NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Arden

WTO Director-General Okonjo-Iweala’s statement on International Women’s Day, a broader read on gender equality; U.S., EU and New Zealand actions and statements

In my post yesterday, I pulled some information from a short video put together by the WTO, UNCTAD and ITC that dealt with the issue of priorities for the three organizations in terms of recovering from the pandemic. I also reviewed some actions President Biden was taking in the United States. See March 8, 2011, March 8, 2021, International Women’s Day — statements of UN Women Executive Director,  heads of WTO, UNCTAD and International Trade Centre, and U.S. Executive Orders and Statement by President Biden, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/08/march-8-2021-international-womens-day-statements-of-un-women-executive-director-heads-of-wto-unctad-and-international-trade-centre-and-u-s-executive-orders-and-statement-by-president-biden/.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Yesterday the WTO hosted a virtual event entitled “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world,” Director-General Okonjo-Iweala gave an opening statement which chronicles both the disproportionate harm women have encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic but also some of the actions some governments are taking to address the challenges facing women. See WTO, International Women’s Day: Focus on women for a stronger recovery, March 8, 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/women_08mar21_e.htm. While the two priorities of the Director-General (DG) reviewed in yesterday’s post are also present in her statement at yesterday’s event (equitable and affordable access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics; eliminating or phasing out export restraints), there is a lot more ground covered in the statement. The women and trade agenda at the WTO is relatively limited at the present time. Having a woman as Director-General can lead to changes in the organization and structure of the Secretariat — which is identified as a topic DG Okonjo-Iweala will be addressing — and can help ensure that women are at the table for all negotiations so that trade policy and negotiations include an understanding of the implications for gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. DG Okonjo-Iweala reviews the reasons women have been disproportionately affected — including being overrepresented in sectors heavily impacted by the pandemic (textile and apparel manufacturing, tourism), being heavily concentrated in the informal economy of countries with limited or no safety net if jobs are lost, for entrepreneurs, being in small businesses with limited financial resources making surviving a pandemic more challenging, shouldering heavy loads at home in terms of child care, and facing great health care risks because of the concentration in medical and essential services jobs, The text of DG Okonjo-Iweala’s statement, which ls linked to the press release is copied below. See Speeches — DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, 2021 WTO International Women’s Day: “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World”, March 8, 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/spno_e/spno2_e.htm.

“Ladies and gentlemen,

“Today is my first International Woman’s Day as the WTO Director-General. Given the particular challenges the pandemic has brought to women globally, I wish to focus my opening remarks today on what the WTO can do to help address these challenges. But I am keenly aware that achieving gender equality is also one of the top priorities for the Secretariat itself, and we will find an occasion soon to have a focused discussion on gender issues for the Secretariat.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened inequalities of every kind. Between countries with money to spend on vaccines and economic relief, and those that cannot. Between workers who must risk their health every day, and those who can safely work from home. Between big firms and small businesses.

“But perhaps no divide has deepened more than that between men and women.

“In both paid and unpaid work, women bore the brunt of the pandemic’s social and economic impact.

“Globally, 5% of women lost jobs in 2020.  The employment loss of men was 3.8%. Women have also been much more likely than men to drop out of the labour market and become inactive.

“In low-income countries without the means to offer economic support during lockdowns, many women lost their only source of income. As family incomes fell, many girls stayed home when schools reopened, or went to work.

“Why has the recession caused by the pandemic had such a disproportionate impact on women?

“First, women are overrepresented in sectors that have been more negatively affected than others.

“This includes jobs requiring in-person contact, such as food service and retail — sectors that either shut down or became much riskier. Women also account for a large share of workers in services such as tourism — sectors directly affected by travel restrictions.

“Women also outnumber men in the manufacturing sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, such as textiles and apparel, where factories shut down early in the pandemic in response to plummeting export demand. In Bangladesh, for example, female employees represent 80 per cent of the workforce in ready-made garment production. Industry orders declined by 45.8 per cent over the first quarter of 2020 — by 81 per cent in April 2020 alone.

