Sixty-eighth Session,
6th Meeting* (AM)

Financing for Poverty Eradication Must Address Unequal Gender, Power Relations, Assistant Secretary-General Stresses, as Commission on Women Continues Session

Stressing the impact of elements including conflict, pay inequity and informal labour on the gender poverty gap, ministers and officials from around the world called for greater efforts to reverse trends indicating that 8 per cent of the world’s women will still be living on less than $2 per day by 2030, as the Commission on the Status of Women 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 the 2024 session, which runs 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 morning’s ministerial round-table discussions addressed two themes: “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”.

Fernando Elísio Freire, Minister for State, Family, Inclusion and Social Development of Cabo Verde, Chair of the first round table, reiterated the warning that the gender poverty gap is projected to persist into 2050, with 10 per cent of women worldwide living in extreme poverty. If current trends continue, an estimated 8 per cent of the world’s women will still be living on less than $2 per day by 2030.  Ending women’s and girls’ poverty requires financing from all sources, as Governments need fiscal space to address the structural barriers towards achieving gender equality and implement gender-responsive policies.

Speaking in his national capacity, he emphasized the national commitment to eradicate extreme poverty and reduce absolute poverty by 2026. He cited a 50 per cent tax on each tourist, and the fact that approximately 65 per cent of families in extreme poverty are led by women and with children, most under the age of 15.

Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, emphasized that poverty is not merely lack of income — it is the chronic deprivation of the resources and security necessary for the enjoyment of human rights.  Current economic policies that focus on integrating women and girls into existing unequal economic systems tend to address only a small number of economic rights associated with work, income and financial inclusion instead of addressing the full spectrum of women’s human rights, she pointed out.

“We must shift from an economic model that sees gender equality as just a tool for economic growth,” she said. Financing for poverty eradication must address the unequal gender and power relations within families, communities, public and private institutions and markets.  The reform of international financial institutions and the global debt and tax architectures is crucial for this, she said, adding that developing countries must not be penalized for boosting social spending.

As ministers took the floor, some stressed the devastating effect of conflict on the lives and rights of women and girls.  Amal Hamad, Minister for Women’s Affairs of the State of Palestine, highlighted the double standards of the international community, noting that 63 women are killed every day in Gaza.  Mothers cannot provide even one meal for their families, she said, adding that when women are displaced, they leave behind their houses and their dreams.  Refugee camps are being bombed and “every checkpoint is closed”, she said, with occupation authorities actively preventing aid.  Reminding delegates that Gaza has been under siege for 18 years, she said all the advances that its women have made have been reversed.

For her part, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Iryna Borovets, stated that two years of the Russian Federation’s full scale military invasion have left a devastating mark.  According to the World Bank, poverty rose from 5.5 per cent to over 25 per cent, especially among women in rural areas. “While men fight for our nation”, she stressed that many women have taken on double the responsibility — working tirelessly to sustain the economy, care for families and volunteer as medics caring for the injured.  Meanwhile, closing the gender pay gap is a key to economic empowerment, as women in Ukraine earn over 18 per cent less than a man, “working six-and-a-half years of their life basically for free”.

Echoing the theme of the gender pay gap, Dan Juvan, State Secretary, Ministry for Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of Slovenia, noted that women’s unpaid labour often becomes a de facto subsidy to private capital.  Stressing the connection between a just economic order and gender equality, he called for global solidarity, as developing countries face much higher borrowing costs and high debt payments, which seriously limits the fiscal space for policies that fight gender-related poverty.  If things don’t change radically by 2030, there will still be an estimated 342 million women living on less than $2.15 per day.

Other speakers highlighted the importance of addressing the factors pushing women and girls in all their diversity into poverty.  Kellie Coombes, Secretary for Women and Chief Executive at the Ministry for Women of New Zealand, cited the particular experience of those experiencing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination — including indigenous, disabled, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual persons, sole parents, rural and religious minority women and girls.  She noted the Government has worked to mainstream gender equality across all areas of action and decision-making to promote women’s economic empowerment and reduce poverty.  The country works closely with Pacific partners to advance regional gender equality commitments, ensuring that marketplaces in Fiji, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are safe, inclusive and nondiscriminatory.

Cindy Quesada Hernández, Minister for the Status of Women of Costa Rica, stressed:  “We must step up our efforts and mobilize additional resources to guarantee that all women and girls have the opportunity to reach their full potential and live a dignified and poverty-free life.”  Costa Rica has implemented programmes with an intersectional perspective, focused on structural gender inequalities and promoting inclusive and sustainable development.  She emphasized the importance of initiatives to improve women’s access to education and decent employment, guaranteeing their access to health-care and social protection services.

