Sixty-eighth Session,
4th Meeting* (AM)

Financially Inclusive Policies Necessary at Domestic, International Level to Erase Women’s Poverty, Ensure Equality, Delegates Hear, as Commission Continues Session

From redistributing care work to tax reform, financially inclusive policies are needed at the domestic and international levels to erase women’s poverty and ensure gender equality, the Commission on the Status of Women heard today from ministers and officials around the world as it continued its sixty-eighth session.

The Organization’s largest annual gathering on women’s empowerment, the Commission brings together experts, civil society and Government representatives to consider actions to promote women’s enjoyment of their political, economic and social rights.  The priority theme for this year’s session, which will run from 11-22 March, is “Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective”.  (For background, see Press Release WOM/2231.)

The ministerial round-table discussions this morning focused on two topics:  “Mobilizing financing for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls:  Policies and strategies to end women’s and girls’ poverty” and “Good practices for strengthening institutions and maximizing financing to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

Evika Siliņa, Prime Minister of Latvia, who chaired the first round table, started that conversation by stressing that Governments require fiscal space to implement pro-poor, gender-responsive policies.  This calls for conducive global and national financial systems, but high debt repayments, rising inflation and borrowing costs have limited developing countries’ capacity to do this.  Highlighting the potential to mobilize domestic resources by shifting the tax composition, she called for higher corporate and wealth taxes.

Also offering concrete examples from her own country, she said it has recently implemented reform in minimum income support.  Noting how gender-based stereotypes have contributed to the pay gap, she said Latvia is rolling out a wage transparency mechanism to reduce existing pension and pay gaps.  Highlighting the “motherhood penalty” which affects women’s economic status later in life, she underscored the need for flexible working arrangements, a sufficiently funded parental leave system and improved public and private childcare services.

Navid Hanif, Assistant Secretary-General of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are in peril, with multiple crises reversing hard-earned progress.  Progress on Goal 5 is significantly off-track, he said, noting the need for a multifaceted approach that encompasses a range of improvements, from equitable access to goods and services, including reproductive health, to redistributing the unequal burden of unpaid care work.

However, he pointed out, one common factor that cuts across all these issues is the need for gender-responsive public policies and financing environments.  Highlighting the importance of domestic gender-disaggregated data analysis, he said such efforts must be complemented by an enabling international environment. While there is broad acknowledgement of the gaps in the global financial architecture, he said, it is crucial to ensure that women’s voices are heard in this discussion, including at the forthcoming Financing for Sustainable Development conference.

“Those who invented hunger are the ones who eat,” said Janja Lula da Silva, First Lady of Brazil, citing her compatriot, the writer Carolina de Jesus, who she described as “a black woman, single mother of three and refuse-collector”.  In a world capable of producing a trillion dollars of wealth every year, hunger is a political choice, and in 2024, a weapon of war.  Maintaining gender inequality is also a political choice, she pointed out, adding that her country is implementing social policies designed from a gender perspective, such as the Bolsa Família, which prioritizes female heads of household by increasing their economic empowerment.

Unfortunately, she continued, without fiscal space, there is no way to finance such policies.  Hence the reform of the global financial architecture is one of Brazil’s priorities in the Group of 20 presidency, she said, noting that the current financial model demands austerity and drives developing countries into debt.  Highlighting unpaid female labour, which contributes at least $10.8 trillion a year to the global economy, she noted that it is three times the value of the global technology industry.  It is urgent to promote a redistribution of the domestic and care work historically performed by women in their homes, she said.

“The face of poverty was an African woman,” Lindiwe Zulu, Minister for Social Development of South Africa said, stressing her Government’s commitment to changing that. “We are still Mandela’s children working towards a free and democratic South Africa,” she said, noting that alongside tackling gender-based violence and femicide, her country is encouraging women to be economically resilient.  Also highlighting a gender-responsive budgeting programme, she pointed to increased women’s cooperative financing as well as a programme to provide science, technology, engineering and mathematics education to girls.

Echoing that, Mavis Hawa Koomson, Acting Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana, said that educating a woman has a national effect, while educating a man has an individual effect.  Her country actively promotes women-led businesses through the Ghana Enterprise Agency, she said, adding that financial inclusion is a cornerstone of the national strategy, with a microfinance and small loan centre prioritizing allocations to women — especially rural women, who are recipients of 85 per cent of disbursed loans.

Also highlighting a programme which focuses on youth- and women-led businesses, she identified a number of key measures including:  prioritizing equal quality education and vocational training for girls; women’s access to financial resources and services; and implementing policies that uphold gender equality and protect women’s rights.  Other initiatives include emphasis on maternal and child health, and promoting mentorship programmes, she said.

Maya Morsy, Minister for Women and President of the National Council for Women of Egypt, contrasted the persistent reality of women and girls’ poverty with the immense power of mobilizing financing to dismantle barriers. Despite geopolitical and economic challenges, her Government adopted an ambitious economic reform programme accompanied by social protection policies and an integrated social safety net, she said.

She added that the total financial allocations for social protection programmes in the State budget for fiscal year 2022-2023 reached £363 billion, with 3.5 million women benefiting from cash transfer programmes.  There are approximately 2 million women beneficiaries of the digital application project for savings and lending groups, she said, adding that her country has allocated £15.2 billion pounds for women’s small- and medium-sized enterprises.  Further, entrepreneurship and financial education initiatives, awareness raising and door-knocking campaigns reached 8 million households, she reported.

The United Arab Emirates, that country’s Minister for State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Noura bint Mohamed Al Kaabi, said, requires women’s representation on the board of directors of companies listed on capital markets.  It has also adopted regulations to ensure non-discrimination in banking transactions and access to credit.  She called for increased support for women-led and women-owned businesses, and the promotion of a gender-responsive business culture.

