to seven United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

SDG 1: No poverty SDG 5: Gender equality SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
SDG 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure SDG 10: Reduced inequalities SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production
SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals

In Asia, she said, the EU’s commitment has been reflected in WeEmpowerAsia and its collaboration with UN Women on women’s economic empowerment.

“We need to make this happen now,” said Deprez, encouraging more businesses across industries in China to commit to create more gender-inclusive business cultures by implementing the WEPs.

In China, WeEmpowerAsia will work to increase the number WEP signatories across different sectors and industries and also advocate for stronger gender-reporting requirements in the private sector. Over the next three years, the programme will deliver training and skills-upgrading opportunities for women in business, working with local women’s networks, entrepreneur associations and members of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China.

Data from the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s Global Wage Report 2018 show that in China, women get 20 per cent less pay than men do. They account for only one-fourth of the country’s total number of entrepreneurs. According to Boston Consulting Group, female entrepreneurs are likely to receive less capital than men when making the same pitch to investors—a disparity that averages to more than USD 1 million globally. Achieving gender equality in China’s workplaces could generate an additional US$2.6 trillion to its GDP, or 13 per cent over business-as-usual, according to McKinsey Global Institute.

At this year’s Beijing conference, business leaders and entrepreneurs were participating in panel discussions sharing innovative ways to promote women’s leadership, decent work and digital and financial inclusion.

Zhou Xing, PwC China Insurance Industry and Diversity Leader, said: “I urge upstream and downstream companies to exercise due diligence in identifying and using opportunities to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in its operations and across the supply chain. In this way, we could communicate our values better and also influence our own industry as well as the enterprises in the whole industrial chain while highlighting the benefits of investing in women and the positive returns to business and society.”

Panellists discuss gender equality and decent work. Photo: UN Women/Li Liang Panellists discuss gender equality and decent work. Photo: UN Women/Li Liang
Panellists discuss gender equality and decent work. Photo: UN Women/Li Liang

Li Shan, Alipay Foundation Secretary-General and Ant Financial Corporate Social Responsibility Director, said: “Women’s empowerment is in Alibaba’s DNA and it has always been our focus. Our mission is to create more gender-equal opportunities using digital technology to close the gender gap. Whether a rural woman or a bank president, everyone has the right to enjoy equal access to financial and digital services.

Panellists discuss ways to increase women’s digital and financial inclusion. Photo: UN Women/Li Liang Panellists discuss ways to increase women’s digital and financial inclusion. Photo: UN Women/Li Liang
 Panellists discuss ways to increase women’s digital and financial inclusion. Photo: UN Women/Li Liang

For more information on WeEmpowerAsia in China, please contact:

Liu Di, Programme Analyst
UN Women China | Email: di.liu@unwomen.org

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