Opening of Eurasia Week 2018: Drawing the lessons, shaping the future

Delivered in Paris at Eurasia Week 2018 on November 19, 2018.

We were pleased to have His Excellency Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan present.

Chief Executive, Deputy Prime Ministers, Ministers, Ambassadors, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the fifth OECD Eurasia Week. Today we bring together representatives of Eurasia countries, OECD members, the European Union, and all the major partners for our work in the region.

For more than 25 years, the OECD has worked with partners in Eurasia countries on issues as diverse as anti-corruption, environmental protection, private-sector development and social policy.

One of the cornerstones of that co-operation, The OECD Eurasia Competitiveness Programme, supports structural reforms to enhance competitiveness and facilitate transitions to inclusive market economies.

This programme also provides a gateway for Eurasia countries to align themselves with OECD legal instruments and benefit from some of the valuable facets of the OECD that drive policy improvement: peer reviews, policy recommendations and frameworks, knowledge sharing, and monitoring of reforms, and, in the case of Afghanistan and Azerbaijan, comprehensive country reviews. I am so pleased that we have His Excellency Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, with us today.

This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the Programme. And so, under the theme of “Drawing the lessons, shaping the future”, the next three days offer us an opportunity to look back on a decade of challenge and reform, to take stock of the main lessons learned and to reflect together on how these can shape the policy agenda for the years ahead.


Global Context

It has been an eventful decade, punctuated by crises and unexpected turning points, not only the global crisis a decade ago, the consequences of which are still being felt, but also – and of particular importance for Eurasia – the drop in commodity prices in 2012-14.

Overall, growth rates across the region have fallen well below the levels seen before 2008 and convergence with the advanced countries in terms of productivity and incomes has largely stalled. The region seems to be regaining momentum this year – growing at 3%, much better than the average 1.4% for OECD, but that is still less than half the rate recorded before the crisis. So more must be done to re-establish that convergence dynamic.[1]

Despite their specific histories and characteristics, Eurasia countries ultimately face the same great developmental challenge that confronts the rest of the world: re-establishing a strong, stable growth trajectory that can bring greater prosperity to all citizens, while tackling issues such as environmental degradation – notably climate change – and rising inequalities. Our overall agenda – not just this week but in all our co-operation with Eurasia – is to build more resilient, inclusive and sustainable economies in the decade ahead.

And in this regard, Eurasia countries have been making great strides over the past decade to reduce external vulnerabilities and create new opportunities for growth and diversification.

For example, Eurasia countries have continued to deepen their integration into the world economy.


We have seen improved economic co-operation and increased trade within the region and with its neighbours, especially the European Union,[2] as well as growing investment in the infrastructure needed to better connect Eurasia countries to one another and to the rest of the world.[3]

OECD-Eurasia Collaboration Focus for the Future

As the world will never be without turbulence, our goal in future work is to continue building more resilient economies in Eurasia to ensure prosperity for all.

At the OECD we are encouraged by the commitments your countries have shown in driving reforms to do this, which we will discuss over the coming days. The OECD is committed to supporting the region’s work, in particular in the following four areas, amongst others.

Firstly, we are committed to making SMEs a key driver of economic diversification in the region. Most jobs in Eurasian countries are still in very low‑productivity sectors, while the leading sectors – especially resource extraction – are capital‑intensive and create little employment. Increasing productivity and building resilience will require the emergence of new sectors and activities, reducing reliance on primary product exports and migrant remittances. Countries should therefore prioritise strengthening regulatory and institutional environments and improving conditions for entrepreneurship and private sector-led growth. OECD research has found that SMEs in this region remain more credit-constrained than other EU countries.[4] This restricted access to finance is not only an obstacle to entry and doing business in itself, but can also hinder firm performance by creating barriers to innovation and internationalisation.

This is where the OECD can help, and our work with all of you has tackled this through programmes to strengthen entrepreneurship, increase access to finance for SMEs, improving skills, and improving supply chain financing. Fostering dynamic SMEs can lead to more resilient, diversified economies, greater productivity, and greater job opportunities.