Second, more women work in informal sectors than men. Women make up 58% of employment in informal sectors, and the numbers are higher in developing and least-developed economies. In Africa, for example, almost 90% of employed women work in the informal sector.​ These women workers are hurt the most because they are likely to have lost their only source of income and been left with no social and legal protection. 

“Third, many women entrepreneurs own or manage small businesses that already struggle with limited financial resources and borrowing capacity. The pandemic worsened these pressures.

“And within families, women continue to shoulder a heavier burden than men. Temporary school closures made fathers step up a little, but mothers stepped up much more. Working mothers changed work schedules, reduced hours or took unpaid leave far more frequently than working fathers. In Germany, 6% of fathers but 62% of mothers indicate they have taken on the primary responsibility for their children during school closures.

“Finally, women face greater health risks as they work more in areas such as health and social care, sales of food and other necessary goods. In many countries, women comprise over 75% of the healthcare workforce. In certain countries (Italy, Spain, and the US), a higher proportion of women healthcare workers (69%, 75.5%, and 73% respectively) were found infected with COVID-19: although work is still ongoing to understand the reasons for this, one possible reason is that personal protection equipment has been designed to fit for men and even the smallest size is too big for some women.

“Even before COVID-19, progress towards gender parity had been too slow, too uneven. Now, unless we act quickly, the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women could last for decades. This would be a moral failure — and an economic disaster.

“The biggest thing the WTO can do right now is to work with Members to keep trade open.

“As the economic data shows, trade has proven crucial in the global fight against the pandemic.

“While too many export restrictions remain in place, trade helped improve access to key medical products over the past year. In the first half of 2020, while global trade contracted by 14% compared to the year before, total imports of personal protective equipment and other COVID-related products rose by 29%. The value of trade in textile face masks grew six-fold. PPE trade grew by 50%. Trade thus enhanced supply resilience, particularly for those countries without manufacturing capacity.

“The pandemic has also highlighted how the temporary movement of healthcare workers, of whom many are women, has particularly helped the most affected countries to deal with the crisis. Open trade will continue to be key to building faster and more inclusive growth.

“Second, WTO Members must minimize or remove existing export restrictions that are impeding access to essential medical supplies and disrupting supply chains. Transparency on any export trade restrictions should also be improved through prompt notifications.

“In all these efforts, our priority should be to contribute to making vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics available and affordable in all countries. Until we have successfully tackled health challenges for everyone, we cannot tackle economic ones.

“Third, trade can be a source of more and better jobs, and increased purchasing power for women. Overall, countries that are more open to trade, as measured by the ratio of trade to gross domestic product, have higher levels of gender equality.

“For one, women are more likely to be in formal jobs if they work in trade-integrated sectors with higher levels of exports, thereby giving them opportunities for benefits, training, and job security. A recent World Bank survey shows that, for women, the probability of being informal declines from 20% in sectors with low levels of exports to 13% in sectors with high levels of exports. 

“Digital technologies can also help women overcome gender-based barriers to trade, reach broader markets, and weather the impact of crises better. Women facemasks producers in Kenya, for example, found ways to develop and even expand their businesses during lockdowns using growing e-commerce opportunities. Rwandan women coffee producers were able to export their products directly to China. Let’s close the existing gender digital divide and help all women benefit from the opportunities created by digital technologies.

“Finally, all these efforts must be supported by targeted support measures for women.

“Women could be left behind in the recovery unless adequate measures are put in place to address the uneven impact of the pandemic on them. Let me give you one example of how targeted intervention can make a difference: in Zambia, the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) helped women-owned businesses selling textiles, leather, and honey to attend trade fairs and other B2B activities. The result: they were able to break into 10 new international markets, and generate hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of new sales. They also expanded their supplier networks, and many of those new suppliers were also run by women.

“Governments need to prioritize women in the labour force and in the home through financial, legal, and educational measures. Fiscal support for women will be particularly crucial. Yet currently less than 40 per cent of all measures taken globally for the recovery are gender sensitive, with only 7 per cent containing measures supporting women’s economic security.

“This is a crude reminder for all of us that women must be at all decision-making tables equally as men. As Dame Graça Machel once said, “…socio-economic transformation will only be realized once we aggressively address gender-specific challenges, prioritize gender equality and women’s participation, and firmly entrench women in leadership positions at all levels in society.”

