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10th Women's Affairs Ministers Meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Keynote address by Freda Miriklis, President of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women

18 June 2013
Speaker: Freda Miriklis, President of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women / Location: Dhaka, Bangladesh

Ministers, Senior Officials
Commonwealth, Secretary General
Commonwealth Business Council, Director General
All protocols observed
Friends of the Commonwealth all,

It is a great joy to be with you, here, in Dhaka - the commercial heart of Bangladesh and one of the fastest growing cities in the world – and a great honour to be addressing such a distinguished audience at the opening plenary of this Tenth Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting.

Greetings from the 30,000 members of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women – better known as BPW International – that has been bringing business and professional women together with policy makers since 1930 and represented in over 98 countries, across five continents spanning the Pacific Islands to the Americas and the Caribbean.

I sincerely thank Secretary General Sharma for inviting me to share with you my thoughts on Women’s Leadership for democracy and development in the Commonwealth at this crucial time for business and for women and also for the Commonwealth. Indeed, this is a unique opportunity for each of you as Commonwealth Ministers, to shape the lives of women for this and future generations to come.

Allow me to firstly congratulate the Commonwealth on the theme of Women’s Leadership for Enterprise – which could not be more apt and marks a significant milestone by being the first WAMM to have such a strong focus for women in the economy at this important juncture in our history. Greater inclusion of women will expand prosperity across our 54 economies, as an investment in our future.

I have spent the past couple of days hearing the voices of civil society, from some 17 countries, at the Partners’ Forum, organised so well by the Commonwealth Foundation and the BRAC Centre where it was duly noted that momentum is now building internationally to formulate a successor framework for the MDGs and with this there are new opportunities for the inclusion of women’s economic empowerment in the vision, goals, targets and indicators. A reference point was the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) that were inspired by real life business practices and forged through an international multi-stakeholder consultative process led by UN Women and the UN Global Compact. It’s 7 Principles help businesses tailor or establish policies and practices to realise women’s economic empowerment. It’s not theory but reality. Because businesses are applying it to their own operations. And it’s being led by action.

These 7 Women’s Empowerment Principles, commonly referred to as the WEPs, also reflect the interests of businesses, governments and civil society. They address the behaviours, attitudes and cultural barriers that need to change; covering such matters as: leadership, fair treatment at work, health and safety, professional development, and marketing practices that empower women.

And I am encouraged with my conversations with you at the National Machineries meeting in New York in March that this could be a useful tool for the Commonwealth’s diverse mix of countries, which several of you have also said to me here.

What has struck me in the last few days is that the Commonwealth works at its best when it operates as a true partnership – civil society, private sector and government; developed and developing countries; men and women.

Yesterday’s Inter-Sectoral Private Sector Dialogue organized by the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) and the Commonwealth Secretariat with Senior Officials has highlighted a new level of vibrancy and excitement that is starting to take shape underpinned by the Commonwealth Charter and all in a CHOGM year. What you saw yesterday was the result of 3 organisations coming together with a single focus on women’s economic empowerment - the CBC and the British Association of Women Entrepreneurs and BPW International creating Commonwealth Businesswomen – known as CBW.

CBW’s vision has shown what can be accomplished when stakeholders come together for the common good. Over the last 20 months since Perth, we have engaged businesswomen across some 40 countries and out of that has emerged what we refer to as the CBW Agenda for Women’s Economic Empowerment and we have put in place a framework allowing the Commonwealth to prosper and yesterday you saw that vision play out before you. This was based on 3 questions:

- How can we bring more women onto boards and into senior decision making roles?
- How can women businesses access and leverage global supply chains?
- What are the innovative solutions to access finance and skills?

The solutions to those questions are reflected in the recommendations that came out of yesterday’s senior officials meeting and what we did in this process was open our minds, think creatively, look for new and better ways of doing business, and be sure that we keep women at the table.

The Commonwealth with its billion women stands at a crossroads. We must recognize women for what they are – a vital source of growth that can power economies.

