dear international guests, distinguished delegates,
dear friends from the academic and scientific community, representatives of the civil society,
dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
One hundred years ago, when the world first celebrated International Women´s Day, gender equality and women´s empowerment were regarded as radical ideas. On this centenary, we celebrate the significant progress that has been achieved through advocacy, practical action, political campaigning and mobilization of civil society organizations, and overall enlightened policy making. Yet, much remains to be done for women to get full status as first-class citizens worldwide.
A group of Geneva-based UN organizations are celebrating the centenary with a series of events this week. UNCTAD is joining this initiative that makes Geneva during these days the home of the debate on gender equality and women´s empowerment by organizing this panel discussion on enhancing women´s access to education, science and technology for economic growth and development. I am particularly pleased to welcome Ms. Salerno, the Mayor of Geneva, to this panel.
Science, technology and innovation play an essential role in addressing the challenges of development. We are fully aware that raising agricultural productivity by using new technologies can reduce poverty and hunger, given the kind of economic, social and humanitarian problems that spikes in food price and food shortage provoke. We are also aware that new drugs and vaccines can improve public health; new energy sources can enhance sustainable production, improve people´s livelihood and help the planet face the challenges associated with climate change. From linking remote villages via mobile phones to improved water safety and cooking tools, technological innovations are changing positively the lives of people around the world.
Despite the great advancement during the last two decades, women and girls still have less access than men and boys to education in general and to technological learning in particular. Sixty per cent of countries have not reached gender parity in primary and secondary education. Gender segregation in learning is persistent, and sectors such as engineering, technological research and industrial research are still heavily male-dominated, with few women in leadership positions. This reflects wider and persistent occupational segregation, since women tend to dominate lower-paying sectors such as care work, and to be under-represented in the scientific, traditionally "male" fields that offer better pay.
There are many reasons why gender equality should be promoted in science and technology. Let me share those that seem particularly relevant to my organization:
- The right of each individual to realize his/her potential in any field of activity is a human right.
- Gender equality in science and technology contributes to economic growth through greater accumulation of human capital.
- Women and girls´ enhanced access to education and to new technologies improves their ability to take advantage of the new opportunities arising from trade expansion.
- Technological learning and upgrading is an essential process through which firms -including SMEs- must go in order to be more competitive and grow. Many of these enterprises in developing countries are owned or run by women.
- Women´s equal participation in science and technology provides them with the opportunity to influence the research agenda, putting emphasis on topics affecting their well-being and interests.
- The investments in educating and training women would be wasted if women were not integrated in productive activities in positions according to their education and skills.
- The blending of men´s and women´s different expertise, talent and approaches enhances the ability of the scientific community to excel.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The 55th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women ended in New York a few days ago. As usual, the main theme that the Commission was called upon to discuss was the same as the one selected for the International Women´s Day.
Let me share with you some of the conclusions emerging from the debate in New York and in which UNCTAD had the honour to participate.
- Expanding access to education is not enough - it is crucial to also improve the quality and relevance of education.
- Gender stereotypes are a root cause of occupational segregation and must be tackled systematically.
- Education is not enough for women to gain access to decent work - proactive measures are needed to facilitate the transition from school to work, and that is equal access to labour market opportunities.
- Science and technology insufficiently respond to the needs of women - the content of research should be gender-sensitive and user-driven.
- Given their innovation potential is underutilized, empowering women to fully contribute to science and technology, knowledge and production should become a priority.
Undoubtedly, in order to promote the use of science, technology and innovation for development and to make women full-fledged participants, countries need to adopt strategies and involve all stakeholders. A set of policies originating from different ministries and departments can create an environment that is supportive of gender-sensitive innovation.
As part of its mandate, UNCTAD has been working on gender and development-related issues since the 1990s. UNCTAD activities include research work, intergovernmental discussions, capacity-building for policymakers, training of entrepreneurs, sharing of lessons, best practices and examples. UNCTAD is currently analysing how innovation affects women entrepreneurs and how to make science and technology more responsive to the needs of women. Both topics are closely related to the theme of this panel.
There is growing acceptance that innovation is key to the performance of small and medium-sized companies. However, until recently innovation has often been narrowly defined and referred to large and often male-dominated industries only. According to our research work, innovation can and does occur in less R&D-intensive sectors and it goes beyond products and processes to also include innovative practices in organizational behaviour and marketing.
Being a high-income country does not necessarily mean offering equal opportunities to men and women entrepreneurs. Indeed, high-income countries have a gap of men versus women entrepreneurship that is similar to that prevailing in the rest of the world. The average percentage of women entrepreneurs versus men entrepreneurs is 41.9% on a global scale, though variations are reported at country and regional levels. Nevertheless, the majority of entrepreneurially active women (54%) in developing countries have not completed a secondary degree. Here more than everywhere else, starting a new business represents an effective and flexible way to empower women and provide an income to their families.
UNCTAD will launch a report on "Applying a Gender Lens to Science, Technology and Innovation" in May, during the 14th annual session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development. The report looks at the key role of women in sustainable development through a detailed analysis of the agriculture, water, transport and energy sectors. It highlights the importance for the development and diffusion of more gender-responsive technologies on the one hand, and the need to support women in science, technology, and engineering education, careers and leadership, on the other. The report contains a number of good practice cases from around the world on how gender concerns are taken into account in policy formulation, development, implementation and follow-up.
I should like to draw your attention to two of the many activities and products that UNCTAD is currently providing in the field of trade and gender.
First, UNCTAD has taken the role of Task Manager of the United Nations Inter-agency Task Force on Gender and Trade. We have spearheaded the development of a Resource Paper on Gender Equality and Trade Policy, which reflects the collective views of the UN system on the issue, with the view to enhancing policymakers´ understanding of how to ensure that men and women equally benefit from trade. Copies of the Resource paper are available at the back of the room.
Second, UNCTAD is supporting specific developing countries, including some least developed countries, in their efforts to make their trade policies more gender-sensitive and to render the benefits of development-oriented trade policies more inclusive. In this framework, we are conducting a series of country case studies.
Finally, through its Empretec programme, UNCTAD promotes entrepreneurship amongst women in developing countries, including some least developed ones. As its spin-off, the Women in Business Award has been granted every second year to women, trained by Empretec, who have excelled in developing innovative business ideas, providing jobs and increasing income to their communities. Both the programme and the award have had a very real impact on the lives of recipients, their access to education and resources, and their motivation to continue developing their enterprises. It is important that science, technology and innovation policies, which States use as an instrument for developing national innovative capacity, take into account and address the specific constraints that women entrepreneurs face, and actively support their contributions to national development.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Two facets of the overall debate on women, science, technology and innovation seem particularly relevant to me and you may wish to share your thoughts and experience with those in today´s event, namely: First, the role that the enhanced access to science, technology and innovation for women and girls plays on the economic growth of developing countries, especially the least developed countries; and second, the policy mechanisms that need to be put in place to make it happen.
As you may know, UNCTAD has started preparing for its XIII Ministerial Conference to be held in Doha, Qatar in April 2012. The conclusions emerging from our event today will provide a broad set of ideas and suggestions to be used as input to the Ministerial Conference. Science, technology and gender-related issues are expected to feature high on the agenda of that Conference.
I look forward to a rich exchange of views on these topics which will, I trust, prove useful and inspiring for our future work. Let me conclude by congratulating all women in this room on their achievements and on how they help other women throughout the world.
I thank you for your attention and wish a happy Women´s Day to all of you.