Secondly, and this is an issue I am personally very engaged in, we are committed to supporting you unlock the potential of women in the region, who are currently underrepresented in the labour force. Female labour force participation across the region was almost 9 percentage points below the OECD average in 2017. Perhaps because of this, gender wage gaps across the region are also larger than across most of the OECD: in the bestperforming Eurasia countries, the gender pay gap exceeds 25% of men’s average wages. The region-wide average stands at 30%, as against just over 14% for the OECD.

Not only is this unjust; it is also a waste of talent and resources, and is a wasted opportunity to boost the economy. To encourage more women into work, it is important to have public policies such as maternity and paternity leave, affordable and accessible childcare facilities, education, as well as employers offering flexible working policies to enable women and men to balance their work with their caring responsibilities. Incentives to encourage female entrepreneurship and facilitating access to digital technologies is also crucial – we’re witnessing an 11% global gap in men and women’s use of the internet; indeed our recent report Bridging the Digital Gender Divide found that women worldwide are being left behind in the digital world. It’s also crucial to enshrine women’s rights into law, and have these rights effectively implemented to protect women and allow them to succeed. Alongside these measures, it is important to ensure equal rights for men and women, and make efforts to change mind-sets and traditional attitudes.

It is these attitudes that are the hardest to turn around – but education, public campaigns, legal frameworks can all help. It is also important to protect women from violence, which is all too prevalent. Here too, there is the question of traditional attitudes and social acceptance from many men and women. Across the world, 28% of women think violence against them is justifiable in certain contexts. In Afghanistan, it is as high as 80%. So it is important to educate men and women and provide women with opportunities to be economically independent and also to build their self-confidence and sense of self-worth.

Progress towards gender equality can make our societies fairer and more inclusive, while also unlocking the talents and productive potential of half the population. We cannot overlook this as we seek to lay the basis for broad-based prosperity.

Fortunately, several Eurasian countries have adopted national gender strategies, including Kazakhstan and Georgia, and they have begun to overhaul legislation restricting women’s economic opportunities. Ukraine recently abolished rules restricting women from pursuing 450 professions. All Eurasia countries are Parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Thirdly, Eurasia’s increased integration into global value chains is of great importance. OECD estimates of the connectivity gap facing Central Asian countries, in particular, suggests that these countries’ access to the centres of global demand is currently about half that of Germany or the United States.[1] The OECD aims to support Eurasia countries in leveraging better transport policies and infrastructure to facilitate greater integration. In addition to this focus on improving “hard” infrastructure, subsequent work should focus on promoting ethical and efficient trade facilitation and infrastructure governance, to ensure that countries really do reap the potential economic benefits of enhanced connectivity.

Lastly, governance remains a central issue, not only for infrastructure, but in all our work in Eurasia. Our Anti-Corruption Network works with countries across the region on prevention, detection and enforcement of corruption. This is something we are very proud of – the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention is now over 20 years old, and has done much to help countries implement laws and best practices to tackle corruption. Moreover, anti-corruption is mainstreamed into our work on economic reforms, much of which seeks to reduce corruption potential while improving state effectiveness, by streamlining regulations and promoting digital solutions.


At the OECD, we are proud to be working with all of you and I am thrilled that you are all here taking the opportunity to reflect together, learn from one another, and discuss how best to shape our future co-operation. Let’s continue to work together on creating more inclusive, just, and equitable economies for all.

Thank you.

[1] The region’s aggregate GDP has grown by just under 3% a year in the last 10 years. This is faster than OECD economies (1.4%), the EU (0.9%) or Russia (1.1%), but still less than half the rate recorded over the decade to 2008.

[2] Within Central Asia, there has been a rapid increase in trade co-operation since late 2016. As regards the EU, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine now have Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements with the EU, while Kazakhstan has concluded an Enhanced Partnership and Co-operation Agreement with the Union, and both Kyrgyzstan and Armenia are negotiating new agreements of their own. The Union has also undertaken to negotiate such an agreement with Uzbekistan.

[3] Estimated total cost of the BRI more than $1tn, estimated Chinese investment as of 2017 more than $210bn (Morgan Stanley, and The Guardian, )


[1] From forthcoming ITF report as part of the OECD-ITF project “Enhancing Connectivity in Central Asia”. The ITF’s connectivity indicator is based on time and cost required to acces markets accounting for shares of global GDP.

