Economic Empowerment of Women & Girls in a Sustainable Development Perspective. Act, advance and achieve women’s rights!
By Nataliya Borys.
NGO Committee on the Status of Women (NGO CSW Geneva) with the generous support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), organized a forum dedicated to the economic empowerment of women & girls in a sustainable development perspective, the 10th of October 2016 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Our editor-in-chief, Nataliya Borys, a feminist and an active supporter of women’s rights, was quite enthusiastic to know about practical solutions to economic empowerment of women & girls by taking some notes. So what do participants offer as tools of economic empowerment of women & girls? What practically can be done?
All started with a new development agenda, “Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, which has been adopted by the leaders of the world at the United Nations Summit on September 25-27, 2015. This new ambitious agenda is based on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), among them the Goal N°5 “Achieve gender equality and the empowerment all women and girls”. The NGO CSW Geneva wanted to give impetus to Goal 5 through transformative economic, social and political measures by inviting participants to share their vision and experience in the forum.
The forum participants were pleased and honored to welcome M. Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), who is known to be genuinely involved in the promotion of gender equality. In his welcome speech he mentioned that “the Millennium Development Goals helped us to make progress and improved the lives of many women and girls across the world. For example, today women make up 41 % of the paid work force outside of agriculture, compared to 35% in 1990. But 41% isn’t 50% and we still have important steps to take to achieve our targets in employment and in other areas”.  Moreover, together with the Permanent Representative of the USA and the NGO Women@TheTable, he also launched the Geneva Gender Champions network last year.
The focus of the forum was on practical means to foster the economic empowerment of women and girls by discussing four interrelated topics which were selected as particularly relevant to achieve greater gender equity in the economic sphere: Women in decision-making positions (bringing more women in leadership and decision-making positions in all sectors); Equal pay for men and women (the gender wage gap remains high, with globally women still earning on average 77% of what men earn); Unpaid care work, as well as Government procurement (representing a significant part of GDP in most countries, government procurement can effectively be used to promote women-led business enterprises).
The Panel on Government Procurement was first to be debated. It included two success stories from Ukraine and Switzerland. Tetiana Lisovska, presented an Ukrainian success story ProZorro, Ukrainian eProcurement platform. Ukraine’s procurement market is huge, but it has been associated for a long time with corruption, which results in losses from it (around 2.2 Billion USD per year). Ukraine’s accession to the WTO GPA was one of the mechanisms to build up a transparent, open and competitive public procurement system that would comply with international standards and would be trusted by various stakeholders. In spite its obvious gain in transparency and higher resistance to corruption, how this platform did practically impact the gender equality? As Lisovska claims, ProZorro has become a label for change of companies’ attitudes to women’s participation in the tender by inciting them to participate (more than 50%).
Dr. Steve Binggeli presented another Swiss success story or how Swiss administration promotes gender equality in public procurement by 5 pillars: legal basis in the context of federal procurement, declaration by the supplier (2016), a governmental tool to monitor the compliance with wage equality (Logib Controls), controls of wage equality in federal procurement and charter on equal pay for the public sector. How it works in practice? Logib, a government tool, based on excel, monitors and assesses whether the pay practice of an organization with 50 or more employees respects gender equality. Companies are randomly selected by the Federal Office for Gender Equality (FOGE) and asked to send wage information for all employees; then inspectors come with questions. If conditions are not respected, a company will have 12 months to improve, without permission to conduct a tender.
The next panel was the panel on Equal Pay between Men & Women. In 2015, Philip Morris International was the first multinational to receive the equal-salary certification in Switzerland, called an EQUAL-SALARY certification, developed by a Swiss non-profit foundation EQUAL-SALARY, which is now recognized by the Swiss Confederation, Swiss Federal Court and the European Commission. In the Panel on Addressing Unpaid Care Work Magdalena Sepulveda, well summarizes the issue: “Women’s economic empowerment is a mirage if we don’t also take into account the unpaid work they are doing in the home.” Paola Panzeri also pointed out that in the EU there is another problem: there is a 40% pension gap between men and women, which is much higher than the 16% Gender Pay Gap. This huge Pension Gap is largely due to the fact that women often do not manage to reenter the labour force after a career break linked to care responsibilities.
The overall conclusion of the forum is that the forum was quite stimulating and it was inspiring to see success stories, such as the procurement systems in Ukraine and in Switzerland. However, participants did not take time to discuss where and how the projects could fail, problems and difficulties, as well as how to remedy it. It is striking that even the Swiss success stories are quite recent: Philip Morris EQUAL SALARY certification and public procurement system are only few years old, and this public procurement system impacts only the public sector by leaving all private companies behind. During the same day another international symposium “Women’s role in the labour market” was held at Geneva University, where speakers worried about the fact that the gender equality in Switzerland has taken a step backward in the past years, the gender gap in the research at Swiss Universities, as well as the gender wage gap widened.
There is still so much to do in both Switzerland and around the world in order to support women’s economic empowerment, because as Sylvie Durrer, Director of FOGE stated, “it is not only about economy, it is about dignity, autonomy, and self-determination”. When governments and communities work to eliminate gender inequalities, countries are less likely to be stricken by poverty and insecurity. I hope that the UN will continue to support women’s economic empowerment in public discussion, academic forums, as well as in practical projects. I am impatient to seeing next success stories from around the world.
 Head of Division of the Public Procurement Regulation Department of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine
 Economist from the Federal Office for Gender Equality (FOGE) in Switzerland
 UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights
 Senior Policy and Advocacy officer for Employment, Gender equality & Migration, COFACE Families Europe
 “Swiss earnings survey 2012 found that global progress in the key economic pillar has slowed dramatically, with the gap – which stands at 59 percent – now larger than at any point since 2008” http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/equal-pay_gender-wage-gap-widens-in-switzerland/38491840