The UN has called for a “quantum leap” forward in the empowerment of women at the launch of a global campaign to fully mobilise the untapped economic potential of half the world’s population.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, announced in Davos on Thursday that he was creating his organisation’s first high-level panel on women’s economic empowerment, which will come up with a plan of action later this year.
The move resulted from an initiative by Justine Greening, the UK’s development secretary, who has argued that providing opportunities for girls and women will lead to stronger growth and higher levels of prosperity.
The UN said women globally earned 24% less than men for doing the same work, and that 75% of women’s work in developing countries was informal and unprotected. It cited a report by the McKinsey Global Institute showing that an additional $28tn (£20tn) could be added to the world economy if women played an identical role in markets to men.
The UN panel will publish its recommendations in September, and they are likely to include the provision of better access for women to finance, the ability to set up a business and the right to set up a bank account in countries where it is currently forbidden.
The he World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are supporting the new UN panel.
“The empowerment of the world’s women is a global imperative,” Ban Ki-moonsaid. “Yet despite important progress in promoting gender equality, there remains an urgent need to address structural barriers to women’s economic empowerment and full inclusion in economic activity. If the world is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need a quantum leap in women’s economic empowerment.”
Greening, who is a member of the panel, said: “Investing in girls and women isn’t just about basic human rights, it’s about fully unlocking the potential of half the world’s population. The UK is already at the forefront of this effort.
“At the Department for International Development I have put improving the lives of girls and women at the very heart of our work and Britain is successfully leading the fight against FGM and child marriage, as well as getting girls into school and women into jobs.
“Strong economies need the contribution of everyone, including women, and this panel will spearhead a movement to put women’s economic empowerment on the global agenda like never before.”