Ministers and senior officials

Today, there are more than 200 million women entrepreneurs worldwide. Women earn more than $10 trillion every year, and this is expected to grow by $5 trillion over the next several years. In many developing countries, women’s incomes are now growing faster than men’s. Eight of the top twelve female CEOs on Fortune Magazine’s list of the most powerful international businesswomen are from Commonwealth countries as they were in the previous year.

Women are the next emerging growth market that governments and companies can no longer ignore.

There is no question that women are having a profound effect on global business and increasingly are poised to take their place in the economic mainstream over the next decade; not as mothers, wives, or caregivers but as producers, consumers, employees, entrepreneurs and investors.

A recent Booz & Company analysis shows the impact of women on the global economy will be at least as significant as that of China and India’s billion - plus populations. If China and India each represent 1 billion emerging participants in the global marketplace, then this “third billion” is made up of women, in both developing and industrialized nations, whose economic lives have previously been stunted, underleveraged, or suppressed. It is incumbent on government to bring new thinking to finding solutions to these old problems.

The creativity of the Third Billion may provide the world with an unprecedented resource for driving economic growth and improving the quality of life over the next decade. Reaping this demographic dividend will not be easy and it may require significant social and legal change.

But that change has already begun in many places and it will spread to many more. For leaders, the next step is to recognize the value of this population of women, and the contribution they can make.

Ministers and senior officials

Never before has there been such focus on the issue of gender parity on the global stage. And indeed, the Commonwealth, which represents one billion women, must find ways to achieve gender balance. Because increasing women’s participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity will lead, to greater competitiveness and growth of our economies. So therefore your focus on women and the economy as a central part of this meeting maybe overdue but it is now very welcome and timely.

As the Secretary General said last night, for the first time we have our Commonwealth Charter signed by HM The Queen which talks so clearly of ‘gender equality and women’s empowerment as essential components of human development and basic human rights.’

Since Perth, we have established the CBW Board, with the support of BPW formed CBW Leadership Groups in Pakistan, Australia, UK with Regional Groups in the Caribbean and Africa. We encourage you to work actively with them to establish more CBW Leadership Groups and strengthen and support those in place as we work on this agenda together.

What the world needs now is leadership and the time to lead is now. The Commonwealth needs women’s leadership for democracy and development because democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.

Given that in previous centuries only half the population have had a say in the decisions that have affected people’s lives, it is incumbent on the other half to lead a new style of inclusive leadership in this 21st century. A leadership style that is equal, fair, and which sees men and women leading side by side. At the last WAMM meeting in Barbados, and again last night, Secretary General Sharma said: “Half of our Commonwealth population receives considerably less than half of our attention, and faces considerably more than half of our challenges”.

But this new order needs to be led by women and men together, tackling the hard issues and finding solutions to prevailing barriers left over from a different time to reflect new economic realities and concepts of justice.

From a different time and different economic relationship, I believe that this can be the Women’s Century: the century of inclusion and women’s equal leadership and participation, where gender equity and women's economic empowerment become front and centre.

And as men largely wrote the history of past centuries, it is incumbent on the women in this century to write, participate and implement a new beginning in the Women’s Century.

Can you imagine what this could look like and the sort of world that we could create? Imagine the year 2030. We are here. Look at what we were able to achieve over the last 17 years.

  • 50% of the trillions of dollars done at the Commonwealth Business Forum came from businesses where women are in senior roles
  • The Global Platform for Sourcing from Women Vendors ceases to exist because women businesses are established as significant suppliers to leading companies from India to Canada
  • 30% of women on boards is the norm not because of quotas but because the enhanced value women can make to the quality of decision making is widely recognized
  • The Olympics and major sporting events have strong policies and procure from WOBs following the lead taken by the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014 and Gold Coast 2018

The Women’s Century was a turning point for gender equity. It took bold women, led by public action, supported by courageous men, to deliver an attitudinal change that led to genuine transformation. Norms changed forever. And ultimately, it was political will led by public action that achieved this new world.

As we begin the 150 day countdown to CHOGM in Colombo 2013 there is a real urgency for each of you as Ministers to go back to your countries and to engage with Ministers of Finance and Business and Trade to see how they can work with you to support the following steps:

I am pleased to announce that the Commonwealth Business Council as part of its work on CBW will take the outcomes of this meeting to mobilize the private sector and engage with them to support what we have discussed at the 10th WAMM at the CBF in Colombo during CHOGM as part of their report to the heads of government.

