Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women speech at the Forum Forbes "Powerful Women" 2016


Sra. Lakshmi Puri, Directora Ejecutiva Adjunta de ONU Mujeres
Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women

Buenos días México

Buenos días queridas mujeres líderes.

I want to express my deepest appreciation to Jonathan Torres and to Forbes for the invitation to speak at this celebrated gathering, which has brought together an impressive lineup of champions of gender equality and women's empowerment.

We are convinced that this is currently the most important undertaking for our societies and the international community as we enter a new and defining time for sustainable development and peace and security with women’s leadership as a key driver.

Let me also thank the Mexican authorities, especially Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu, for their support to the gender equality project. Under her leadership, Mexico is a global actor promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in global and regional fora.

I thank Roberto Lopez, our Mexican HeForShe champion and President of Sony Mexico, who has engaged artists and producers to use music to spread the vision of a planet where women and men stand as equals.

I thank our UN Women Country Representative, Ana Güezmes, and our team in here for their work in pushing up the gender equality frontiers in Mexico.

This is my first visit to Mexico as UN Women Deputy Executive Director and it is truly inspiring to see the role that Mexican women are playing in building a better future for their country. 

Mexico has been the sacred crucible of gender equality struggle and the political and social mobilization of global women's movement. The first World Conference of Women was hosted in Mexico City, in 1975, to coincide with the first International Women’s Year.

The Conference convened 133 governments and resulted in the World Plan of Action, which offered a comprehensive set of guidelines for the advancement of women. Then in Copenhagen in 1980, Nairobi in 1985 and Beijing in 1995, set strategic objectives and actions for the advancement of women and the achievement of gender equality.

History was made then and history continues to be made today with you, 100 women celebrated today by Forbes who have become icons of the struggle for and of the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment. They are also living testimony to the intrinsic and instrumental value of women's leadership in itself but also for all projects for humanity, in all sectors, in communities, society, economy and country. I salute you on behalf of UN Women.

I feel privileged to witness the impressive gains you have posted, for example, in laws related to equality between women and men, and in the promotion of women’s empowerment.

Mexico has made history with the political reform that raised gender parity to the Constitutional level. However, progress is still needed to strengthen representation in governance and decision-making bodies and most importantly   in the private sector, and to address the lack of economic participation on an equal basis.

And this is exactly what I would like to talk to you about.

UN Women is proud to support the global advances on women’s electoral and political participation and their access to senior decision-making positions. Yet the job is not done and this is one of the reasons that led us last year to launch our call to achieve a Planet 5050 by 2030.

Towards this aim, we are working with national partners in more than 60 countries to ensure parity in decision-making positions. In Mexico, women hold 42 per cent of seats in the Lower Chamber of Congress, the 7TH place in the world. This is an outstanding achievement considering that the global average of women in the Parliaments is 23 per cent. But this is the exception.

From the local to the global level, women’s leadership and political participation are restricted.  Women are underrepresented in leading positions, whether in elected office, the civil service, the private sector, STEM or academia.  This occurs despite their proven abilities as leaders and agents of change, and their right to participate equally in democratic governance.

Forty years after the first Conference of Women hosted in Mexico and twenty years after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action which called for ‘gender balance’, women are still far from having equal participation in decision-making.

It is undeniable that increasing women’s participation is a matter of genuine democracy and social justice.

But in addition, it is equally important to keep in sight that “Equality is not a threat. It is an opportunity”, as Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rightfully affirmed.

A broad range of studies demonstrate that politics, business and societies are strengthened when women are equally included.

When women are in decision-making positions, more inclusive and impactful decisions are adopted, different voices are heard and different solutions are created.

Women’s participation in all areas of decision making is as necessary to understanding and negotiating the pathways to achieving sustainable development, human rights and peace and security.

Increasing women’s representation in leadership positions requires political will of women and men. Women must come forward and claim their rights and men must create space. Without dedicated political commitment from governments, political parties, and parliamentary leaders, women will not be represented among political decision-makers.

But beyond politics, women's participation in decision making in the economic and financial sectors is still scarce and they still fight disadvantage.

It is encouraging that that over 1000 CEOs around the world have signed-up and publicly committed to supporting and implementing the Women’s Empowerment Principles that UN Women has developed with the UN Global Compact.  These companies recognize the economic and social benefits of women’s empowerment, and that empowering women is not only the right thing to do, it makes sound business sense. They therefore commit to drive and promote gender equality within the company, in the market place and in the community and today I call on all the companies in Mexico to join the movement.