Opening Remarks at the 30th Annual Meeting of DevCom

Remarks delivered in Paris on November 21, 2018.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome you to the 2018 Annual Meeting of the OECD Development Communication Network – DevCom. It’s great to see such an experienced group of campaigners and communicators here today.

This meeting marks the 30th anniversary of the first DevCom meeting held in Ottawa, Canada, in 1988. This “birthday” is a much-needed testament to the value of multilateralism, of mutual learning– all of which form the backbone of the OECD.

And this reminder comes at a critical time as multilateralism is under intense pressure. We’re feeling it at the OECD as other IOs and multilateral fora are struggling to make concrete progress as we might once have done.

We’re seeing countries opting for isolationist rhetoric and intolerance, rather than international co-operation.

With rising global inequalities, we’re also seeing citizens losing trust in institutions because they do not believe status quo forms of governance can deliver for them.

Our world is becoming multi-polar and multi-actor, but many of the new players do not feel included in global processes.

All of this has provoked deep reflections at the OECD:

We have been advocating the need to rethink the growth model and move away from grow-first-distribute-later attitudes: growth must be more inclusive and focused on wellbeing, not just income. We must ensure that the benefits of globalisation are more widely shared.

Our Inclusive Growth Initiatives and New Approaches to Economic Challenges offer alternative models and solutions.

But it would be a mistake to only rethink what we communicate—we must also adapt how we communicate in a more modern world characterized by digitalization.

Digital communication provides us with around-the-clock access to unprecedented amounts of information. One quick search or click and we are inundated with stories, opinions, thoughts about any topic of interest. When researching a subject for a school report, children anecdotally report anxiety as they do not know where to finish their research, they can just keep clicking on more links that provide a never-ending stream of information.

However, digital communication also plays a role in facilitating the isolationist and distrustful sentiments I just mentioned. Today, there is little oversight of what is read and communicated digitally, often leading to misinformation and confirmation of specific biases. At best, fact-checking is often skipped in the interests of time, or at worst, is purposefully left out to manipulate messages or spread untruths.

Social networks produce echo-chambers where individuals can surround themselves with like-minded others, filtering out information or facts that may prove contradictory to their world views or come from the particular “experts” they feel have left them behind. It is not that people do not what to listen to what it is “true’”, it is often that the lines between fact and fiction become blurred.

These echo-chambers provide comfort for those who feel left out, face inequality of income and opportunities, and generally do not trust institutions that are meant to be providing for them. If we are honest, we are all members of certain echo-chambers.

But they also create fertile ground for populism and extreme messages, as these messages can often be packaged in overly-simplistic, bite-size pieces easy to understand and share.

This can create barriers to international cooperation, social cohesion, and political stability.

Let’s take one of the most heated policy debates as an example: migration. Earlier this year, I launched a network of organisations seeking to communicate better about migration. According to a 2017 Ipsos poll, only 21% of citizens think immigration has a positive effect on their country.

38% believe their country should close its borders to refugees entirely. [1]All this despite OECD data and analysis showing that when effectively managed, migration can have a very positive effect on societies and economies.

Another example where we see the power of misinformation and manipulation of non-facts is Brexit. As a Mexican I can clearly see the benefits of the European Union, but it was clear that the communication in the run up to the UK Referendum was complex for people to understand, and only overly-simplistic arguments were able to cut through.

In both cases clearer communication about the benefits of migration and the European Union could have been used to speak to people, succinctly and with respect for their perspectives.

In a broader sense, we need to build narratives that people can buy into, and find better ways to reach and engage with citizens.

We need to convince citizens of the value added of global efforts, and to reassure them that we are working in their best interests. Today we will be discussing two areas in which improved communication can play a pivotal role in creating impact:

First, this morning, you will explore how communications can empower women and help close gender gaps. Better communication is part of the essential measures to change attitudes and influence behaviours.

It is true that more countries are making political commitments to eliminate gender inequality, for example, passing laws to abolish discrimination and protect women from gender-based violence.