And I am pleased to know that the seed fund suggested by the Foreign Minister yesterday to help women entrepreneurs grow their businesses in resource constraint settings in the Commonwealth is being seriously considered by the Commonwealth Business Council and its partners.

Ministers of the Commonwealth and Senior Officials, these are the key takeaways where there are opportunities for you to take action after this meeting:

  1. Implement what Prime Minister Portia of Jamaica has called a groundbreaking report from the CBC and ACCA on Women on Boards and in senior decision-making roles
  2. Ensure that the business women from your country take full advantage of the commercial opportunities from two key offerings over the next few months – for developing countries, they should actively participate in the International Trade Centre’s (ITC) Global Platform for Action on Sourcing from Women Vendors which for the first time is being held in a Commonwealth country the week after CHOGM – in Delhi, in India. This is a $700B opportunity targeted at WOBs. And for everyone the Commonwealth Business Forum which takes place in CHOGM week in Colombo which last time generated $14B worth of business in 72 hours.
  3. Push for women at the heart of the post 2015 development agenda that I was delighted to hear the Foreign Minister speak about last night. Commonwealth countries can take a lead in shaping the 2015 agenda to ensure that women’s economic empowerment is integral. Get your UN representatives fully engaged with the consultation now.

And as you will all know, the special theme of next year’s UN 58th session on the Commission on the Status of Women is on the Millennium Development Goals and in this context, I welcome the Foreign Minister’s call last night for the Commonwealth Secretariat to identify a broad set of common goals and targets emanating from the various national and regional consultations within the Commonwealth on the post 2015 development agenda. And I refer you to the CBC table outside that has copies of the CBW position statement on the post-2015 development agenda.

The National Machineries meeting next year on the eve of CSW58 should be the occasion for the Commonwealth to present a fully articulated position on how women’s economic empowerment can be a central part of the post 2015 development agenda and also support the work of your national delegations to CSW.

As the OECD delegate to the Partner’s Forum acknowledged: Commonwealth countries are uniquely spread across all the UN negotiating groups which gives us a remarkable amount of soft power. What we now need is to use this to advance our agenda to achieve hard outcomes on women’s economic empowerment in key regional groupings such as APEC, SAARC, SADEC and CARICOM.

By setting concrete benchmarks and targets and establishing monitoring and reporting frameworks, as Women’s Affairs Ministers, you can lead the Commonwealth. Through CBW, we are looking forward to strengthening our collaboration, building on what we have achieved to date – together as partners.

After a century of progress and change, it is clear that in societies with more gender equity, democracy is stronger, economies are more developed and peace is a priority. Achieving equity depends on each and all of us. From the government that changes its laws, to the company that advances equal pay and equal opportunity, to the mother and father who teach their daughter and son that all human beings should be treated equally.

We can demonstrate that a harmonious society is not an impossible dream but a practical vision, one that can inspire us to fulfill our responsibilities and create a better world.

If we decide — as societies, governments and businesses — to invest in women and girls, we will strengthen our efforts to fight poverty, drive development and spread stability. If we decide to take action, we will see that achieving full economic potential through gender equity actually extends beyond women and has rippling effects to all of humankind.

I urge you to commit to a plan of action to build world-class inclusive workplaces, marketplaces and communities, for equity, for empowerment and for the benefit of all. The qualities that Her Majesty embodies, the persistence and collective spirit of the Commonwealth women, hold the key to seeing this 21st Century as the Women’s Century.

As Victor Hugo said “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come” and that idea Ministers and Senior Officials

Is that the economic empowerment of women can be the engine to transform economies across the Commonwealth, as PM Gillard and our Chair-in-Office, herself said to the board of CBW at Perth.

Let us build the roadmap and walk that journey together so we can say, it was at this time, in this place, in this room, in Dhaka at the 10th WAMM that the lives of a billion women changed for the better.

Thank you good luck and I look forward to working with you to make this happen.