Highlighting the specific health-care aspect of “period poverty”, Gwendolyn Rutten, Deputy Minister-President and Minister for Home Affairs, Public Governance, Civic Integration and Equal Opportunities of Belgium, noted that her country took the first step towards this — reducing the value added tax (VAT) rate for menstrual products from 21 to 6 per cent.  Many local governments in Belgium are leading by example by providing free menstrual products in libraries, schools and sports clubs, she added, noting that her hometown launched a pilot project placing vending machines with free sanitary pads in the city’s high schools.  “Wouldn’t it be great if menstrual products were also offered in the UN’s restrooms?” she asked, also highlighting Belgium’s awareness-raising sessions where young people learn about menstruation and the functioning of their own bodies.

In the second round table of the morning, its chair, Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, Secretary for the Environment and Natural Resources of the Philippines, echoed warnings that the gender poverty gap is projected to persist into 2050.  Ending women’s and girl’s poverty requires robust and accountable public institutions implementing gender responsive economic policies, with ministries of finance playing a crucial role in setting fiscal policy and economic management; they can mandate gender analysis in budgetary process to maximize resource allocations for gender equality.

However, she noted, these ministries often face capacity constraints.  Governments can analyse the gender impacts of budgets and allocate resources to policies that address gender inequalities.  Stakeholders can follow public resource flows and evaluate how public investments address the needs and priorities of women and girls living in poverty.

Echoing that theme, Yuriko Backes, Minister for Gender Equality and Diversity of Luxembourg, recalled that she was formerly her country’s Finance Minister, emphasizing the importance of linking gender equality and finance.  She highlighted relevant Government measures including a finance task force encouraging companies to advance women in leadership positions.  Further, the Luxembourg Stock Exchange has teamed up with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) to issue gender-focused bonds.  History or rather “his story” has been largely written by men for men, she said, adding that the future must be about her story.

In a similar vein, Imelde Sabushimike, Minister for National Solidarity, Social Affairs, Human Rights and Gender of Burundi, cited the establishment of a bank for investment in development for women, helping to finance economic development projects initiated by women in business associations and cooperatives, which has already served more than 50,000 women.  However, challenges remain:  rural women lack access to tools to counter climate change, while informal labour carried out by women limits the time that they spend in remunerated labour and other opportunities.

Also addressing the rural element, Laila Ahmed Awadh Al Najjar, Minister for Social Development of Oman, said her Government is integrating women’s empowerment into its comprehensive development plan for coastal and rural areas.  Stressing the importance of enabling rural women and girls to participate in economic development, she said her country is enhancing their manufacturing and marketing skills.  Increasing employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in the agricultural field is crucial for food security as well, she said, adding that this also enables the stability and prosperity of rural areas. 

The good news is that “we know what actions we need to take”, said Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  Creating a more even playing field, including at home, can empower women and girls, and indeed the entire family, to pursue economic opportunities and a higher quality of life.  A more equal sharing of domestic responsibilities will also ease the disproportionate burden of unpaid labour upon women so that they can join and stay in the workplace, she said.

Also underscoring the importance of parental leave, affordable childcare and other family-friendly work policies, she said increasing women’s participation in the workplace raises their lifetime earning potential and could boost per capita gross domestic product (GDP) on average by nearly 20 per cent.  Investments in human capital, health, gender equality and education are powerful drivers for inclusive rights-based sustainable development.  Governments must invest in gender-responsive budgeting and the collection of quality disaggregated data so they can target allocations to policies that support gender equality and measure whether these investments meet the needs of women and girls.

Picking up the theme of strengthening the family, Xueling Sun, Minister for State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Social and Family Development of Singapore, highlighted her country’s efforts to invest in early education and lifelong learning and foster inclusive workplaces.  Women’s literacy rate is over 95 per cent and half of university graduates are women. More than nine in 10 children are in preschool, with children from lower income families getting priority enrollment and subsidized fees.  Also highlighting the Kickstart programme, which trains lower-income parents and facilitates access to preschool education, she said:  “We go upstream to uplift families.”

Amina Ali, State Minister and Acting Minister for Women and Human Rights Development of Somalia, emphasized the importance of women’s political participation and economic empowerment, providing them with equal access to education and skills to thrive in diverse sectors.  The country seeks to support women entrepreneurs through financial resources and mentorship, promote workplace equality and ensure fair pay opportunities and work-life balance.  She advocated for policies that increase women’s representations in decision-making positions, encouraging political parties to actively recruit and support women candidates.

Myles Kentworth LaRoda, Minister for Social Services, Information and Broadcasting of the Bahamas, cited three principle strategic initiatives — two of them led by women.  The country has created Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Technical Committees that collaborate across sectors to achieve gender mainstreaming.  The Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute provides career training, aiming to increase female enrollment to 59 per cent.  He noted that vulnerable women make up 70 per cent of persons accessing digital social services, with the Social Protection Management Information System helping to provide digital services to 33,000 households.  “With requisite funding, these good practices could become best practices,” he stated.


* Note:  Due to the financial liquidity crisis affecting the United Nations and the resulting constraints, the 5th Meeting was not covered.

For information media. Not an official record.