Delivered 07-03-2018 Paris, OECD
It’s great to welcome you all today to the OECD for the first event in our March on Gender series of events marking International Women’s Day. We’ll have lots of interesting debates and seminars to explore various elements of gender equality; today we will be looking at the impact legal frameworks have on women’s economic empowerment around the world.
The OECD has pushed gender equality to the top of the international agenda. How? By bringing the economic case.
We know that raising women’s labour force participation rates to that of men could add 12 trillion dollars, or 26% to global GDP by 2025.
And removing gender-based discrimination in formal and informal laws, as well as in social norms and customary practices, would increase global GDP by 16% by 2030.
But it’s not just about the economics. And it’s not even just about women. Gender equality is about building happier, healthier, prosperous and more caring societies.
The world we live in and the labour markets we work in have become disconnected, even unhuman.
This is why the OECD is pursuing a more balanced approach, with people’s well-being at the centre. Family friendly policies and balanced societies deliver better for women, men and society as a whole.
And we don’t just work on this with OECD member countries, but as this panel demonstrates, we work with regions and countries across the world.
Because despite our efforts, achieving gender equality remains a global challenge. No country in the world can declare victory.
The OECD works with partner economies through five OECD Regional Programmes, spanning Eurasia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, Southeast Asia, and Southeast Europe. This work has given us insights into some of the common challenges faced across regions, as well as each region’s traits.
Let me share some of those insights with you.
Legal barriers across the regions
In all regions, legal and institutional frameworks can present huge challenges. OECD reports have found significant links between legal frameworks, women’s participation in public life and the broader gender equality agenda.
Similarly, in all regions, women have a disproportionate responsibility when it comes to unpaid work and family responsibilities, that’s to say that the burden of care – for children and the elderly – mainly rests on women’s shoulders: 75% of the world’s total unpaid care work is done by women. Women in OECD countries spend on average 1.5 hours a day on unpaid work.
In my country, Mexico, it’s 4.5 hours. This impacts not only employers’ decisions to hire and promote women but also women’s choice of jobs and the amount of available time to devote to work.
Moreover, OECD analysis reveals that the legacy of gender roles in family laws shapes social norms, which leads to gender stereotyping and engrained culture barriers. These in turn impact the implementation of other economic laws and public policies affecting women’s autonomy, social roles and confidence.
This can clearly be seen in the MENA region, where women’s labour force participation is the lowest in the world, at 31% compared to over 63% in OECD countries. And women are almost three times less likely to be employers than men.
Many MENA countries have taken measures to strengthen women’s status, notably through constitutional and institutional reforms. For example Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Algeria have all amended their constitutions to include the principle of equality and prohibit gender discrimination.
But despite various initiatives, many remaining discriminatory provisions in statutory and customary laws impact women’s economic participation as can be seen in the 2014 edition of the OECD Social Institutions and Gender Index – or SIGI.
Inconsistencies between different levels of law and hidden implementation gaps can prevent countries from effectively fostering women’s economic empowerment.
More frustrating I find, are the personal status laws and the regulations of relations within the family strongly influence social values and norms, and have a powerful impact on economic outcomes.
In the MENA region in general, women do not share the same rights as men to make decisions, pursue a profession, travel, marry or divorce, head up a family, receive an inheritance or access wealth. In Egypt, Jordan and Libya women must still obtain permission from their husbands or fathers to work!
Discrimination is also still very high in sub-Saharan Africa, where the key challenge for women remains access to land or control over property.
The OECD’s recent country study on Burkina Faso shows that the plurality of legal systems – specifically statutory and customary rights – that govern many countries make women’s land and property rights vulnerable. One important effort has been the revision of inheritance legislation in many countries, making women’s access to land easier.
Professor Lado from Paris Business School will explain why the most significant challenge in the region is not unemployment but poor-quality employment.
Most working women are self-employed and almost 35% of them work as unpaid contributing family workers.
Southeast Asia has higher labour force participation and self-employment rates for women than in OECD countries: at 67%, women’s labour force participation exceeds the OECD average by almost 4 percentage points; the average share of working women who are self-employed is 50%, compared to 13% in the OECD region.
However, here it’s also a question of job quality; women tend to be employed in lower-paid and more precarious jobs than their male counterparts.
Generally in South East Asia, women earn less than two-thirds of the median hourly rate than men. And women-owned enterprises tend to operate in lower-productivity activities and be of smaller size than male-owned enterprises.
In the Latin America and Caribbean region, the OECD’s work shows that the main barriers for women are sexist and misogynist stereotypes, which fuel discrimination. As a Mexican woman, I can believe this. The media is a big culprit in disseminating very traditional roles for women, through TV, film, music.
Throughout the LAC region, there’s also insufficient social support and high levels of informal employment. I would be interested in Darío Álvarez’s views from Argentina.