However, our latest analysis – which is still under embargo, so please don’t tweet out just yet – in our new Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) found that new laws do not always translate into real changes for women and girls.

For example, SIGI tells us that, since 2014, 15 countries have strengthened their laws on early child marriage yet the statistic of 1 in 6 girls aged 15-19 having been married or in an informal union has remained the same.

Young women often leave school with better qualifications than young men, but are less likely to join the work force, find a job and earn the same salaries.

We also have documented a global digital gender divide. Women worldwide are 26% less likely than men to have a smartphone and access mobile internet.

This mismatch between legal progress and actual impact for women can largely be attributed to persistent cultural views and attitudes. Luckily, we do see evidence that perceptions and gender norms can be changed.

For example, SIGI tells us that attitudes about domestic violence are changing among women. Can you believe that, in 2018, 27% of women globally declared that it was justified for a man to beat his wife? Although a shocking figure, but it is actually down from 37% in 2014.

But, if we really want change, we have to work harder to change the cultural attitudes that drive the gender disparities. We have to look at the way women are portrayed in the mass media, the perpetual images of traditional roles and stereotypes in adverts, soap-operas, music videos, etc.

We need public campaigns and better measures to promote positive images of women to change attitudes in both men and women.

We also need to be aware that negative images about women and femininity are not just internalized through interactions with media. But rather these views are reinforced in families, at work, and at school. Thus understanding and combatting these biases,  by checking in with our own thoughts, is crucial in order to increase the appeal of positive attitudes towards women.

Then this afternoon, you will discuss how to engage businesses as SDG advocates.

The business case for all of the global goals is strong.

The OECD Emerging Markets Network (EMNet) finds that engaging with the SDGs can help businesses access new markets, increase technological innovation and attract talent.

Indeed, businesses with high environmental, social and governance standards tend to outperform the market in the long term.[2]

We also know that today’s consumers have high expectations from businesses.

We know that 66% of consumers – and 73% of millennials – are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products. And consumers in emerging markets are more willing to pay a premium than in developed economies.[3]

Almost two-thirds (64%) of citizens think that CEOs should take the lead on change, rather than waiting for governments to impose it.[4]

We should leverage market instruments to incentivize businesses to act for the common good.

Businesses should respond to consumer demands and recognise the importance of more sustainable practices. Indeed, many are, last week at the Paris Peace Forum, I launched a new platform with Danone called Business4Inclusive Growth, where the OECD will partner with business to achieve more sustainable outcomes.

And I am encouraged when I hear that in a survey of CEOs in 83 countries, 25% said their company had changed its sense of purpose to take into account its broader impact on society. 60% said that top talent wants to work with organisations that share their social values.[5] So things are changing, but we need to harness this, better communicate it and embed it into public policies to effect real change.

This afternoon, you will be joined by business representatives who are working to put the SDGs at the core of their companies’ strategies. It will be important to discuss with them how they are communicating about the SDGs with the outside world, and how are companies reporting on their SDG performance. Specifically, what are they doing to help customers become more aware of sustainability?

We should not underestimate the complexity of the SDG’s. The robustness and complexity of the SDGs are great strengths of the framework, however they make it difficult to create effective messaging about them. We need to advance them separately in our communications to streamline processes and drive more efficient change through business.

To conclude, as multilateral cooperation is being highly contested today, it is important to reflect on what brings us together.

Isolationist and protectionist sentiment is in fact a consequence of dissatisfaction with the state of the world, a feeling that society does not benefit everyone equally.

So, as communicators, we need to create narratives that people are inspired by, that they can believe in, to empower people to contribute to a better world, rather than giving up.

DevCom is your community to find better ways to do just that. Here at the OECD, we stand ready to support you in any way we can. I wish you very productive discussions and a happy birthday to this important network!

Thank you

[1] Ipsos. “Global Views on Immigration and the Refugee Crisis.” September 2017.

[2] McKinsey & Company. “Profits with purpose: How organizing for sustainability can benefit the bottom line.” July 2014.

