Empower women now. Insights from UN Deputy Executive Director: Concordia Americas Summit

Why is it that things are not changing fast enough for women in Latin America? This was a key question raised at the Concordia Americas Summit 2023, in Miami.

Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Anita Bhatia, offered key insights into this issue, in her panel presentation and in a conversation with Latin Trade.

A powerful idea is that macroeconomists must pay more attention to gender because, she argued, gender is a macro critical issue, but she pointed to other areas.

How to swiftly implement more pro-women policies?

We do need more progressive women and progressive men, who care about women, at decision making tables.

I used to think that it was just about having more women at the table and, yes, that matters. But I have been struck by the negative impact of having women in certain positions of power. You just have to look at what happened to certain rights in this country (referring to the U.S.), as a result of changes in the composition of certain bodies. You have to look at what is happening in some countries who have female heads of state, who are anti-women.

It is really about people with the right set of values. We need more of those in decision-making roles. Because we still don’t have enough women on Boards, we don’t have enough women as CEOs of companies, things are not changing fast enough.

What is the role of the private sector in pulling women out of informality?

First, it is very important that there is opportunity in terms of jobs. Since normally people in the informal sector cannot get jobs in the formal sector, it is extremely important that there is news when there are jobs.

But more than that, there is a training issue, because many times people in the informal sector do not have the training to work in the formal sector. The private sector as part of its social responsibility, of its CSR and as part of its business strategy, has to start putting in place training programs, technical assistance and training, to get more people and help them get out of the informal sector.

What is the role governments should play?

The government has a very important role to play, creating the enabling environment and in creating the right sets of laws and regulations that allow women to play their full role in society economically, politically, socially. This means that they must get rid of laws that discriminate against women. You would be amazed at how many countries still have laws on the books that discriminate against women. Those laws have to be gotten rid of, and then there has to be new legislation for new problems and new issues like the care economy which, by the way, is not a new issue. It’s just been recognized only recently as public policy issue. These things have to move from being considered in the realm of individual problems to things that have to be sold to public policy. So that’s the role of government: it is to really look at what’s the world and what the data is saying.

The data is showing that in many parts of the world, for example, female labor force participation is dropping. And so governments have to act quickly if they want to make sure that they’re not leaving out half their population investing our climate change and investing in social protection programs in health and education those things that are fundamental for sustainable development EQ contributing to growing their economy. When half the population isn’t contributing you’re going to get a smaller economy. You can never bake a cake with half ingredients. So why would you think you can construct a society or an economy at its full potential without including women.

You claim that governments should cut defense expenditure. Why is that so?

Governments have to reduce military spending. The reason I say that governments must think about reducing defense expenditure is because governments have to prioritize, and they have limited resources, especially post pandemic.

If they want to really make a difference in people’s lives, they should pivot away from building arms infrastructure, and spend more on climate change, on health, on educational, social protection, and addressing the problems that the pandemic created. Remember that after the pandemic 11 million kids are not in school. Remember that a lot of people don’t have access to digital infrastructure because still there isn’t Internet access everywhere in the world. If you don’t heavily and disproportionately fix these problems then you’re just going to take longer to create more prosperous societies.


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