“The cost of gender inequality is enormous. A few years ago McKinsey estimated that if women played a fully equal role to men in the labour market, global economic output could increase by as much as $28 trillion per year. To put it in perspective, this pandemic reduced global output last year by between $3 and 4 trillion.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is setting women back in all domains of society.

“At the same time, it has reminded everyone of the enormous value of care and other kinds of work traditionally associated with women. And it has highlighted the power and effectiveness of women’s leadership. Although no analytical study has been conducted yet, anecdotal examples show that economies led by woman leaders (e.g. New Zealand, Denmark, Chinese Taipei, Iceland, Finland, and Norway) have outperformed their peers in terms of management of this pandemic.

“We cannot expect to make good policy for all members of society if half of the population is not properly and equally represented at the table.

“Gender equality is a fundamental human rights issue and also an economic empowerment issue. We should all work harder in our respective roles to achieve complete gender equality.

“I wish you all a happy International Women’s Day!”

Additional actions by President Biden

In yesterday’s post, I also reviewed actions President Biden was taking in the form of two Executive Orders (one Executive Order on Establishment of the White House Gender Policy Council, a second Executive Order on Guaranteeing an Educational Environment Free from Discrimination on the Basis of Sex, Including Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity). But President Biden on March 8th reviewed additional actions he has taken including nominating two women to hold command positions in the U.S. Military and putting forward to Congress the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021. See Statement by President Biden on the Introduction of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 and Remarks by President Biden on International Women’s Day (“On Friday, I submitted to the Senate for confirmation my first slate of nominations for four-star command positions in our Armed Forces — among them, two outstanding and eminently qualified warriors and patriots.  General Jacqueline Van Ovost in the United States Air Force is currently the only female four-star officer serving in our military.  I nominated her as Commander of the United States Transportation Command.  And when confirmed, the Lieutenant General Laura Richardson, of the United States Army, will be promoted in rank and join General Van Ovost as the only four-star — as another four-star general.  I nominated her as Commander in the United States Southern Command.  And, when confirmed, they will become the second and third women in the history of the United States Armed Forces to lead combatant commands.”). The Biden Administration also had a press briefing with the two co-chairs of the Gender Policy Council. See Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Co-Chair of the Gender Policy Council and Chief of Staff to the First Lady Julissa Reynoso, and Co-Chair and Executive Director of the Gender Policy Council Jennifer Klein, March 8, 2021. And Vice President Kamala Harris reported participated in a discussion with an EU Parliamentary Committee. See eudebates.tv, We are all in this together! Jacinda Ardern on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021, https://www.eudebates.tv/debates/world-debates/australia/we-are-all-in-this-together-jacinda-ardern-on-international-womens-day/ (“.During the plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand joined MEPs to celebrate the International Women’s Day during a debate. Prime Minister Jacinda was one of a number of high-profile guests, including US Vice President Kamala Harris, to address the European Union Parliament for International Women’s Day.”)..

So the Biden Administration has been taking actions to bring women into positions of power in a unprecedented manner in the United States and to embark on reviews to ensure problems to achieving gender equality are identified and addressed.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

The EU has had relatively strong programs promoting gender equality over time. Like the United States, the EU is looking to do more. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made a statement yesterday at the EP FEMM Interparliamentary Committee meeting reviewing the important contributions of women to the development of COVID-19 vaccines and the actions the EU will be taking to improve gender equality. Like President Biden’s cabinet, EC President von der Leyen has much greater balance in the Commission composition in terms gender representation. See Opening speech by President von der Leyen at the EP FEMM Interparliamentary Committee meeting, on the occasion of the International Women’s Day 2021, March 8, 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_21_1017. Her speech is copied below.

