Excellencies, Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Happy International Women's Day!
Our theme today is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” and comes a year after countries pledged, in the Asia-Pacific Beijing+25 Declaration, “to achieve full, equal, substantive and effective participation and access to leadership and senior-level positions at all levels and in all spheres.”
And over the past year, as the COVID-19 pandemic wrecked havoc to economies and societies across the region, we witnessed how women in leadership positions have been able to take swift and decisive actions to combat and contain the virus in their countries.
Indeed, it is recognized now more than ever that women bring different skills and perspectives that allow them to make essential contributions to the laws, policies and decisions that work best for all. Without the active participation of women and taking into account women’s perspectives, the goals of equality, development and peace for all simply cannot be achieved.
And it is not only women with political power who have made a difference in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Across our region, women entrepreneurs have been keeping the wheels of their businesses running, offering to their employees a steady income that protects against economic shocks.
At ESCAP, we are supporting relief and recovery funds for women entrepreneurs. There are many innovative practices that have emerged across our region as part of our “Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship” project, including the harnessing of digital technologies to access financing solutions for business start-ups and growth. You will hear more about this shortly from our partner in Cambodia, the SHE Investments. And in Viet Nam, a recent study we conducted shows that women-led businesses are more resilient in times of crisis due to the contingency plans and business continuity strategies that women have put in place as a business growth model.
Across the world and Asia-Pacific, women have been on the frontlines of response to the COVID-19 pandemic, whether as health care workers and community volunteers, or as caretakers for home-schooling children, the sick and the elderly at home.
Women have also formed communities and established informal support structures in many countries in response to the increase in domestic violence. The strength and resilience exhibited by women across the board must be progressively translated into leadership capital for decisive actions that benefit us all and foster solidarity among our communities and societies. It is exactly this capital of solidarity that we need more of now, as we build back better and stronger economies in the wake of the pandemic.
Having said that, however entrenched inequalities continue to persist.
Women and girls face unequal access to education and discriminatory labor practices. Progress in women’s representation in national parliaments, local government bodies and management positions, while improving, remains uneven across the region and indicators show that achieving gender equality in decision-making is still a significant challenge.
Millions of women and girls simply do not have the opportunities and the capacity to take charge of their own destinies, let alone assume leadership and decision-making positions that can help us build a better and more resilient world.
We must therefore renew our commitment and strengthen our engagement to achieve gender equality and women’s equal participation and representation in leadership. We must enhance partnerships and collaboration at all levels, to better inform, develop, implement and monitor gender-responsive policies and programmes, with adequate financial resource allocation.
We have made it a priority to mainstream gender considerations across the main pillars of our work: from the strong convening power we exert as a regional intergovernmental platform to the in-depth research and analysis we conduct, analysis that forms the backbone of our principled policy advice to Governments in the Asia-Pacific region through technical assistance programmes that focus on women’s leadership and economic empowerment.
We, the UN system, are leading a large regional initiative to foster women’s entrepreneurship as a key strategy to empower women entrepreneurs and women leaders in the economic sectors. We focus on creating an enabling policy environment, increasing access to financial services and digital solutions for women entrepreneurs in Asia and the Pacific.
As we weather the COVID-19 pandemic, we the UN System together with all our partners stand ready to build back better, stronger and more gender-equal economies and societies where no woman and no girl will be left behind.
On this International Women’s Day, let us reinvigorate our efforts for a better and more equal world - realizing equal rights for women and men, girls and boys everywhere.
I thank you.