Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my distinct pleasure to join you today for this session of the World Women Economic and Business Summit on “The Growing Economic Power of Women”.
Women’s empowerment and economic participation are fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and unlocking our full economic potential.
Globally, only about half of women are engaged in the labour force. In the Asia-Pacific region, over the past 30 years women’s labor force participation has fallen to 44 per cent in 2021, a drop of almost 10 per cent.
Hidden behind these figures are the hours women spend on unpaid care and domestic work. Considering paid and unpaid work, women in Asia and the Pacific work the longest hours in the world. Women perform four times the amount of unpaid care work of men. These demands for unpaid care work reduce the time and energy women have available to participate in employment or entrepreneurship.
Women who are engaged in the workforce earn less, are in less secure jobs and are more likely to be employed in the informal sector than men. In Asia and the Pacific, approximately two-thirds of women workers are in the informal sector.
We all stand to gain by opening opportunities for women to join the formal workforce. An estimated $4.5 trillion would be added to the region’s gross domestic product by 2025 by closing gender disparities in economic opportunities.
One way to reduce these disparities is to invest in women’s entrepreneurship, which can catalyze economic empowerment and sustainable growth. Women-owned businesses in the Asia-Pacific region have been increasing and growing at a fast pace. These businesses have multiplier effects on family wellbeing, poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth.
Nevertheless, women in the region continue to face numerous challenges to start, sustain and upscale their businesses. The challenges include lack of access to finance, limited access to information and communication technology, discriminatory legislative frameworks, and biased cultural and social norms.
To tackle these barriers, ESCAP is leading a large, regional initiative to foster women’s entrepreneurship as a key strategy to empower women business owners and women leaders in the economic sectors. We focus on creating an enabling policy environment, increasing access to financial services and digital solutions.
The Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship programme applies a unique ecosystem approach, addressing all the interconnected issues from policies and laws to digital and business skills, financing and partnerships. To date, a total of 43,000 women entrepreneurs have directly benefitted from enhanced access to finance and digital skills to start and grow their businesses.
Through the Fintech Innovation Funds, Women Enterprise Recovery Funds, digital finance and e-commerce solutions, we have assisted women entrepreneurs in repositioning their businesses to become more agile and better prepared for future shocks.
As an example of the policy initiatives, in Viet Nam, ESCAP assessed the existing law on small and medium enterprises. Our findings influenced the new decree 80, which incorporated specific provisions for women-led enterprises.
To truly unleash the growing economic power of women, we must recognize, redistribute and reduce the burden of women's unpaid care and domestic work. This will not only relieve the care burden on women but also create new opportunities for decent employment.
Ladies and gentlemen,
By removing barriers to women’s economic empowerment, we will increase their influence as decision makers and consumers, and advance overall economic productivity.
ESCAP is committed to promoting and supporting women’s economic opportunities, in partnership with governments, civil society and other stakeholders. Together, we can expand opportunities for women and realize their full economic power.