[3] Nielsen survey conducted in 2015

[4] According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer

[5] PricewaterhouseCoopers study, 2016

“Ensuring Technological Growth Works for All” Op-Ed

Policy Options, a digital magazine by the Canadian Institute for Research on Public Policy, recently published an op-ed “Ensuring technological growth works for all” I wrote as part of their Preparing citizens for the future of work series highlighting the work presented by myself and other international experts at the Queen’s International Institute on Social Policy in August 2018.

Remarks at “One Safe Place for Hope and Empowerment” International Conference

Delivered on November 15, 2018 at the International Conference: “One Safe Place for Hope and Empowerment” in Paris, France.

Thank you Marie-Aimée [Peyron, Mme le Bâtonnier de l’Ordre des Avocats de Paris]. It is an honor to join you here this morning to discuss such an important topic.

The OECD has been looking at gender issues across most public policy area for decades, and we’re seeing that true gender equality still doesn’t exist anywhere. Progress is slow and patchy.

What continues to shock me is violence against women, which is horrifyingly prevalent; OECD data shows that 31% of women worldwide have experienced violence at least once in their lifetime.[1] 15% of women experienced this in the past year alone.

This is happening in many OECD countries: for example, in some parts of my country Mexico, 80% of women in their 30s report having been victims of intimate partner violence.

This isn’t confined to the domestic sphere, where it might be harder to spot, public spaces are not always safe for women, either.

Data shows that most women who use public transport feel exposed to physical or verbal aggression[2]. In Latin America, 60% of women say they have been physically harassed while using public transport.

Where does this violence come from? It is rooted in power and control, in patriarchal and cultural norms and attitudes that do not respect women and impede their rights. These are worsened by negative stereotypes and unconscious biases that are deeply engrained in society, in both men and women.

And it’s this social acceptance that is disturbing.

The OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) indicates that 28% of women worldwide justify domestic violence under certain circumstances. In developing countries, such as Afghanistan, 80% of women believe domestic violence is justifiable.

We have to look at how these images of women are propagated, and ask ourselves whether the media plays a role.

In many media outlets, negative images of women are disseminated in films, soap operas, or advertising. Women are presented not as humans, but as products whose value depends on their image. Just look at some of the violent video games that children or young adults can access – where players can choose to enact extreme violence against women.

Countries should take a hard look at this: the UK, Norway and Denmark are taking measures to ban sexism in advertising, and gratuitous violence against women on screen is less and less accepted.

Violence can also be linked to weak judicial systems, as pursuing cases that happen behind close doors can be difficult. Not only in developing countries where institutions are weak, but even in advanced economies, where there is no culture to use a gender lens when dealing with legal cases.

Action and policy recommendations

So what would the OECD recommend? A genuine whole-of-society approach is needed. Actions could be grouped around prevention, protection and prostecution.

First, prevention: stronger legal frameworks and systems that criminalise violence against women are essential, but not all countries have them. Although every country has ratified conventions on this issue, only 74% of the 180 countries covered by OECD data criminalise domestic violence[3]. Just 61% make sexual harassment a criminal offense. The #MeToo movement showed the way in which legal instruments were used to provide impunity to perpetrators of aggression against women.

I was in Tunisia this week and was encouraged that Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon have recently repealed laws that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. But this is recent. There are still 10 countries in the world where this is permitted. We are in the 21st Century, how can these barbaric practices still exist?

Again, it’s the cultural biases, gender norms and stereotypes. To address this, women’s rights and respect must be mainstreamed through education.

Teaching children, parents and teachers that men and women are equals from the start will help.

Public education campaigns and public investment in female rights and opportunities can also help raise awareness of the issue, which has historically received less attention than other types of violence. Campaigns can also raise awareness of the negative effects of showing degrading images of women and gratuitous violence in media.

Schools can also help instil self-confidence in girls from early on, so that they can report abuse, and feel the self-worth to stand up to bullies and violence, both on and offline. More role models – both male and female – can help, and men should also be encouraged to be agents of change.

Laws need to catch up to the reality of the present: despite increasing awareness about new forms of violence, less than a dozen countries in the world have laws addressing cyber-harassment and online violence[4]. We need greater regulation and protections on social networks, especially for young adults and children, who might be more vulnerable.

