The United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel (HLP) on Women’s Economic Empowerment was established in January 2016 to launch a shared global agenda that accelerates women’s economic participation and empowerment. Its purpose is to make practical recommendations on how to improve economic outcomes for women in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its promise that no one will be left behind. The HLP has a powerful and influential membership of leaders from government, business, civil society and global multi-lateral institutions.
At its first meeting the HLP identified seven drivers of change to advance women’s economic empowerment.
Seven primary drivers of women’s economic empowerment
Working groups then produced toolkits to accompany each driver which present recommendations for transformative actions and include case studies and examples of good practice. Key recommendations under each of the seven drivers of change form the basis of more than 250 commitments made by member states and other stakeholders to take forward the recommendations of the HLP.
The HLP emphasised the importance of partnerships in driving change for women’s economic empowerment. Since July, three events have been held, each aiming to strengthen partnerships and, critically, to sustain the momentum and impact of the HLP towards the achievement of the Agenda 2030.
This July, the HLP on Women’s Economic Empowerment held an event, ‘Accelerating Women’s Economic Empowerment to Achieve the 2030 Agenda’, in New York. The event was co-hosted by the Group of Champions of Women’s Economic Empowerment (co-chaired by Costa Rica and the United Kingdom and comprised of Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Zambia), together with UN Women and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).
‘Not enough has been done for women at the bottom of the pyramid. The HLP has been able to highlight the challenges of women in the informal sector—working without access to social protection, economic support, minimum salaries. Women in this situation represent a share of the world labour force that is too big to fail.’ Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, highlighted the need for all stakeholders to follow through on the commitments made to date. Participants also shared ideas on how information and communication technologies can be leveraged to support women’s economic empowerment to achieve the 2030 Agenda, and highlighted the need to engage the private sector to end gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.
In September, business leaders and global experts met in London at an event co-organised by CARE International UK, UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Business Fights Poverty, UN Women, and the HLP. The discussion featured feedback from the private sector and other stakeholders on the implementation of recommendations. Participants were introduced to the Six Questions audit outlined in the HLP’s Driver 5 (Changing Business Culture and Practice) toolkit as a means of evaluating the ways in which businesses already engage with women and identifying opportunities for further action.
Examples of how HLP recommendations have already been put into practice were:
Participants also discussed how to measure ongoing implementation progress and highlighted the importance of partnerships in ensuring women’s economic empowerment. They agreed that women’s economic empowerment is a matter of human rights, and that businesses need to step up efforts in support of this agenda. To this end, Business Fights Poverty launched its latest challenge: to translate the data on barriers to women’s economic empowerment into practical country or sector-specific guidelines for private sector impact.
The roundtable on Women’s Economic Empowerment which took place at the 72nd regular session of the UN General Assembly brought together political leaders and partners in support of the global call for action from the HLP.
‘If you ask me about the situation of the most marginalised women, including rural women and women in the informal economy, to say they are being left behind is too polite. They are crushed at the bottom of the pyramid. The legacy of this panel must lead the work to build a more human economy, where women’s work is valued and paid by definition, where their decision-making power is increased.’ Winnie Byanyma, Executive Director of Oxfam International
Advancements were highlighted. For example, Simona Scarpaleggia, CEO of Ikea Switzerland and co-chair of the HLP, reported on how IKEA has begun engaging new partners, most recently leading a group of 40 companies in Switzerland to commit to taking concrete action to advance the women’s economic empowerment agenda. President Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, explained how Costa Rica had recognised women’s rights as a structural issue and developed an Equity and Gender Equality Policy as well as a National Strategy of Financial Inclusion aimed at addressing socioeconomic inequality, particularly for informal and domestic workers.
UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, thanked the members of the panel for their work and highlighted some of the areas where efforts need to be increased, such as the need for more countries to ratify the ILO Convention on domestic workers, addressing the rights of women with disabilities and those affected by conflict.
UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, called on all partners to implement the commitments included in the HLP report stating, ‘women’s economic empowerment is also a human rights issue. It contributes to building resilient economies and peaceful societies, and it is also a condition to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,’ and adding: ‘let us deliver on the promises we have made to bring sustainable peace to the world today.’
According to a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum it will take 170 years to close the economic gender gap at the current rate of change. The work of the HLP on Women’s Economic Empowerment provides a real opportunity for world leaders to accelerate this change. As such, it is encouraging to observe that HLP appears to be making concrete progress towards delivering on its four goals:
1. Demonstrate high-level leadership and commitment.
2. Inform and inspire action by highlighting the gains.
3. Identify priorities for concrete, effective, scalable and transformative actions that address critical constraints and that can be taken now.
4. Show how governments, employer and worker organisations, businesses, multilateral organisations, development partners, and civil society can work in partnerships to achieve women’s economic empowerment.
The recognition by global leaders that women’s economic empowerment is an essential precondition to sustainable development represents a huge leap forward. The question remains as to how progress will be measured and, as Simona Scarpaleggia, emphasised, ‘commitments are fine to start with, but actions need to follow. We need to address an injustice that is affecting half of the world’s population’.
Read more on progress made towards HLP commitments.
By Tamsin Smith, Communications Officer, Women's Economic Empowerment Knowledge Hub, Oxfam
Photo: Ryan Brown / UN Women. UN Secretary-General António Guterres with members and representatives of the High-Level Panel on Women's Economic Empowerment.
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