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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

24 August 2022


Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to join you today, on this important occasion, to discuss a matter close to the heart of the United Nations.

Will we, by 2030, have realized the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls?

While women and girls are contributing towards building inclusive societies and sustainable economies everywhere, the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened and widened existing gender inequalities.

And it has exacerbated the vulnerability of women in the informal economy and sectors in which women are over-represented, such as front-line health care, education, services and retail.

Many women have left behind their already precarious income-generating activities to home-school children and care for the sick and elderly, inadvertently reinforcing the traditional gender roles and social norms that we work so hard to uproot.

Addressing and valuing the unpaid care and domestic work performed by women is key to unlocking their potential.

For, when women currently spend more than four times the amount of time than men on unpaid care work - up to 11 hours a day, it is no wonder that the female labour force participation rate has decreased by nearly 10 per cent in the last three decades in the Asia-Pacific region.

The gender gap between men and women in economic participation is still as large as 32 percentage points as of 2021.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

If there is a silver lining, it is that the pandemic has forced us to rethink our priorities. Pandemic recovery is our chance to engineer a reset, reignite the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals and chart a path to an equal future for women and men.

Increasing female labour force participation rates is key in this regard, and I would like to emphasize four priority action areas today:

First, we must design and implement effective care economy policies. The care economy is a caring economy. It is a lens that recognizes both the paid and unpaid dimensions of female labour force participation as pre-requisites for advancing inclusive societies and sustainable economies.

At ESCAP, we promote all-of-government policies and targeted measures that recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work, such as addressing gender pay gaps, promoting laws on safe and decent work and advancing equal opportunities for women.  

Second, we must invest in care infrastructure and care services. We must expand care infrastructure such as transport and sanitation facilities, schools, and care homes as well as care services such as public childcare services and affordable care provisions for older persons and persons with disabilities. And we must take these investments to scale, including in our rural and peri-urban areas.

Third, we should continue to advance women’s entrepreneurship. ESCAP is implementing a large and successful regional initiative that catalyzes women’s entrepreneurship, focusing on creating an enabling policy environment and increasing access to financial services and digital solutions for women entrepreneurs in Asia and the Pacific.

More than 40,000 women entrepreneurs have benefited from this initiative in the last few years, and over 60 million US$ in capital has been unlocked to support women entrepreneurs, including 14 innovative financing start-ups.

And, finally, we need to work together. The care economy cuts across our traditional lines of thinking and doing business. It requires a truly all-of-government approach, including strong partnerships with stakeholders at all levels.

ESCAP - together with all our partners - stands ready to build back better, stronger and more gender-equal economies and societies where no woman and no girl will be left behind.

I thank you.

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