Children also need to be taught to be digitally wise and resilient online.

In our PISA for Wellbeing report we confirmed that cyberbulling can have a greater  effect on girls, as it is usually always linked to their physical appearance.

More disaggregated data is also needed to be able to have a better picture of the scope and type of violence perpetrated against women and girls.

Second, protection: countries must take an integrated approach to support victims. Support for victims must be easily accessible. More than 40% of survivors never seek help and less than 20% of women who do appealed to the police, medical personnel or lawyers[5]. Data show that leaving an abusive relationship is an extremely dangerous time: most murders of abused women occur while a woman is leaving or shortly after.

Having integrated service centres in place, such as a Family Justice Centre, can give a survivor a place to go to when she takes the first step in a very difficult journey. These centres could also include language services for non-native speakers.

In Mexico, most states have set up publicly-funded Women’s Justice Centres, adapted to local conditions. These multi-function centres cut across service delivery, political and jurisdictional silos to offer the best support. Legislators are working to ensure that there is at least one Women’s Justice Centre in every state.

Our institutions should also be modernised to have a gender-lens, and there should be culturally-sensitive and specialised trauma training for all those working with victims.

I am also a believer in the power of women’s economic empowerment – if women are financially independent, they can better protect themselves and may find it easier to leave an abusive domestic situation. Ensuring women know their financial rights and can access their accounts is also important, and should also be a factor of integrated services.

Third, prosecution: our legal systems must adequately punish perpetrators, and must take violence against women as seriously as other violent crimes.

For example, in France, domestic violence legislation covers physical, sexual and psychological abuse and foresees penalties of up to five years in prison and a fine of €75,000. Austria also has a policy of specially trained police officers who can help protect victims, assess and recommend additional safety.

Cases must be treated quickly. For example, specialised domestic violence courts, such as those in the UK, where victims are placed at the centre of the justice process can help. Victims are provided with comprehensive and immediate services, courthouses are secured to ensure protection of women’s privacy and safety, and cases are fast-tracked.

Perpetrators, once prosecuted, also need to be rehabilitated and re-educated. The UK has implemented a Violence against Women and Girls Strategy, which looks at new technology and rehabilitation methods to reduce reoffending cases, to break the abuse cycle.

Finally, we need international cooperation. The  majority of OECD countries have identified violence against women as their top gender priority[6], and last year G7 leaders agreed to a series of measures to eliminate violence against women and girls. The OECD has supported these efforts and we’re already working with France ahead of its G7 presidency to build on previous commitments[7].

All this can help, but policies only work if cultural norms and mindsets are also tackled. We need to ensure instituions are strong and that they take a gender lens to major challenges, to rise above engrained biases.

All levels of government and civil society must cooperate to ensure women’s rights are enshrined in law, that victims are supported and protected and that they are economically empowered in the first place to ensure independence.

Your work is incredibly important and inspiring. You make a real difference to victims of violence, and you contribute to building more peaceful societies and communities.

Do count on the OECD to continue providing the data, analysis, best practices and policy recommendations to inform your work. And let’s make violence a thing of the past.

Thank you.

[1] OECD, Gender Institutions and Development Database (GID-DB).

[2] ITF (2018), Women’s Safety and Security. A public transport priority, OECD Publishing, Paris


[4] 180 country notes will be available on December 7th.

[5] DHS (Wave 6, n.d.)

[6] OECD (2017), The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[7] The Charlevoix Commitment to End Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, Abuse and Harassment in Digital Contexts

Opening Remarks at the Women’s Economic Empowerment Forum 2018

Remarks delivered in Tunis, Tunisia on November 13, 2018.


Excellences, Mesdames et Messieurs les ministres.

Je suis ravie d’être ici avec vous, pour un sujet qui me touche au cœur. Permettez-moi de remercier la Ministre Labidi, le Ministre Ladhari et le gouvernement tunisien de leur accueil chaleureux.

Permettez-moi aussi de continuer en anglais.

It has been a year since we launched the Forum in Cairo, and when the OECD released our report, Women’s Economic Empowerment in MENA Countries: The Impact of legal frameworks.