Yet much more remains to be done!

As in the political arena, in the economic and financial sectors there are glass ceilings that prevent women to rise to top positions.

As a result, the largest gender pay gaps are usually found at the top of the wage distribution—the ‘glass ceiling’ for highly skilled women workers.

For example, according to Catalyst, women represent 31 per cent of the first, mid-level officials and managers and 12 per cent of Chief Financial Officers of the Fortune 500 companies and only 2.1 per cent of the total CEOs in the financial services sector.

So this is where inequality stands: Men not only dominate the most lucrative pockets of the economic and finance packets but they go into the highest-paying industries more often than women.

According to Forbes, of a total 1,826 global billionaires, 197 are women — 11 per cent of the total. Only 9 per cent of executive officers in Silicon Valley are women.

Yet there is another invisible barrier to women’s performance in the economy and it is at the bottom, in what we call the ‘sticky floor’ hat keeps women at the bottom of the job scale and in the lowest paid jobs.

UN Women’s flagship report Progress of the World’s Women, found in 2015 that gender pay gaps tend to be larger in countries where the overall distribution of wages is more unequal.

In the OECD, for example, gender pay gaps are smaller in the Nordic countries where overall wage inequalities (or wage dispersion) are lower.

In many developing regions gender pay gaps tend to be large for workers without education but are even larger for those with secondary and postsecondary education. This is the case of Mexico.  They are also often wider in informal compared to formal employment.

With regard to rural-urban differences, women and men have lower than average earnings in rural areas and, in absolute terms, rural women are at the bottom of the earnings ladder.  In parts of Latin America including Mexico, gender pay gaps are compounded by ethnicity, resulting in indigenous women being particularly disadvantaged.

An important aspect of inequality lies in the fact that unpaid care work and domestic work have long been regarded as duties and roles assigned to women, part of their reproductive role, and a labour of love that is not valued, monetized or even recognized as work.

In average, in the world women do almost two and a half times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men, and if paid and unpaid work are combined, women in almost all countries work longer hours than men each day. And this is true for Mexico too!

Also, some 83 per cent of the world’s 53 million domestic workers are women, and this number is increasing steady in developed and developing countries alike.  Almost 30 per cent of these women are deprived of any labour rights and more than half of them are not entitled to earn the minimum wage.  Many also suffer from systematic abuse and violence.

Despite the huge challenge ahead, realizing gender equality has a deadline, and it is 2030.

2015 was a landmark year for the advancement of the gender equality agenda. It was a year of groundbreaking commitments in which Mexican diplomacy and leadership played a crucial role - with the adoption of a gender equality compact in the 2030 Agenda, the Addis Ababa Agenda of Financing for Development, the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the outcome of the Security Council Resolution 1325 Global review.

This year the Agreed Conclusions of the Sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women had a particular focus on women's economic empowerment, financial inclusion as both a key enabler and beneficiary of sustainable development.

Women’s progress will play an indispensable role in the achievement of the SDGs.

The Sustainable Development Goals include a transformative, comprehensive and universal stand-alone goal - SDG 5 - give me a High Five on achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

The Goal addresses issues that are relevant globally: an end to all forms of discrimination in law and practice, ending violence against women and girls; recognizing unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies.  Women must have universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.  Women must have equal rights to economic resources – land, property, technology and financial services.  Women’s participation and leadership in political and economic life must be ensured if all the targets of SDG 5 are to be met and furthermore if the sustainable development goals are to be achieved!!

So it is now time for all countries to move forward with implementation

  • But changing the status quo requires a radical shift in how we work.
  • A radical shift is also needed in the level of investment in women and girls.
  • The private sector can play a crucial role in helping us bridge this gender funding gap.
  • We’re here to mobilize a vast, far-reaching solidarity movement of men and boys, to become advocates for gender equality. These men shall be known as HeForShes.

"Finance think" tells you that the “right” allocation of money is crucial: the right amount, right timing and right place for the right investments.

Well, investing in women and girls is the “right” thing to do, not only because it is fair, but because it can bring game changing economic and social gains.  And this is the “right” time.

