Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland has urged bold action to close the persistent economic gap between men and women and help pave the way to achieving the SDGs.
“Working for the economic empowerment of women is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do,” she stated during a high-level panel at the World Investment Forum 2018 in Geneva. “It contributes to human development and inclusive growth as well as to prosperous business.”
The forum, held under the theme ‘Women’s economic empowerment – Transforming investments and enterprise’, brought leaders together government, business and civil society from across the world to discuss ways to unlock economic opportunities for women and girls, build financial security and contribute to economic growth.
Despite global efforts, large gender gaps remain. In the Commonwealth millions of women are under-employed, working in the informal sector or unemployed.
The Secretary-General said: “Failure to mobilise the potential productive capacity of these women results in a loss to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Commonwealth countries over a five-year period of hundreds of billions of dollars. Recent estimates indicate that economic gender parity could add an extra $240 billion to the GDP of an advanced economy within such a timescale.”
To address these issues, the Commonwealth Secretariat has developed a suite of toolkits to help member countries achieve the SDGs. The Secretary-General said they would enable countries to make swifter and more inclusive progress, adding: “The SDGs are like a gleaming and finely-tuned motor car. We have built all the components, and there is petrol in the tank, but to open it up and start it we need the keys.”
She also referred to the Commonwealth Trade Finance Facility, which was set up to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with access to trade finance, including businesses owned by women in smaller and more vulnerable Commonwealth countries. Five member countries have together invested $5 million in guarantee funding, with an ambition to leverage up to $300 million over three years.
Describing gender mainstreaming as a core element of Commonwealth’s programme work, she commented, “We have integrated gender into every aspect of our work, particularly at our ministerial meetings on health, trade and finance, where we put gender equality and the empowerment of women high on the agenda.”
Speaking as a member of the panel, Laura Londén, Deputy Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund said, “Women’s rights are in headwinds. It is an outrage we have to have similar discussions that happened 50 years ago. When language around sexual reproductive health was approved. Let's not think this is a battle we can relax on. It is not."
The Secretary-General pledged to work together more closely with development partners on a range of collaborative activities to tackle issues that impede gender-inclusive growth.