Speech: “We must transform the world of work”—Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director and UN Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri at the Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Consultations for CSW61 in Panama on 6 February.


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Excellencies, distinguished delegates, dear colleagues and friends,

Buenas tardes Latinoamerica… tierra de inspiracion!!

I would like to start by thanking the Panamanian Government for its generous hospitality and leadership in organizing these regional consultations, together with the National Women’s Institute of Uruguay in its current capacity as Chair of the Regional Conference on Women in LAC.

Today, the government officials and ministers of your countries have gathered to exchange views and build consensus for the common good and progress of your peoples. I could not think of a more inspiring and fitting venue. It is here that UN Women has worked with the LAC parliament on the Framework Law on Parity Democracy and on the Economy of care both critical for Women’s economic empowerment.

Allow me to share with you how thrilled I am to come back to Latin America for these regional consultations. I had the honor of attending the first of these consultations hosted by El Salvador in 2013, as we were preparing for CSW57, which as many of you will recall addressed as its priority theme the critical issue of preventing and ending violence against women and girls.

Expectations were very high at the time for a strong outcome and, in the end, we achieved the most forward looking and progressive language and commitments to end gender based violence and adopt a Global plan for implementation. 

And Latin America and the Caribbean played a pivotal role in making this happen, through its active and constructive coordination and by spearheading efforts to position fundamental issues, most notably femicide, front and center in the global agenda. We counted on Latin America and the Caribbean then and, at this time, we continue to do so even more. We would count on you to advocate for the adoption of a Global plan for Implementation on Women’s Economic Empowerment in a Changing world of work.

With the 61st session of CSW coming up, I would like for all of us to recognize that we build on and contribute to the implementation of the historic and unprecedented gender equality compact of 2015-2016. The motherboard of gender equality and women’s empowerment norms like the Beijing Platform for Action been recommitted to for full, effective and accelerated implementation

Gender equality and women’s empowerment has moreover been prioritized and integrated into every epic normative intergovernmental undertaking. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the New Urban Agenda, the Climate Change Agreement and even the New York Declaration on Migration.

This reflects the tremendous work that we all have accomplished together with LAC countries. CSW60 set out a road map for the gender responsive implementation of 2030 Agenda and you had a signal role to play. 

The theme of CSW61, “Women’s Economic Empowerment in The Changing World of Work”, highlights that women’s economic empowerment is indispensable for the full, effective, accelerated and gender responsive implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, the achievement of the six targets of SDG 5 including universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights are enabled by and dependent on women’s economic empowerment and vice versa. In this regard, CSW61 provides us an opportunity to make decisive strides forward. 

In achieving women’s economic empowerment, we must transform the world of work, which is still sadly very patriarchal and treats the equal voice, participation and leadership of women as an anomaly, tokenism, compartment or add on. 

Progress has been achieved, but there is still much ground to cover and the progress itself has been slow, even in advanced economies. There has to be an urgent acceleration of the pace of change otherwise it could take another century to close the gender gap. 

We must address and close the wide gender gaps that exist in terms of women’s labour force participation, wage, income pension, vulnerable and informal employment, social protection, unpaid care work and domestic work, entrepreneurship and leadership, sticky floors, glass walls and ceilings. Employers and governments must also resolutely work to end Violence and sexual harassment at the workplace that women face. 

To accelerate progress in the changing world of work, we must provide solutions from both the demand and supply sides. From the demand side of jobs for women, we need to build a value chain of confidence and aspiration, education, skills, training and capacity building which lead to decent work and productive employment.

On the supply side of the job market we must address the special measures and affirmative action we need for substantive equality to be taken in public and private sectors for the recruitment, retention and promotion of women in all work areas, for improving their conditions of work and ensuring women's human rights at work. 

We must create an enabling environment for girls, young women and women throughout their life cycle to embark and continue on a journey to economic independence as well as make all women and girls believe they can do anything in the world of work they dream of.

The United Nations Secretary-General in his report on the priority theme of CSW61 identifies are four concrete action areas in achieving women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work:

  1. Strengthening normative and legal frameworks for full employment and decent work for all women at all levels 
  2. Implementing economic and social policies for women’s economic empowerment
  3. Addressing the growing informality of work and mobility of women workers and technology driven changes 
  4. Strengthening private sector role in women’s economic empowerment

We must muster together our collective efforts in executing these actions.