That report showed that many MENA women were being held back from joining the labour force, or from holding quality jobs, because of legal provisions that unfairly discriminated against them. These included family laws, labour laws and business regulations.

Since then, we have seen that a momentum for change is building.

I enjoyed listening to Minister Labidi’s remarks, about the progress Tunisia has made in improving women’s access to economic opportunity, through various initiatives. And other nations in the region are also making progress. I am sorry that Minister Nasr cannot be with us, but we should recognise that she is one of eight female Cabinet Ministers in Egypt – the most in Egypt’s history –highlighted what Egypt has been doing. Although there is more to do, it’s important to recognise things are moving.

For example, we have seen important legal reforms in many countries: Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon have repealed laws that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. This is an important step, but there are still 10 countries in the world where this is allowed.

Indeed, violence against women is horrifyingly prevalent in all countries; OECD data shows that 31% of women worldwide have experienced violence at least once in their lifetime.

Part of this is due to patriarchal and cultural norms and attitudes that do not respect women and impede their rights. But it’s also a case of social acceptance. The OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index indicates that 28% of women worldwide justify domestic violence under certain circumstances. In Algeria it is 52% and Morocco 32%.

This is why steps the region is taking are so important. Such as Egypt, which has launched a 2030 National Woman’s Strategy and Morocco launched ICRAM II[1], a new plan for gender equality.  The UAE has also adopted an equal pay law.

Women in the MENA region today are increasingly qualified to seize opportunities.

In some countries, they surpass MENA men in tertiary enrolment rates: over the past decade[2], women’s tertiary enrolment rates almost doubled from 24% to 42%, exceeding men’s enrolment rates – as well as the world average – of 39%[3].

In some cases, MENA women outstrip OECD countries in enrolment in STEM studies – often the key to unlocking lucrative careers.[4]

For example, in 2014, Saudi women made up 59% of total students enrolled in Computer Science, while British women made up only 16% of Computer Science students and American women only 14%. In Egypt, a huge 43% of STEM students are women.

However, these skills and capabilities do not translate into good opportunities at the workforce.

The female labour force participation rate in the region remains the lowest in the world at only 20.6%, with little progress in the past decade.[5] In Tunisia, it is higher at 35.5%, but low compared to the OECD average of 65%. When MENA women do work, they often occupy lower paying jobs.

They are also under-represented in high-level managerial positions in both private and public sectors, for example women hold only 15% of executive positions in Tunisia, compared to 43% in the US, although better than Korea at 11%. Women chair only 4% of boards in the MENA region[6].

The average share of MENA women holding seats in Parliament is almost half the OECD average at 16%, compared to 30%. However, there are some bright spots: Morocco has introduced a quota system to increase women’s representation to 38% in regional councils and to 20.5% in Parliament.

In Jordan, a gender legislative quota in parliament and municipal councils has substantially increased female representation, women now occupy 29% of seats across all councils.

Tunisia has achieved both horizontal and vertical parity on candidate lists for local elections, and in May 2018, women won 47% of seats in those elections.

But despite all of the impressive progress made, more is needed to allow women to succeed.

This applies to all countries: no country in the world has managed gender equality. The OECD’s report Measuring the Distance to the SDG Targets, finds that among the SDG targets, gender was where OECD countries have the furthest to go.[7]

So what can we do?


First, as our report last year emphasised, legal frameworks are needed to enshrine women’s status and rights into laws and constitutions and must be enforced through access to justice mechanisms; I know this will be one focus of today’s discussions.

Our report also recommended that governments review family laws and labour codes to align them with constitutional and international commitments, and to allow women to work in all sectors.

However, enshrining rights in law often isn’t enough. All around the world, we have to tackle the entrenched cultural views and attitudes about women, by both men and women. These attitudes are everywhere, whether in France or Morocco. We have to change the traditional mind-sets, the cultural barriers, the stereotypes that are preventing qualified and smart women from getting ahead. This would also help the issue of violence against women.

To change attitudes, we need a whole-of-society approach, sustained commitment and continuous use of policies over time.

