Unlocking the full potential of women in the economy

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Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen!

It is a privilege to speak to you today as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador.

Women’s participation and equal power are essential for everyone to progress. I’m sure you’re aware of the evidence that overwhelmingly shows that equality between women and men makes us all safer, happier, more prosperous and more successful.

And yet the reality we find ourselves in is that at the current rate of progress, gender equality may take another 300 years. I hope we all agree that three centuries is too long.

It will take more than hope to get us to a better future. Our current situation is far from good. The progress of women and girls is dramatically reversed in many countries. The rights and freedoms that women and girls had experienced as normal—to work, to study, to make choices about their bodies—have been suddenly taken away.

Some of these losses have been mandated by law or imposed by governing bodies against valiant resistance. Others have been exposed and exacerbated by unprecedented global crises, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has had a devastating effect on us all, but it has hit women especially hard. Domestic violence against women increased alarmingly.

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Another threat to women’s safety was the seismic loss of economic opportunity.

Millions of women left the labor force in 2020, losing their jobs faster than men and staying out of the labor market longer. And now, with global fuel and food prices rising, climate emergencies and protracted military conflicts, women’s incomes and their contribution to business success and market recovery are even more important than ever.

Ironically, the pandemic also showed us how much our future progress depends on women’s skills and leadership. Women maintained our health care systems and invented life-saving vaccines. As leaders, they gave us some of the most effective responses to the pandemic.

And yet we show time and time again that we value women’s participation, contribution and leadership equally. This year, 169 countries and territories (that’s most of the world) are expected to have female labor force participation below pre-pandemic levels.

What can we attribute it to?

We regret to share with you that during the pandemic, women performed an additional 512 billion hours of unpaid care at home.

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While I let this statistic sink in, I would like to acknowledge the essential importance of caregiving.

Caring is at the heart of the basic functioning of our economy and society, and I’m not suggesting otherwise. In reality, everyone will need care at some point in their lives.

However, we also need to acknowledge the reality that the current way care is delivered and assessed is unfair and unsustainable. We need to address cultural biases that automatically label care as ‘women’s work’.

Even before the pandemic, women spent more than three times as many hours as men on unpaid care and housework. It was unfair then, it’s worse now. It’s time to admit that something is very, very wrong.

Whether we think so or not, the fact is that we use women.

Simply put: We need to stop punishing women for caring.

We need to stop relying on women to ‘do the work’ and instead proactively enable, support and fairly compensate care work.

UN Women has observed that care that is valued and properly valued in all its forms is the critical missing link to unlocking the full potential of women in the economy and society, which is, of course, the same as unlocking the full potential in the economy and society. Governments, businesses and civil society can all play a role

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UN Women would like to propose the following practical and immediate measures:

  • Ask governments to support care services.
  • Pay the taxes that fund them.
  • Creating family-friendly workplaces that include flexible working hours, paid parental leave and in-home childcare facilities is a priority.

This is a time when we must act urgently to not only restore what has been lost to women and girls, but also to end the harmful status quo that perpetuates inequality.

The stakes simply couldn’t be higher. The world—not just women—needs innovative solutions more than ever. Optimizing your listing is our best chance for success.

This esteemed group, whom I have the honor to address today, is charged with making decisions that shape lives. I urge you to put women at the center of economic growth and recovery. Be the architect of a better future by doing what no one has done effectively before:

Favor women for the sake of all.

Thank you.

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