Remarks by Angel Gurría, Secretary General of the OECD, 4 April 2014, Paris, France
(As prepared for delivery)
President Samba-Panza, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to participate in this conclusion of the Global Forum on Public Governance: Women’s Leadership in Public Life.
This event, which builds on President Bachelet’s call as the Executive Director of UN Women during the 2012 Ministerial Council Meeting to advance gender equality in the public sector, has attracted the attention of many global female leaders that serve as fantastic examples of what is possible.
President Samba-Panza - as the first female leader of the Central African Republican - is part of that exceptional group of people. She is also the first African female leader to participate in our OECD Leaders Programme, which brings heads of state and government to the OECD to discuss their policy priorities.
We have also had a chance to hear, via video, from some remarkable leaders - Chancellor Merkel, President Bachelet and President Chinchilla. These women have amazing expertise and experience that can help advance our work on a topic that is of crucial to the public sector.
Gender Equality is Crucial for Sound Governance
Empowering and encouraging women to participate more fully in the public sphere is essential. Gender diversity in public institutions – such as parliaments, executives and courts – is particularly crucial, given that these institutions make decisions and create rules that affect people’s rights, behaviours and life choices.
Ensuring that decision-making bodies reflect the diversity of the societies they represent guarantees a balanced perspective in designing and implementing these rules, and enables an inclusive approach to policy making and service delivery.
Our new path-breaking publication, which we released this week on “Women, Government and Policy-Making in OECD countries: Fostering Diversity for Inclusive Growth” shows that there are lower levels of inequality in countries with a greater share of women in legislatures. It also highlights a positive relationship between women ministers and confidence in national governments. We also show that the increased presence of women cabinet ministers is associated with a rise in public health spending across many countries. This is particularly important, as our governments struggle to recover trust after 6 years of a mostly man made crisis.
Yet, women are still significantly underrepresented in public life. On average, women represent less than one-third of decision-making posts in all branches of power in OECD countries. In 2012, women held 27% of seats in houses of parliament, 25% of ministerial positions, 29% of top public sector management positions and 27% of judicial posts.
These disappointing findings ring true all across the OECD. Although there are differences in capacities and policy frameworks among countries, there are no stars or low performers. So we need to answer this question: what is preventing our women from stepping forward?
Significant Obstacles Divert Women from Political Leadership Roles
There are still major structural, legal and social barriers to women’s empowerment in public life. For example, women lack opportunities to gain visibility in their communities – which is central to opening doors in the public sphere. As one parliamentarian shared with us, “having the opportunity to be visible through your work and participate in radio and television debates is crucial for becoming an MP.”
Professional demands, coupled with uneven work-life balance arrangements, might also make it especially hard for women to be active in economic and political life during their childbearing and childrearing years. In most countries, the working hours of parliamentarians are difficult to predict and voting times are not known in advance, making it difficult to organise one’s private life.
Women also face a lack of political encouragement. A US study which surveyed more than 2100 college students between the ages of 18 and 25 showed young women are less likely than young men to receive encouragement to run for office – from anyone.
What Can Be Done to Address these Challenges?
To empower women and fully leverage their skills in the global economy, we need to advance the use of gender impact assessments for all policies and laws. We also need to improve our institutions to ensure they have robust accountability mechanisms; create clearly defined roles for implementing a gender equality agenda; and widen the spectrum of areas for which we disaggregate data by gender. This will be important to ensure we have robust evidence to measure progress on gender equality.
A whole-of-government approach is crucial to advancing the role of women in government. Holistic policy making will not only help bring more women in the public light, but will ensure that gender considerations are more systematically embedded in all policies - from access to financing, to improving the work life balance, to education and to entrepreneurship.
We also need to consider the impact of current initiatives, such as gender-responsive budgeting, and broaden the focus of our work to consider challenges and opportunities of women’s participation in all aspects of public life.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The OECD is contributing to the worldwide effort to advance gender equality by helping to feed and stir the public policy debate and generate benchmarks that our member countries may adopt. The rich ideas generated during the Gender Forum will strengthen our ability to identify good practices, build databases and provide opportunities for policy dialogue on the global and regional levels, such as the MENA-OECD Women in Government Platform.
The forum also will provide an excellent foundation for the OECD Guidelines on Gender Equality in Public Life, to be released in 2015, which is also expected to support the G20’s work on gender equality.
We look forward to creating a world in which gender equality and diversity is the standard. As Susan B. Anthony, a pioneer of women’s rights in the United States in the 1800s, once said, “there never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws.”