She also cited the joint United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women’s (UN-Women) campaign on gender-responsive public procurement, through which policymakers and procuring entities can design targeted assistance strategies and implement measures that reduce the barriers that women entrepreneurs face when competing for public tenders.  She further called for policies ensuring that women and men can access financing on equal terms to avoid widening the gender pay gap.

As the session moved on to its second round-table, its chair, Ruthmilda Larmonie-Cecilia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Development, Labour and Welfare of Curaçao, stressed that ending women’s and girls’ poverty requires robust and accountable public institutions.  Ministries of finance play a crucial role in setting fiscal policy and economic management and can mandate gender analysis in the budgetary processes to maximize resource allocation for gender equality, she added.

However, she pointed out, these ministries often face capacity constraints to analyse the gender impacts of tax and spending policies through gender responsive budgeting.  She affirmed that Governments can analyse the gender impacts of budgets and allocate resources to policies that address gender inequalities.

Highlighting one such policy, Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer, pointed to the bloc’s recent law on pay transparency, which aims to translate the principle of equal pay for work of equal value into reality.  Listed companies will have at least 40 per cent of the underrepresented gender on non-executive boards.  Women’s economic activity and independence also depends on the structures available to combine their professional responsibilities and personal choices, she added.

Turning to the Union’s pandemic recovery and resilience facility, she noted that member States are encouraged to mainstream gender equality objectives into their recovery plans, with many using funding to invest in affordable quality childcare.  Citing ambitious targets for gender mainstreaming, she emphasized that 85 per cent of all actions should contribute to gender equality.  “Shifting institutional focus towards financing gender equality is complex — but necessary,” she stated, calling for robust monitoring mechanisms.

Emphasizing a similar connection between goals and monitoring, Xiaowei Huang, Minister and Deputy Head for the National Working Committee on Children and Women of the State Council of China, identified numerous policies that her country has put in place to ensure that women benefit fairly from the fruits of economic social development.  The Government has formulated national and local action plans and set up special chapters for promoting women’s all-round development.  Key gender goals were incorporated into the special plans for health and education, she added. 

Another policy focus is to improve the working mechanisms for coordination between the State Council and local governments, she said, highlighting a mechanism for fighting domestic violence as well as coordinated efforts to resolve family-related disputes. The country leverages a range of funds, from direct Government investment to discounted loans, for gender empowerment programmes.  It has also provided free cervical and breast cancer screenings as well as vaccinations, she added.

Preventing violence against women is also a priority for Türkiye, Mahinur Özdemir Göktaş, Minister for Family and Social Services of that country, said, drawing attention to its policy of zero-tolerance for violence.  Her Government continues to combat violence against women through women’s shelters and violence-prevention centres.  Highlighting the humanitarian catastrophe in Palestine, she pointed out that in Gaza, women and girls comprise 70 per cent of the victims.  An immediate ceasefire and rapid, unhindered and sustainable access for humanitarian aid to Gaza is now more urgent than ever, she underscored. 

She also highlighted efforts to enhance women’s representation at all levels in Türkiye.  The 2024 budget nearly tripled the previous allocation towards women’s empowerment programmes, she said.  The Government also supports women’s workforce participation through trainings and seminars, she said, and highlighting the 94 per cent enrollment rates for girls in primary education, she said the country has opened primary schools with boarding facilities in rural areas.

Speaking along similar lines, Sanni Grahn-Laasonen, Minister for Social Security of Finland, called for gender-transformative solutions that tackle discriminatory norms and power dynamics.  Her country has made gender equality planning compulsory from early childhood education to universities, with guidebooks for maternity and child health-care clinic workers to help them tackle gender stereotypes in their work.

Further, she added, social policy innovations such as affordable and quality childcare and parental leaves equally shared among parents are essential in improving women’s participation rates in the formal labour markets. Gender segregation in the labour market begins in early childhood and education, requiring conscious work to break the stereotypes surrounding what women and girls can or should become, she added.

Charmaine Scotty, Minister for Women and Social Development Affairs of Nauru, pointed to her Government’s combination of policy measures, capacity-building initiatives and institutional reforms all aimed at gender equality.  Her country is working to establish gender-responsive budgeting processes and has made significant strides, she said, noting assistance from like-minded countries.

Also stressing the importance of building institutional capacity to mainstream gender equality, she said this includes training staff on gender-sensitive programming, data collection and analysis.  By incorporating a gender perspective in decision-making processes, institutions can better identify and address systemic barriers to women’s empowerment, she said.

Agreeing, Amy Pope, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said it is crucial to mainstream a gender equality perspective from the very beginning, starting with early childhood education.  It is essential to ensure that women’s education is aligned with employment opportunities and to empower and invest in women entrepreneurs — addressing the disproportionate role that women are now playing in care work and ensuring that women receive equal pay for equal work.  As the first woman Director General of IOM, she has seen first-hand that “when we invest in migrant women we create better outcomes for more people”, she said.

Migrant women, she added, now account for half of all remittances sent home by migrants around the world — thereby fuelling economic development globally.  She emphasized that women tend to send back a greater proportion of their salaries than men do and are more likely to lift others up with them as they make these investments.  At a time of tremendous demographic shifts, climate-fuelled disasters and growing income inequality, she urged:  “Let’s move beyond talk” to ensure “our daughters inherit a world where all women regardless of their migration status can flourish to their greatest potential”.


* Note:  Due to the financial liquidity crisis affecting the United Nations and the resulting constraints, the 3rd Meeting was not covered.

For information media. Not an official record.