Remarks of Preeti Sinha, UNCDF Executive Secretary, at the Launch of the Generation Equality Forum-Economic Justice and Rights Action Coalition Dialogue Session

  • March 30, 2021

  • Mexico City (Virtual Site), Mexico

As Prepared for Delivery

First and foremost, thank you so much for the opportunity to address the attendees and to participate in the launch of the Generation Equality Forum; and particular thanks the Government of Mexico, the Government of France and to UN Women.

I would like to start by mentioning that 75 years ago this year, the UN commenced the drafting of what would ultimately be the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the UDHR, which would be later ratified in 1948. The purpose of the UDHR was to provide the world a blueprint for the creation of a new architecture that would ensure the universal protection of fundamental human rights. As I see it, Generation Equality and the EJR action coalition are logical extensions of the UDHR. We are charged with creating the blueprint for a new architecture that will ensure economic justice and rights for women and girls.

And because UNCDF’s focus is to harness the untapped growth potential of LDCs, we have recognized a critical reality: the obstacles to economic justice and rights are not distinct of themselves. They are intertwined or cross-cutting obstacles rooted in a larger finance and policy architecture where capital—in the forms of finance, technology, assets, education, and opportunity—simply do not connect with women and girls.

To the point, there are four cross-cutting obstacles that undergird this architecture:

One, prevailing socio-cultural norms and legal frameworks are gender discriminatory and do not address the needs of women and girls. Because of the lack of gender-responsive regulations women face barriers in accessing productive resources; Their basic rights are not recognized under labour laws; Unpaid care and domestic work by women is not recognized nor legally protected; And international investments, fiscal stimulus and social protection measures are not directed toward women.

Two, data is not disaggregated by sex and other socio-demographic variables. Without this data we cannot identify and target the specific challenges faced by diverse segments of women. We cannot assess the number of women working in the informal sector. We cannot assess the amount of gender-investments submitted to the OECD-DAC or track national commitments. And we cannot assess women’s access to financial services or determine their participation in economic life.

Three, women are facing serious barriers in accessing technology and innovations. Women and girls are less likely to access internet or own a phone, which is the most common means of personal communications and internet access in developing countries. As a result, women are denied an array of benefits that would otherwise support their economic agency: Access to online platforms to increase their job opportunities; access to credit; Access to information regarding their basic rights; And access to support networks if they are facing abuses.

Four, women worldwide, especially in developing countries, lack access to affordable and reliable financial products and services. This constrains the very wellbeing of women and their households because they are effectively blocked from entrepreneurial opportunities, health care and education, and general participation in economic life.

And when you bring the harsh impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic into this architecture, the result is that 247 million women could very well be pushed back into poverty, which would be an enormous setback for the cause of sustainable development.

Now, from the UNCDF standpoint, we deploy a comprehensive approach to advance equality for all women, especially for the most disadvantaged women and female-led businesses in the least developed regions of Africa, Asia and the Pacific. UNCDF specifically focuses on expanding local fiscal space for gender responsive economic development, increasing access to capital for women enterprises, and access to digital and financial services for all women.

I would like to illustrate our two essential and interlinked gender-inclusive market systems approaches: Inclusive and Equitable Local Development and Making Women Builders of Digital Economies.

First, under the Inclusive and Equitable Local Development approach, UNCDF alongside UN Women and UNDP has focused on building inclusive and equitable local economies through three major areas: Reforming policies and regulatory frameworks by providing technical support to local partners so they can incorporate gender equality objectives. Investments in local infrastructure to ensure better access to income earning opportunities, reduced burden of care work, and easier access to basic public services. SME financing and technical support to boost innovative and blended financing in last mile markets for women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). For example, in a two-year period, we leveraged US$2.87 million in grants to unlock nearly US$5 million in local resources towards investments supporting women’s economic empowerment.

Second, we aim to make women builders of the digital economy so that they contribute to the inclusive economic development of their countries and also the wellbeing of their households. The key priorities include: Decreasing the digital divide by increasing the number of women and girls that own a phone, can access the internet, and have access to energy sources to power digital service; Increasing the number of affordable digital and financial products that address the needs and challenges of diverse segments of women; Leveraging technology to increase access to finance and to formalize women-owned or managed MSMEs; Supporting policymakers to use incentives and sex-disaggregated data to increase women’s digital and financial autonomy. And creating “coalitions of the amenable”, partnerships between public, private and civil society sector actors to increase the number of women in the workforce and in leadership positions within digital economy ecosystems. A perfect example is our joint Call to Action on Reaching Financial Equality for Women UNCDF, in partnership with the World Bank, UN Women, the UNSGSA for Inclusive Finance, the Better than Cash Alliance and Women’s World Banking launched a global advocacy campaign with ten recommendations to rebuild stronger after the COVID-19 pandemic by prioritizing women’s digital and financial inclusion.

Of course, the work of the EJR coalition is crucial to addressing the constraints to women’s empowerment and recognizing the opportunities to create more equitable and inclusive societies. As discussed by our colleagues before me, the four focus areas considered by the EJR Coalition – care economy, decent work, productive resources, and inclusive economies – all present particular obstacles that should be tackled with an enabling ecosystem, new and innovative financing mechanisms, and a markets based approach that involves strong leadership and partnership between the public and the public sector. So, how will UNCDF look to connect its approaches to the four objectives of the EJR Action Coalition—to create opportunities out of obstacles?

First, the Action Coalition’s prioritization of the care economy; To take this “invisible economy” that is the underlying foundation of our “real economy” and turn into something we can see and acknowledge. We need to build resilient and holistic care systems that will integrate equality as a core pillar. More specifically, we will ensure that investments in facilities for childcare and elderly care, early childhood education, and disability care will be at the forefront of investment decisions and plans.

The second priority of this Action Coalition is to create more opportunities for decent work and preparing women and girls for the future of work. UNCDF strongly supports a stepped-up investment agenda for women’s economic empowerment that promotes decent and safe work environment principles for women, and we have incorporated these principles in our financing tools. Additionally, technology will be pivotal in supporting women to access information about job opportunities through online job platforms, and can improve the conditions of women workers by increasing their knowledge of basic rights and connecting them with professional support networks.

The third priority of the action coalition, one of the most important to UNCDF, is equalizing the access to productive resources for women and girls everywhere. We have seen in our work how women’s lack of assets, land rights, access to phones and financial accounts often makes them second-class citizens and entrepreneurs. UNCDF, together with our partners, will continue to promote women-centered digital economy solutions that focuses on women as builders of the digital economy and fosters their well-being.

The fourth priority of the action coalition, also critically important to UNCDF, is ensuring that the re-building of economies is gender inclusive. Larger and better targeted financing is needed to rebuild local economies that are centered around the specific needs of women workers, women-owned businesses and female entrepreneurs. We urge governments to prioritize certain financial and economic measures: funds for grassroots organizations, social protection, and financial packages to protect affected women and provide much needed relief to women-owned businesses and enterprises.

All of these actions are ambitious, and they will require strong leadership and commitments from the public, private sector and civil society. This is why I am so grateful UNCDF was selected as one of the leaders with an impressive, deeply thoughtful and technical group of co-leaders.

Together with our Coalition partners and through the Generation Equality Forum, we will present the blueprint for a policy and financial architecture where economic justice and rights for women can be a basis of sustainable development, for the last mile and beyond.