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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

10 September 2020

Excellencies, distinguished participants, 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

It is my pleasure to address the AIBD Webinar on “Women Leading the New Future”. 

Over the past few decades, the Asia-Pacific region has emerged as the most dynamic region in the world – our countries make up an impressive engine of economic growth driven by investment, technology, innovation and productivity. Women have contributed greatly in steering this development success, thereby promoting an increasingly inclusive and sustainable economic growth. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is now complicating this narrative. Last week, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned that ‘the devastating social and economic impact on women and girls is reversing limited and fragile progress on gender equality’ due to COVID-19 pandemic. 

These emerging pandemic-induced challenges are certainly slowing progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example, women health care workers—at the forefront of fighting this pandemic—have witnessed disproportionate burden both on their health and well-being. 

Women have also felt the brunt of the economic impact as they constitute the majority of the informal sector workforce or as entrepreneurs running micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) across our region. 

Last but not least, many women and girls continue to experience physical and/or sexual violence, which has further increased during lockdowns. For example, in Asia-Pacific, about 15 per cent to 68 per cent of women, on average, quite a range depending on where you are, are suffering from gender-based violence. 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

The Beijing Platform for Action marks its 25-year anniversary in 2020, which champion global commitment to gender equality. Last year in 2019, UN-led Asia-Pacific regional review indicated that the region, despite remarkable achievements, need to accelerate progress on SDG 5 on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. 

Allow me to highlight three key challenges as follows: 

· Women continue to bear the burden of unpaid care work at home. On an average day, women spend four times as much time on unpaid care work than their male counterparts, limiting their full economic potential in our societies. 

· Women’s labor force participation rate also remains significantly lower than men’s in our region. The gap between male and female labor force participation is more than 30 per cent, which restricts access to social protection and other employment benefits. 

· The improvement of gender data and statistics remains a key focus. Gaps in gender statistics have been one of the key factors that hinder informed decision-making and better measurement of progress in gender equality and empowerment of women and girls across countries in our region. 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

At the Asia-Pacific Beijing+25 Declaration, adopted in November 2019 at the regional Ministerial Conference in Bangkok, member States reaffirmed and renewed their commitment and recognized the importance of women and girls as key agents of change for the Asia-Pacific's sustainable development journey. 

However, the outbreak of COVID-19, over the past six-months have widened the existing socio-economic inequalities that women have faced for long time in our region. As such, women are at greater risk of losing their jobs and incomes. 

In fact, across the nation’s parliaments, share of women in positions of leadership has increased. Yet, these numbers are far below the global average. 

Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen, 

The United Nations family, including ESCAP, we are strengthening the gender dimensions through institutionalizing efforts for gender-responsive regional programmes to ‘leave no one behind’. 

In view of this, let me focus on three policy issues for your further deliberations and consideration. 

· Firstly, we must improve social protection systems and widen safety nets. Governments need to advocate for the allocation of sufficient fiscal space, especially targeting women and girls, along with an improved regulatory and policy framework. 

· Secondly, let us emphasize women’s entrepreneurship as a catalyst for promoting women’s economic empowerment. Increasing women entrepreneurs’ access to finance and digital technologies through partnerships with governments, financial institutions and the private sector are essential elements in this process. 

· Thirdly, we must work together in improving gender data and statistics along with development partners. Collecting and analyzing high-quality, timely, and sex-disaggregated data can measure progress on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. 

Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen, 

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, let us join forces with governments, the private sector, civil society and media to usher women’s transformative leadership. 

Inclusive multilateralism and solidarity are essential to create the ‘New Future’. 

Thank you very much.

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