Offentliggjort den 11. december 2018.
Dear Minister for Development Corporation, members of the Danish All Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, dear representatives from Danish companies, investors and organisations, ladies and gentlemen.
Firstly, let me say how pleased I am that this conference on women’s health and gender equality in the private sector is taking place. The issues being addressed today are issues I believe to be central to inclusive development and are ones that I have spoken about on numerous occasions both in here Denmark and abroad.
The connection between the labour market, sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality is perhaps, not so obvious to everyone. Similarly, the linkages between health and gender equality are not always adequately emphasised or well understood.
But these issues are closely connected; without good health, it is hard to maintain or do your work well, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman. In many workplaces, women in particular, experience specific health issues that require attention, such as gender based violence, sexual harassment and inadequate access to sanitation, health services and family planning. These issues present significant barriers, especially for women’s possibility to participate equally in the labour market.
So why is this conference important? It is important, because women’s health and gender equality is under pressure in many countries around the world.
Globally, one out of three women have been a victim of physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives, including at work, and 214 million women who want, do not have access to contraception.
This means for many women that they experience discrimination and insecurity when they go to work, and that they and their partners have no free choice in relation to sexual and reproductive health. When a woman cannot decide for herself if, when and how many children she wants, and when she at the same time spends, on average, three times as many hours caring for her children and the home compared to men, she simply has less time and fewer possibilities to work and to look after her own health.
Over the past years, we have seen that gender equality in the labour market is sliding backwards. According to the World Economic Forum the global gap between men and women’s income is growing, in part as a result of women’s much higher share of unpaid household work and positions with lower pay. The result being that in 2017, we were still 217 years from reaching gender equality in the labour market.
One of the biggest challenges to the health of women and men and gender equality in the workplace, especially in low- and middle-income countries, is outdated social gender norms and discriminatory gender stereotypes that uphold the perception of women being housewives and men as active participants in the labour force. These social norms, limit women’s access to the labour market and to economic assets, and they shape girls’ and women’s choice of education and career.
At the same time, they can restrict men’s opportunity to be involved in the home, because they are expected to be the primary source of income in many cultures. Greater gender equality is linked to a higher level of education and better health, higher per capita income, stronger international competitiveness and more inclusive and rapid economic growth.
Sustainable growth cannot be achieved if half of the world’s population is denied equal access to quality education, health services and information, economic and political participation and this is, of course, also true regarding equal opportunities for employment, leadership and decision-making at all levels.
Globally, the importance of women’s health and gender equality is recognised in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. SDG 3 and 5 place a special emphasis on women’s health and gender equality with indicators such as maternal and sexual health and family planning.
The indicators for SDG 5 include equal access to economic resources, leadership positions and reproductive health and rights and prioritise valuing and dividing the care burden more equally. It is important to recognize that the Sustainable Development Goals do not work in isolation: investments in SDG 3 and 5 are important steps to realising the remaining Goals, not least SDG 8 on access to decent work.
As an example, enhanced employee health and gender equality in the labour market will ensure that more people have access to work and a way out of poverty, which in turn will reduce inequality. The extra income to the family is spent, especially by women, primarily on food, health services and education for the family, as well as investments in more stable local communities.
It is clear that gender equality is one of the most important driving forces behind economic growth and the fight against poverty.
As companies and investors, you have an important role in contributing to the progress towards greater gender equality. You see, women and men’s right to health and the principle of gender equality are anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which companies also have a responsibility - and an interest in – observing.
You also have the potential to influence and support many women in your operations – be it employees, entrepreneurs, business owners and in the local societies in which you operate. There are many opportunities for the private sector when it comes to working with health and gender equality.
Companies can introduce new initiatives in the workplace and in local communities, which address the challenges faced by women, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.
- minimising the impact of unconscious biases which can lead to more women being hired for traditionally male-dominated positions,
- by supporting women and men’s knowledge about and access to contraception and basic health services and
- by addressing sexual harassment and gender-based violence against women in the workplace.
It could also be initiatives that enhance employees’ awareness of gender bias or encourage women and men to share responsibilities in the home, through company policy or practice.
In addition, the role of men as a part of the solution is critical to achieving progress and companies should consider this in their approach. Because, if we do not include men in this agenda, we will not make it very far. Not least because men have a unique opportunity to use their resources and positions within society to shift the balance.
Equally, investors also have many exciting opportunities to support efforts to promote health and gender equality. One such opportunity is the relatively new concept of gender lens – or gender smart – investing.
It is an approach to investing, which has a clear focus on gender equality and women’s access to financing and leadership in investment decisions. This is both a tremendous gain for women, whose opportunity to invest in and finance projects will be strengthened, and for those employees that benefit from investments in enhanced health and gender equality. Thereby, generating meaningful social change.
Notably, investments in women’s health and gender equality produce positive returns, whether you are a company or an investor. When employees are healthy, feel safe and satisfied at work, they are more productive and committed to working for the company in the long term.
More female employees, female high-level managers and supervisors enhance the diversity in companies and among investors, and this results in a higher degree of innovation and risk management – and in better investments.
Research shows that the increase of women in leadership is helping businesses to thrive in unprecedented ways. At the societal level, investments in women’s health is an important catalyst for women to achieve a higher level of gender equality in the labour market and contribute to sustainable economic and social development. A higher level of health among women and equality between the sexes has the potential to create some of the biggest opportunities of our time.
It is people who create success; through their drive, vision and courage to be frontrunners and to shape a better future. People like all of you.
We are gathered here today to discuss solutions to the challenges women, businesses and society face and to help shape that future.
Despite remaining challenges, Denmark continues to be a strong role model with competencies to move this agenda forward. And this obligates us to keep pushing the agenda, looking to new and innovative solutions and partnerships to achieve the progress we want to see.
And I hope that this conference will contribute to that.