SPECIAL ADVISER ON GENDER CALLS FOR SPECIAL POLICIES TO FREE WOMEN FROM CONSTRAINTS IN EMPLOYMENT, DECISION-MAKING FIELDS
ACCRA, GHANA, 22 April -- Urging the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to help Governments devise programmes that would ensure social equity in an era of imbalanced globalization, an eminent panel of gender experts, trade specialists and politicians called today for policies that would free the poor, women and other marginalized groups from persistent constraints relating to employment, decision-making and access to business finance.
(Media-Newswire.com) - ACCRA, GHANA, 22 April -- Urging the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development ( UNCTAD ) to help Governments devise programmes that would ensure social equity in an era of imbalanced globalization, an eminent panel of gender experts, trade specialists and politicians called today for policies that would free the poor, women and other marginalized groups from persistent constraints relating to employment, decision-making and access to business finance.
“Unless the world refocuses its policies to address the adverse impact of globalization and economic inequality on development and poverty reduction, the poor and the privileged will continue to live worlds apart,” said Rachel Mayanja, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women. She was speaking during an interactive thematic round table on “Globalization, development and poverty reduction -- their social and gender dimensions”.
The twelfth quadrennial Ministerial Meeting of the Conference, UNCTAD XII, meeting in Accra, Ghana, through the end of the week, is weighing the opportunities and challenges of globalization for development. During this morning’s panel discussion, Ms. Mayanja warned that few countries, poor or rich, were immune to the rising tide of global inequality, making it imperative for economic and social policies and institutions to step up efforts to reduce widening social and gender disparities.
As for women and social equity, she said that, despite some positive examples of globalization having enhanced employment opportunities and strengthened women’s support groups and networks, the trend also reinforced or exacerbated many existing gender inequalities. Indeed, not only did women bear a disproportionate burden of the world’s poverty; in some cases, globalization had widened that gap, with women losing more than their share of jobs, benefits and labour rights.
Therefore, gender equality as a goal in itself and, as a means to achieving internationally agreed development targets, assumed a heightened level of importance and urgency, she said. Gender-sensitive polices promoting capacity-building and participation at all stages of development activities by women would go a long way towards eliminating inequality. “This Conference must demonstrate both the political will and commitment through concrete action. The time is now,” she declared.
Ms. Mayanja’s fellow panellists were Tarja Halonen, President of Finland; Patricia Francis, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre UNCTAD/WTO ( World Trade Organization ); Albert Koenders, Minister for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands; and Bader al-Dafa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia ( ESCWA ). Discussants were João Gomes Cravinho, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation of Portugal; and Gamini Lakshman Peiris, Minister for Export Development and International Trade of Sri Lanka.
UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Pantichpakdi said that “better managed” globalization required a practical blend of market planning and Government direction. Another key factor was ensuring that modern-day socio-economic growth was of a quality that would improve livelihoods in a concrete way, including through empowering women to participate in labour forces and trade systems, creating productive employment for all, and enhancing basic social protections and benefits. “It really is about ensuring inclusive growth,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there is no substitute for globalization, said Moderator Danny Leipziger, the World Bank’s Vice-President for Poverty Reduction and Economic Management, setting the stage for the discussion with a call for inclusive growth that would deliver for the poor, women and other vulnerable social groups. Even though there would be “bumps along the way”, stakeholders must ensure that globalization was as fair as possible by, among other ways, putting in place adequate and equitable socio-economic policies.
President Halonen said that weighing the pros and cons of globalization –- and seeking ways to ensure the dynamic phenomenon was fair and inclusive –- was now a major focus for politicians and decision-makers. While the United Nations and its relevant agencies, including UNCTAD, should take the lead in the globalization debate, Governments looking to implement equitable growth strategies should work closely with their grass-roots and community-level counterparts, including women-focused groups.
Governments did not need to choose dynamic growth over social justice, she stressed, noting that the two could and should coexist. Empowering women to be active in decision-making and equal partners in the labour force and business environment was a sure way for countries to solidify social gains and boost competitiveness. Women were key drivers of fair growth and Governments should do more to encourage and support young women and girls to take more active roles in all spheres of society, including through the scaling up of education opportunities.