Our Planet 50-50 by 2030 call is a reminder of the urgency of accelerated action, full and effective implementation and significantly increased resources if the 2030 Agenda is to be achieved.

Investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect on poverty eradication, productivity as well as sustainable economic growth.

There are countless studies that tell us that women have greater abilities to fully contribute to the economy, the workplace, their homes and communities if they have access to equal opportunities for education, health care and social protection services and to decent work, and the recognition and valuing of unpaid care and domestic work, if they have a life free of violence and discrimination.

These abilities can be even greater if women have access and control over economic resources as well as full and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.

A report by the McKinsey Global Institute concluded that as much as $28 trillion could be added to the global GDP in 2025 if women participated in the labor force at the same rate as men.

Unleashing the potential of half of humanity requires significantly increased investment in scale, scope and quality, from all sources and at all levels, mainstreamed and targeted to bridge the gender gap as committed in the 2030 Agenda.

We need to calculate the economic costs of persistent gender inequality, and grant the resources required to adequately address it.

We need to enhance the use of the gender marker and track investments in gender equality and monitor gender equality results on regular basis.

We need to adjust domestic budgets as well as international aid flows to real needs, and ensure that they are sustained. And there is room for adjustments in all sources. For example, screenings in the Official Development Assistance (ODA) have shown that only 5 per cent of the aid targeted gender equality.

Consciousness is important. Gender equality is everyone’s business, including yours.  In order to deliver substantive equality, we need stakeholders like all of you, and especially in the business sector, to Step-it up to achieve Planet 50-50 by 2030.

Here in Mexico, second largest economy in Latin America, there is a great opportunity to demonstrate leadership and be among the Latin American countries pushing the frontier towards gender equality by ensuring transformative financing for gender equality, within the country, the Latin American Region, the OECD and the G20.

Transformative financing means significantly increased and enhanced investments to ensure financial inclusion for women on the ground.

In Mexico we see a great opportunity, through information and communication technology, to enhance education, learning opportunities and skill development, for engagement with youth, for political participation and for women and girls to advocate for their interests, rights and social transformation.

Mexico can rightly celebrate women’s incredible achievements in science, technology and innovation, and the panel today is a remarkable testimony of such undertakings. Yet there is no space for complacence and further efforts should be made to leverage women’s talent and advance women in science, technology and innovation as an urgent task for achieving gender equality and ultimately, all other development goals.

We need to galvanize the global community to do more to ensure that women’s participation in the formal sector of the economy, while ensuring recognition and support for women who remain in the informal sector.

Also, it is paramount to ensure adequate financing for women’s institutional bodies, which continue to be chronically under resourced. Government Spending Watch (2013) found that in 13 countries with available data, government spending on national women’s machineries was less than 0.4 per cent of GDP and spending levels had either remained flat or fallen as a per cent of GDP since the financial crisis.

Also, at the global level, UN Women has demonstrated to be Fit For Purpose, but it must also be Financed For Purpose in order to contribute and support the achievement of the Goals and targets for women and girls across the new Development Agenda.

In conclusion let me reiterate that gender equality is everyone’s business, including yours.

You have the strength and the means for constituency and movement building around the issues of women’s economic and financial empowerment, and the message is clear: Realizing the 2030 Agenda calls for all of us to be gender equality champions wherever we are placed.  And this generation has the potential to accomplish it!!

UN Women, along with multi-stakeholder platforms like the Business Call to Action and the UN Global Compact, stands ready to work with you.

One place to start is with our Women’s Empowerment Principles.

I would encourage all business leaders to get a copy from our website, sign up to the statement of support, and work with us to implement the principles.

By prioritizing gender equality and upholding women’s rights we will make the economy, politics and society work for women, and also create a prosperous economy, a just and peaceful society and a more sustainable planet.

Today I reiterate our congratulations, and welcome the outstanding women and men who jointly lead the change to make gender equality a reality in Mexico.

We count on your leadership to Step it UP and make Planet 5050 by 2030 mission possible!

Let me finish with a memory from the Nobel Prize Octavio Paz from whom I learned about Mexico when he was the Ambassador of Mexico in India and always as a reader of his great poems ... 

Merece lo que sueñas  /  Deserve your dream

100 most influential women in Mexico surely deserve their dreams, millions of women in Mexico deserve their dreams and count with us! Step it up!

Muchas gracias México lindo y querido!!!