Women’s economic empowerment requires political will and partnerships of all stakeholders to develop and implement policies that integrate gender equality perspectives in labour and economic institutions and programmes at local, national and global levels and for Gender institutions to coordinate and mainstream this agenda in an all of government approach. 

Women’s economic empowerment means providing women workers with social protection and income security, as well as recognizing, reducing and redistributing and provisioning unpaid care and domestic work by public and private sector including creating a jobs rich quality paid care economy as advocated for in our Flagship Report on Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights.

The adoption of a Comprehensive National Care System by Uruguay sets a pioneering and ambitious example in this regard and is precisely the type of action that is required to make this possible. 

Significantly increased transformative investment and financing from all sources is required for the full and accelerated implementation of new and existing commitments to empower women economically and provide full and productive quality employment for women.

Women's participation and leadership in all professions, including political, and new and emerging sunrise areas like technology and ICT enabled ones and in all contexts of migration, refugees, humanitarian and post conflict peace building at all levels including local levels is a crucial game changer

The engagement and solidarity of all stakeholders including men and boys, women's and youth organizations, faith based organizations and the media for movement building to transform gender stereotypes and social norms is vital. 

We are aware that this is a challenging time for Latin America and the Caribbean. Economic growth has proved elusive for the past two years and projections for 2017 are for a sluggish recovery. It is widely acknowledged that empowering women can unleash the full economic and productive potential of our societies and economies. Feminization of poverty is an impediment to eradicate it from the continent.

So let's make this necessity and urgency of rapid economic growth and poverty eradication into a mother of invention by creating an equal opportunity world of work for women. Let us ensure that all your sustainable development, economic growth, poverty eradication and sectoral strategies, plans, programs and investments must give priority to women’s economic empowerment.

To redeem the pledge of Agenda 2030 of leaving no one behind and reaching the farthest, first, we must ensure that women in those communities most left behind and marginalized groups including disabled women must be supported through special and targeted efforts and investments.

You have much to build on, as LAC has posted truly remarkable achievements that are an inspiration for the rest of the world. I would like to applaud last year’s historic peace agreement in Colombia and its robust integration of a gender perspective across the board. Now, as Colombia prepares to implement these accords, the gender provisions must become a lived reality for Colombian women and girls for peace to be sustainable 

Meanwhile, Bolivia has led the way to reaching parity democracy in all levels of public administration by turning women’s equal representation into law, following the achievement of parity in the National Congress.

And Latin American and Caribbean countries have moved swiftly to ratify ILO Convention 189, enforcing States to extend basic labor rights to domestic workers, including overtime, annual paid leave, minimum wage and safe work conditions.

Furthermore, as CSW prepares to consider the empowerment of indigenous women as its emerging theme, we have high expectations for this region’s vibrant indigenous organizations and networks to push the boundaries and aim for bolder commitments from Member States and for Latin American and Caribbean countries to showcase their advances in ensuring indigenous peoples and indigenous women their rightful place in the economy, world of work and decision-making at all levels.

These groundbreaking advances are what we need to push forward the implementation of the commitments made by Member States to their women and girls. This bold and decisive action is what will allow us to achieve Planet 50-50 by 2030 crucially in the world of work.

We count on you, once again, to be a leading force at CSW for the advancement of women and girls in Latin America, the Caribbean and beyond. We need south-south cooperation as also development assistance and ODA to move the needle.

To finalize, I would like to pay tribute to a pioneering feminist, Clara Gonzalez de Behringer, who after becoming the first woman lawyer in Panama in 1922, was forced to wait two full years to actually practice her profession, until a ban that forbade women to engage in legal practice was lifted. She went on to found a feminist movement aimed at ensuring women a larger share in public life and their right to vote. Let us draw inspiration from women like Clara who persisted in times of uncertainty and setbacks and, in the end, achieved historic victories for all women.

Let us adopt here in Panama a groundbreaking Regional Plan of implementation to achieve Women’s economic empowerment in a changing world of work that would inspire and shape a Global plan of implementation to be adopted at the CSW 61.

Muchas gracias Panamá

Muchas gracias América Latina