Statement of Judith Karl, UNCDF Executive Secretary, on the Occasion of International Women’s Day 2020

  • March 08, 2020

  • New York, United States

Local finance, digital finance, and blended finance all have the capability to be the drivers of a gender equal world.

Judith Karl
Executive Secretary
UN Capital Development Fund

Greetings on International Women’s Day, a day when we can all declare that we are “Generation Equality” and express our commitment to creating the gender-equal world that we all deserve.

In the 25 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, we as a global community have developed a clear vision of what a gender-equal world looks like. It is a vision that includes women who possess the kind of economic empowerment that not only translates into economic benefits, but to social benefits as well: control over time, lives and bodies; freedom from gender-based violence; and economic decision-making power at home, at work, and in communities.

And just as the 25thanniversary of the Beijing Declaration motivates us to take stock of the challenges to gender equality that we still must address, we should also examine how much further we must go to achieve women’s economic empowerment, notably for those women who reside in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs). Because true empowerment means leaving no woman behind.

We can report that progress has been made when it comes to the volume of local development finance investments intended to support women’s economic empowerment, particularly in LDCs. But despite this progress, we have simply not done enough to harness the transformative potential of local development finance to advance the agency and empowerment of women. This is why UNCDF is using the occasion of Beijing+25 to unveil its Women’s Economic Empowerment Index—a tool designed to evaluate and rank investment projects based on their contribution to women’s economic empowerment. This index will equip policymakers with precisely the tool they need to determine which projects they should support. Specifically, the index will rely on evidence relating to such criteria as the gender-equalizing conditions of a given business’s workplace and business relations; demonstrated public commitment to contributing to and supporting gender equality; and the extent to which business products and public investment projects reduce women’s unpaid labor and promote their paid employment.

UNCDF is unveiling later this year a Women’s Economic Empowerment Index— a UN standard that assesses investments from a women’s economic empowerment perspective and evaluates the extent to which businesses and public investment projects contribute to gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Digital innovations have revolutionized, not only how women can access and use financial services, but also how they can engage in the economy to meet their daily needs and improve their skills, productivity, and marketability in the digital-economy age. The challenge we face is that the digital economies in their current growth pattern are not always naturally driven to be inclusive, and may further deepen the divisions within economies. Increasingly, however, it is clear to digital economy stakeholders that women often hold the key to sustainable business models – women often make better digital finance agents (they are more profitable and attract a broader set of customers), women often make better entrepreneurs, supporting to grow not only their families but also local economies. Every strand of challenges facing inclusive digital economies have solutions that women are increasingly building. UNCDF’s new strategy launched last year, “Leaving No One Behind in the Digital Era” is focused on building Inclusive Digital Economies that address this challenge of the digital divide. UNCDF’s strategy focuses on creating partnerships at a global, regional, and country level and pairing them with market facilitation and deep technical assistance to affect change on the ground. It leverages our on-the-ground presence and relationships with Ministries of Finance, Central Banks, Telco regulators, other relevant policy makers, as well as the private sector (including banks, Telcos, Fintechs, MFIs) and civil society, to partner with women and "unblock" the barriers to women's economic empowerment in each country. They will do this by implementing a tailored strategy on a country-by-country basis, integrated into existing work that will both unblock barriers and accelerate increased access to critical services, ultimately increasing the number of women that earn and control their money.

UNCDF’s new strategy launched last year, “Leaving No One Behind in the Digital Era” is focused on building Inclusive Digital Economies that address the challenge of the digital divide, by partnering with women to "unblock" the barriers to women's economic empowerment.

More and more, we are finding development actors and impact investors looking to blended finance–the strategic use of concessional finance to catalyse additional private-sector or commercial investment in SDG-related investments in developing countries. But the existence of data to identify blended transactions that have potential for women’s economic empowerment, or data that outlines the performance of gender-focused blended transactions is sadly lacking. Advocating for precisely this kind of data has been an area of focus for our two “Blended Finance in the Least Developed Countries” publications, where we have underscored the importance of concessional finance providers to ensure that blended finance transactions are reducing gender disparities, as opposed to widening them. We are also leveraging blended finance through the BUILD Fund, a vehicle launched in partnership with the impact investment firm, Bamboo Capital Partners, that will assess the potential for women’s economic empowerment across all of the fund’s thematic areas of investment.

Local finance, digital finance, and blended finance all have the capability to be the drivers of a gender equal world. But that capability is not inherent. It must be unlocked. And those who are committed to a gender equal world can always rely on the commitment of UNCDF to unlock that capability. That is because gender equality and women’s economic empowerment is not merely one area of focus for us. It cuts across the entirety of our work.

It is more than fitting that the 25thanniversary year of the Beijing Declaration coincides with the first year of the decade of action to achieve the SDGs by the 2030 deadline. Women’s economic empowerment is not merely a measure of success under SDG 5. It drives achievement of practically the entire SDG agenda. Today, UNCDF salutes the women, businesses and governments advancing the business models that bring us closer to the gender-equal world we all deserve.