“Thank you very much Evelyn Regner,

“Presidents and Honourable Members,

“It is an honour to be with you today, in the company of so many amazing women. And allow me to begin by mentioning three women who are not with us today. Doctor Özlem Türeci. Professor Sarah Gilbert. Doctor Kizzmekia Corbett. Some of you may have never heard their names before. But we owe them a lot. They are three scientists from Germany, the UK and the U.S. And these three extraordinary women lead the teams that developed the first three vaccines against coronavirus. BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

“And I am sure that they, like many of us, have fought against all sorts of stereotypes. But this is how women respond to stereotypes: By going their way, showing leadership and excelling in their field. And today the whole world can see that we are all better off when women get the opportunities they deserve. Of course, women are made for science. Of course, women are fit to lead. Of course, career and motherhood can go together. It is obvious, but unfortunately it still needs to be said.

“This year’s International Women’s Day is for women like these three scientists. This Women’s Day is for women on the front-line, and for women in the back-office. It is for the health workers, who have been our guardian angels, and it is for our sales assistants, who have kept our supermarkets open. And indeed, let us never forget that almost 80% of them are women.

“Women’s Day is also for all the mothers who have taken care of their children during the lockdowns, while also working from home. But this Women’s Day is also for the women who lost their job during the crisis. And Women’s Day is for those who no longer want to settle for discriminations, insecurity and unfairness. As a female leader, I would like 2021 to bring good news to all of them, to all European women. And this is what we are working on: Putting women at the centre of all our policies.

“And let me start with the basics. Later this year we will propose new legislation to fight violence against women. This has become even more urgent because of the lockdowns. Living free from fear and violence is a basic human right. And we must ensure adequate protection for all women, in all European countries, online and offline, and especially at home.

“Second, women must be at the centre of the recovery. This is a clear requirement for all national recovery plans. NextGenerationEU will finance good jobs for women and men alike. It will invest in quality education for girls and women, including scientific education. NextGenerationEU will be for all Europeans, women and men.

“Third, today indeed we are presenting our new Action Plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights. We have set ambitious targets on jobs, skills, and poverty reduction. These are clear and measurable goals to drive our work.

“And let me take one of them: By 2030, at least 78% of European adults should be employed. And this can only be achieved by having more women in the labour market. But to do this we need to make progress on work-life balance. Ensuring parental leave for mothers and fathers. Investing in childcare and good schools. And indeed creating a child guarantee, so that all parents, from all social backgrounds, can send their kids to childcare and school. And this is what empowerment means. Freedom to be a mother and to have a career, for all women.

“And this adds up to the fourth point, today we are also proposing a Directive for pay transparency. It builds on a very simple idea: Equal work deserves equal pay. And for equal pay, you need transparency. Women must know whether their employers treat them fairly. And when this is not the case, they must have the power to fight back and get what they deserve.

“And finally, women should always be able to reach for the top, including in private companies. I fought for this when I was a Minister in Germany. And I will not stop pushing for gender quotas on boards until we get a fair system for all European countries. We simply cannot exclude half of our talents from leadership positions.

“Having women in leadership position should become the norm, not the exception. And slowly but steadily, Europe is changing. Five EU governments are now led by women. For the first time, an EU country, Estonia, is led by two women, as President and Prime Minister. And you, President Sakellaropoulou, are the first woman to be elected as Greek President.

“For the first time in our history, not only the European Commission is led by a woman, but we have also achieved gender-balance in the College of Commissioners. As you know, this is something I promised on my nomination. I asked every European country to present a man and a woman as candidates for each post. It was not always easy. But we made it. And it shows that everything can change, with tireless perseverance.

“All of this matters. It matters to the quality of our decision-making. And it matters to our daughters. It tells them that they can reach for the top. It tells them that hard work pays off. That they will be judged on their ideas, their dedication and their talent, not for their chromosomes. A gender-balanced Europe is a better Europe. Not just for women, but for all of us.

“And in this spirit: Long live Europe, and happy Women’s Day!”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden also spoke to the European Parliament yesterday. Her speech can be found here. eudebates.tv, We are all in this together! Jacinda Ardern on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021, https://www.eudebates.tv/debates/world-debates/australia/we-are-all-in-this-together-jacinda-ardern-on-international-womens-day/. New Zealand has done a lot to promote gender equality and has leadership in government that is roughly in number equal between women and men. But challenges remain as the Prime Minister notes in her speech including women being “overrepresented in job loss and low paid work and domestic violence statistics.” The Prime Minister’s speech is copied below (headers are from the webpage).