On a more optimistic note, the SIGI regional report on LAC shows that governments in the region have taken steps to combat workplace discrimination in an effort to close gender gaps in employment.
For example, the Dominican Republic and Mexico have removed all legal restrictions on women’s work. However, discriminatory laws continue to obstruct women’s equal employment opportunities in 19 countries on the continent.
Legal restrictions range from laws prohibiting women from working at night, for example in Jamaica to barring them from jobs that are deemed hazardous, unhealthy, require heavy lifting or that impair their “morals’’, such as in Bolivia.
The OECD’s work also highlights the need to transform social protection programmes in the region into comprehensive systems capable of tackling inequalities along a person’s life-cycle.
Social protection is indeed one of the 4 domains that can help empower women economically and help reduce unpaid care and domestic work.
The OECD has just launched a Policy Dialogue to identify ‘’what works’’ and to make more and better time use data available to assess the impact of such reforms.
Turning to South East Europe, where over the past thirty years since the fall of communism, there has been progress to achieve equal rights. This has seen women access senior political positions.
But, with the political focus on transition reforms, gender equality has slipped down the priority list.
As a result, more and more women have regrettably gone “back to the kitchen” with an estimated 17% income per capita lost due to gender gaps in labour force participation in the Western Balkans and Turkey. Ms. Sorana Baciu [Bach-oo], former Secretary of State in Romania will shortly share with us her experience.
Similarly, the past few years have been problematic for the Eurasia region in terms of equality in labour force participation.
UN Women, represented here by Elaine Conkievich [Kon-kye-vich] argues that the challenges are related to the increasing amount of unpaid care work performed by women, highlighting the need in the region for better social care infrastructure.
We know that the various factors holding women back are complex and interlinked. Women’s agency depends on education, health, mobility, social and legal protection.
Although legal gender parity has improved around the world, major differences persist. Key laws and regulations continue to hold women back from working or running a business.
Introducing legal reforms that successfully tackle gender discrimination is a challenging, time-consuming, and politically sensitive process.
Laws and societal values are interlinked – societal changes can either provide momentum to, or hold back legal reforms.
The OECD encourages governments and societies to accompany arguments for change with data and to base discussions on evidence –as provided by OECD reports.
The OECD is also working to better understand the extent and impact of the informal sector – where many women are present – and how to address it from a gender perspective.
The OECD also supports countries to track progress towards SDG 5 on gender equality; the SIGI has been selected to measure legal discrimination against women.
This will allow us to monitor whether legal frameworks are in place to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination on the basis of gender.
We know that strengthening the application of a gender lens — with approaches such as gender mainstreaming — across law making processes and the work of legislatures, is an effective measure that can make a significant difference in women’s lives.
Provisions enabling more flexible or part-time work arrangements for all and actions to increase women’s security in transport to and within the work place could expand the talent pool and spur wider private sector development.
And to boost female entrepreneurship there needs to be dedicated training and mentoring to boost skills; guarantee programmes in support of access to finance; business incubators and accelerators; as well as awareness campaigns.
And as I mentioned, stereotypes on gender roles and discriminatory social norms weaken the efficiency and implementation of legal reforms promoting women’s rights.
Therefore, transforming social norms should be at the core of the policy response to open new and sustainable ways to promote women’s economic empowerment.
We want to focus on finding more solutions!
Today’s speakers will tell us about the legal and institutional reforms in their regions that have brought successful results. They will also tell us how they laid the ground for these reforms, and dealt with other influencing factors like societal stereotypes.
I am pleased to welcome a balanced panel and to see men in the audience to reflect jointly on further actions supporting gender equality.
I am also pleased that Ghazi Gherairi [Ga-ray-ri], the Tunisian Ambassador to UNESCO is here to guide the discussion and Swedish Ambassador Annika Markovich to provide closing remarks.
Women all over the world face many barriers, some of them similar, some of them different.
The OECD continues to learn from discussions such as these, to be able to inform our valuable work with regions and countries across the world to continue fighting for women’s right and true gender equality.
McKinsey Global Institute Report, 2015
 ILO modelled estimates, 2016, aggregated for the participants of MENA-OECD Initiative.
 Source OECD.stat, accessed on 5 March 2018
 ILO modelled estimates, 2016, aggregated for the participants of MENA-OECD Initiative.
 OECD Employment database, ILO, Key Indicators of the Labour Market
 Eva Fodor & Aniko Balgh , Back to the kitchen ? Gender role attitudes in 13 East European countries, Journal of Family Research, 3/2010
 World Bank, David Cuberes, Marc Teigner, How Costly Are Labour Gender Gaps ? Estimates for the Balkans and Turkey, WB Group (2015)
 UN Women (2017): Investing in social care for gender equality and inclusive growth in Europe and Central Asia, Policy brief 2017/01.