Minister Koenders said that addressing the increased inequality that had resulted from globalization should become a priority in the next stage of the phenomenon. Initiatives should seek to add value to exports, so as to create jobs, while focusing on a balance between market approaches and public-private partnerships and regional integration. UNCTAD should work on commodity planning, achieving development goals and narrowing the gender gap in employment.
The main challenge now, from a global governance perspective, was integrating the poorer countries into global trade, he said. Liberalized trade did not necessarily lead to poverty reduction, however, and women were often the “shock absorbers” of bad policy in that regard. A large proportion of jobs gained through exports were gained by women, but often with worse compensation. National polices mattered, and countries with favourable laws had a much larger percentage of women-owned businesses. UNCTAD should create a one-stop shop on regulations impinging on women to help create globalization with a “Mona Lisa smile”.
Mr. al-Dafa said that aggregate data often hid the gender and non-monetary dimensions of poverty. The statistics did show, however, that the economic growth in Western Asia did not help the poorest people and had even worsened their situation because of price inflation, which was now spiking in the case of foodstuffs. In many Arab countries, the poverty level had remained the same or declined.
He said that women, in particular, faced many barriers in gaining access to training, property rights and mobility. All young people were having a hard time finding employment, and educated youth were leaving. Indicators showed slow progress in the participation of women in economic and public life, but for significant change to occur, all sectors of society must work together to overcome those gender challenges. ESCWA would lend its unwavering support, he pledged.
Ms. Francis described an approach that her organization called “Export Impact for Good”, aimed at making trade work for all groups in developing countries. It linked poor communities to global markets and concentrated on small businesses. The organization mainstreamed women’s issues into all their programmes, because women constituted 70 per cent of the world’s poor people. “Countries that failed to capitalize on the full potential of one half of their societies were misallocating human resources and compromising their development potential.”
She said countries could make huge gains by addressing the gender inequalities that locked up women’s export potential. For that reason, the International Trade Centre had created environments that facilitated women’s export businesses, strengthened trade-support institutions to provide services to businesswomen and helped women-owned enterprises to become more competitive in global markets. It was crucial, though, to create inclusiveness with an understanding of the market and the reality of the private sector.
Minister Peiris said all the panellists had properly emphasized the interlocking dimensions of the problem of having economic growth reduce poverty, especially for women and youth. There must be a Government role to help the benefits reach the grass-roots level, with structured programmes that took gender into account. In Sri Lanka, average income had grown, but steep inequalities remained. The country’s main resource was human resources, so training the poorest people was important, and disadvantaged students were given priority in higher education. Quotas for women’s participation were highly problematic, however. Sri Lanka had created infrastructure projects with employment in mind, and had also connected small producers directly to the market. It had also created incentives for value-added exports. Countries must be creative and innovative to make globalization serve vulnerable groups.
Mr. Cravinho agreed, pointing out that there was no magic connection between globalization and development that benefited all groups. Instead, globalization was a complex of benefits and threats. “Better globalization requires better regulation of globalization,” he said.
It was controversial to speak of regulation that impinged on national sovereignty, particularly when it came to trade and governance issues. International policies must, therefore, be created with national participation, and national choices must hold as much weight as the opinions of international experts. UNCTAD had an important role in negotiating that kind of international governance. The role of women in achieving development goals was crucial, and gender considerations must be incorporated into governance concerns. In addition, societies must be encouraged to evolve towards acceptance of women’s greater participation in all areas.
In the ensuing discussion, many representatives of Governments and non-governmental organizations agreed that the national framework of individual States was the primary factor in ensuring that the benefits gained from increased trade reached the poorest people, including the women among them, but that Governments’ ability to do so depended greatly on the international environment.
The representative of a Brazilian non-governmental organization said it was important, in that regard, that space for national policies not overwhelm international trade forces. There could be a choice between the old idea of development for trade and a new one of trade for development. UNCTAD could help States to determine the proper preconditions for trade that would benefit sustainable growth and reduce poverty and inequalities.
In the same vein, the representative of Tunisia said it was important that countries invest more of their income into education and health, so that more people could participate in growth. The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo agreed, but stressed that the international framework must give a fair deal to developing countries in order for that to take effect. The representative of Slovenia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said UNCTAD should help make the links between the international framework and national policies, so that women and the poor could reap greater benefits from globalization.
This afternoon at 3 p.m., UNCTAD XII will continue with a round table discussion on “Creating an institutional environment conducive to increased foreign investment and sustainable development”.
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