This must start with the education system: teaching children with gender-neutral textbooks and tools, as well as teaching parents, teachers and employers to be mindful about negative stereotypes, can make a difference. Brazil, Belgium, France and Germany all have effective policies. Public campaigns and public investment in female rights and opportunities can also help raise awareness and promote acceptance.

Another powerful tool is the media. We need to consider what images of women are portrayed in soap operas, advertising and through social media platforms.

Countries such as the UK, Norway and Denmark are starting to take measures to ban sexism, or unhelpful stereotypes – such as showing women unable to park a car, or a man unable to change a child’s nappy – in advertising.

We need more female role models to show young women and girls – and men and boys – what success can look like.

We need to give girls the confidence to apply themselves and be ambitious.

The OECD is looking at various ways to encourage more female role models, and in Mexico, we launched an initiative with the Government called NinaSTEM Pueden, or “Girls can do STEM”, which focuses on identifying Mexican women that have been successful in the STEM fields, to come to schools and encourage young girls to take up STEM subjects, which is badly needed in Mexico.

Third, in addition to tackling stereotypes, there needs to be greater awareness of the burden of unpaid care, which mostly falls to women and can drastically affect their ability to participate in the labour force. OECD analysis shows that women in the OECD spend on average 1.5 hours per day on domestic work[8].

In my country, Mexico, it’s as much as 4.5 hours per day. In Tunisia, it is closer to 5.5 hours[9].

To redress the balance, as our report said last year, employers need to offer family friendly policies such as parental leave, flexible working hours or part-time work arrangements to allow women to work. There must also be increased transport security for women to and from the workplace. This will help both men and women juggle their formal work with their unpaid caring duties.

Female entrepreneurs – of which there are many across the region – must also be incentivised and legislation should establish businesses as gender neutral.

Fourth, gender mainstreaming will also be key to advancing gender equality, and is a key feature of the MENA Competitiveness Programme. I am pleased that this will also be discussed today.

In March, I launched a Toolkit on Mainstreaming Gender Equality, which helps governments, parliaments and judiciaries design gender-sensitive public policies and services. I know countries in the region are moving ahead with this, such as Morocco, which I discussed yesterday at President Macron of France’s Paris Peace Forum. It is also important to encourage young women and men to be more actively engaged in public life; OECD is supporting the Tunisian Ministry of Youth to do this.

Finally, we need better disaggregated data to be able to track progress, as well as spot the gaps. Without data, governments cannot effectively target their policies to where they are most needed.

The OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index, I mentioned earlier is a great tool to help with this, and it is also an official source of measurement for SDG 5.1.1 looking at the legal frameworks that promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex.

The OECD helps countries to reinforce domestic capacity and skills to be able to collect the required data, and this is an important part of the WEEF’s purpose – to support and showcase gender-disaggregated data collection.

Cette réunion sera un grand pas en avant pour faire avancer tout ce travail et pour mieux comprendre les actions concrètes nécessaires pour surmonter les multiples obstacles auxquels les femmes sont confrontées.

Je suis fière d’être ici avec de nombreux défenseurs des droits économiques des femmes qui ont contribué à faire progresser les politiques et les mentalités de vos pays. Les bonnes pratiques et l’expérience que vous apportez serviront de base à une nouvelle publication de l’OCDE faisant suite au rapport de l’année dernière.

Alors, comptez sur nous ! L’OCDE continuera son engagement dans le cadre du Programme pour la compétitivité auprès des pays de la région MENA, avec vigueur et enthousiasme, et se tient prêt à vous aider à faire de l’égalité des sexes dans la vie publique et économique une réalité.

Je vous remercie.

[1] Initiative concertée pour le renforcement des acquis des Marocaines (ICRAM)

[2] 2005-16

[3] World Bank data from ILO modelled estimates, 2018

[4] In 2014, women comprised 59% of total students enrolled in computer Science in Saudi Arabia while UK and USA women enrolment were 16% and 14% respectively (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2014)

[5] Source: World Bank data from ILO Modelled estimates, 2018


[7] Measuring the distance to the SDG targets, An assessment of where OECD countries stand, 2017

[8] OECD 2017

[9] United Nations Statistics Division; 2006