Welcome Remarks at the DAC GENDERNET – UN IANWGE Joint Workshop

gendernetPanel1Delivered on 31-10-2018 in Paris, France

Let me welcome you to the 15th joint workshop of the UN Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality and the DAC Network on Gender Equality, which we call the GENDERNET. We are delighted to be hosting you here at the OECD. Today’s theme of “making social protection, public services and infrastructure work for women and girls” sheds light on one of the most fundamental channels through which we can push for greater gender equality.

The OECD has been working on gender issues for decades, on education, entrepreneurship, employment. We have developed lots of analysis, data and policy recommendations on how to increase female empowerment and to achieve better gender equality.

But progress is slow, and gender parity is still a distant prospect in many countries. One thing that is of great importance when looking at the drivers of these gaps, is to look at how women are using their time, or how are they forced to use their time, what are their time constraints, what is preventing them from entering the workforce?

The OECD’s research on women’s time use, developed in close collaboration with UN Women, shows that in OECD countries, and indeed throughout the world, women spend more time in paid and unpaid work combined than men. [1] In countries like Korea, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, and Turkey, for example women undertake more than three-quarters of all unpaid work. In my country, Mexico, this means 4.5 hours per day, compared to the OECD average of 1.5 hours per day.

To redress the balance, we have to change the culture and incentives to have more men sharing these responsibilities. Paternity leave is a good start, but the OECD’s Uphill Battle report found that even though around two thirds of OECD countries offer paid paternity leave, uptake remains low. Korea for example offers men 12 months paternity leave, but no one takes it.

Many cultural and institutional factors inhibit the reduction and redistribution of unpaid care and domestic work through more equitable parental leave schemes.[2]

At the OECD, we have been looking at the effect of increasing access to and improving the quality of public services, social protection systems, and sustainable infrastructure. We have found that these elements can be enablers but without them, they are barriers.

Indeed, these elements are essential if we are to reduce the burden of such work on women and girls, especially in developing countries. Unfortunately, we know that policies and programmes in place today are not always designed with women and girls in mind.

While many countries are investing in more equitable economic and social policies, translating them into better outcomes for women and girls requires gender-focused design and implementation.

First, we need to consider that a lack of infrastructure can disproportionately affect women in developing countries, specifically lack of water, electricity, poor roads, and inadequate transport. For example, in developing countries, inadequate access to time-saving infrastructure, like water pipes and washing machines, increases the total time required for chores.

So in developing countries, like India and Pakistan for example, women spend around ten times as many hours on unpaid work as men.[3]

Women’s needs should be a greater focus of infrastructure development and authorities should provide and facilitate greater access to safe sanitation, electricity, transport, water especially for women in rural or marginalized urban areas.

We have seen the impacts of such investments in Ghana, for example, where our analysis of time-use data finds that having electricity at one’s house increases women’s time in paid activities (formal or informal) by 73 minutes and easier access to water decreases unpaid work time by 25 minutes.[4]

Furthermore, in a developing country context, our research has shown that involving women in the design phase of infrastructure projects in Nepal led to not only a reduction in unpaid care work, but also an increase in women’s decision-making power in the home and public sphere.[5]

By applying a gender lens to the design of public investment in infrastructure, and thinking more carefully about women’s needs, infrastructure can be an enabler to helping women save a great deal of time, opening them up to educational and professional opportunities.

Improving public services is also important to help women, by providing greater access to affordable child and elderly care, which can help reduce and redistribute the burden of unpaid work.

We see evidence of the benefits of this in Nordic countries where investments in subsidised childcare, care for the elderly, and paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers, has enabled the Nordic countries to reduce gender gaps in employment to the lowest levels of all OECD countries. This increase in female employment has boosted growth in GDP per capita in Nordic countries by as much as 20% over the past 50 years[6].

But, gender-conscious investments in infrastructure and public services are not enough.

We must also ensure that social protection systems take women into account, rather than reinforcing patriarchal family structures. Today, only 29% of the population is covered by comprehensive social security systems that include a full range of protections across the life course.[7]

This number sounds low, however, when you consider that these systems almost always target those engaged in uninterrupted, full-time, and formal employment, we begin to realise that these systems greatly exclude people based on gender. Women are more likely to hold informal part-time and non-standard jobs.

25.5% of employed women are engaged in part-time work, compared to only 9.2% of men.[8] And, given women do the majority of unpaid care work, they tend to interrupt their employment more frequently than men to take care of dependents. This means that, based on the way most social protection systems are constructed today, women are less likely to qualify for benefits, putting them at greater risk of poverty, vulnerability, and social exclusion throughout the life cycle.

We therefore need to create social protection systems that respect the value of unpaid domestic work and that follow the worker, not the job.

The good news is that we are learning how to better recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work unpaid care work and seeing that this can lead to inclusive growth that benefits society as a whole.

The OECD’s Policy Dialogue on Women’s Economic Empowerment has spent the last two years thinking about how interventions in social protection, public services and infrastructure can promote women’s economic empowerment in developing countries, specifically by reducing and redistributing women’s unpaid care work.

We also work with the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) whose Network on Gender Equality brings together the 30 DAC members to identify priorities and approaches to, and scale up funding for, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The OECD is also pleased to be working so closely with many of your agencies, including UN Women, through the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2017, on financing for gender equality and tracking the SDGs’ gender commitments, among other topics, the ILO on the gender pay gap, UNDP, through the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation, and many others.

Today’s workshop is an opportunity for us to hear about new initiatives and research related to making public services, social protection and infrastructure work better for women and girls.

Because these are elements that we have found can make a difference to women’s access to markets, to employment, and to greater independence and empowerment.

I am hoping that this learning can inform next year’s outcomes from the Commission on the Status of Women whose theme also revolves around public services, social protection, and infrastructure.

We must make sure that our public services, social protection systems, and infrastructure investments take women and girls into consideration, as it is one of the most effective areas we can leverage to achieve gender equality.

Thank you

[1] OECD (2017), The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264281318-en

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid,

[4] OECD Development Centre

[5] No reference provided.

[6] OECD (2018), Is the Last Mile the Longest? Economic Gains from Gender Equality in Nordic Countries, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[7] 5 ILO. 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-2019. Geneva. UN CESCR (United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).

[8] OECD Employment Data.


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