“Jacinda Ardern European Parliament speech on International Women’s Day 

“I’m honoured to see this kind invitation to speak with you and I bring warm greetings from New Zealand. President Sassoli, thank you for convening this session and for the focus on women’s empowerment and leadership during the covid crisis. To say this is a challenging time would be, of course, a monumental understatement. The world is reeling from the effects of the covid-19 pandemic.

“It has had far reaching consequences that have affected every one of us. This is a critical time for us as leaders and representatives to come together, even if it is by video in these constrained times. Covid-19 highlights how truly interdependent we all are, how reliant we are on cooperation, communication and compassion to successfully combat the virus.

“Jacinda Ardern puts people at the centre

“It highlights how important it is that we work together for a sustainable recovery that delivers for our economies and our planet. But it also puts people at the centre of our decision making. In New Zealand our approach in battling covid-19 has been one of inclusivity. The idea that everyone needs to do their bit to protect one another, especially our most vulnerable.

“I want to talk about our population as the team of five million, and we may be a small team, but one that nonetheless has proven the power and importance of the collective. And now that’s exactly what we need from the world. It’s a haunting legacy if the virus drags on around the globe. It has become clear no country is safe until every country is safe. As we move to a phase of vaccination we are not a team of five million, but we are a team of seven point eight billion

“The success of individual countries or regions means little unless we are all successful. In New Zealand‘s indigenous language Te Reo Maori, we say “we are all in this together”. But some have felt the effects of covid-19 even more acutely than others. Covid-19 has ravaged our health systems, our economies, our livelihoods. But it is also exacerbated structural inequalities that disproportionately impact women and girls.

“Women are at the forefront

“Women are at the forefront of fighting the covid crisis. Amongst the doctors, nurses, scientists, communicators, caregivers and frontline and essential workers who face the devastations and challenges of this virus every day. Along with being directly affected by the virus itself and its immediate impacts on our livelihoods, we’re also the subjects of intensified domestic violence.

“Now this is being reported as the shadow pandemic in all corners of the world. Not only by fully and meaningfully including women and girls in leadership and decision making at all levels can we ensure that our responses to the pandemic meet the needs of everyone. As prime minister of a small country on the far side of the world, I’m proud of what our team of five million in New Zealand has been able to achieve over the last year.

“We have a proud history of championing gender rights since we became the first country in the world to give all women the right to vote in 1893. I’m part of the most diverse and inclusive parliament New Zealanders have ever elected, with women making up forty eight per cent of our parliament and fifty five per cent of my party in government.

“Women hold top positions

“Women also hold the post of Governor-General, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Chief Justice, and increasingly holding senior roles in our public service and business sector. And now, for the first time and long overdue, I might add, New Zealand‘s Minister of Foreign Affairs is a woman. She is a skilled, values driven indigenous woman with a contemporary worldview.

“And yet for all of that, we have so much more to do because it doesn’t matter how many women are in leadership, so long as we have women overrepresented in job loss and low paid work and domestic violence statistics. In my mind, that is the true measure of whether we have made progress and whether we have equality.

“As we look towards the year ahead we all know it will be tough. There will be big challenges and demands made of all of us as leaders. We will be tested. We must all do more to support women lead business, including small enterprises, to be part of the covid-19 economic recovery so they can more readily experience the benefits of trade.

“The European Union and New Zealand. We are Like-Minded Partners with so many values and interests in common, we both desire the stability and freedom afforded us all by global rules and institutions, free and open markets and a world where human rights are valued and prioritised.

“As we all turn towards creating a sustainable global economic recovery, my message to you is simple. We need to stick together because we are all in this together. I wish your Parliament and all our people the very best for the challenges that lie ahead. Stay safe. Stay well.”

Conclusion

Gender equality is an issue that needs a permanent place on agendas of organizations and governments to ensure progress is made for half the world’s people. Progress has been too slow in too much of the world and discrimination or unequal treatment can be found in various forms in nearly all countries. It is unimaginable that the world has not progressed more. We can and must do better.