Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now!


Remarks by Angel Gurría, Secretary-General, OECD

Paris, 17 December 2012

Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome you today for the launch of the OECD report “Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now” and the new OECD Gender Data portal. This is the result of a major, and successful, OECD-wide initiative to look at gender equality. We looked at this issue in all its aspects, from education to the boardroom, from pay to entrepreneurship, from childcare to pensions. And the conclusion is clear: there is still a long way to go.

This undertaking shows us where the remaining gaps are, what needs to be done, and what the priorities should be for public policies. Let me express our gratitude to the United States and the European Commission for their strong support and financial contribution. Without them, we could not have achieved such meaningful results.

Gender equality is indeed an imperative, not an option. Closing the gender gap not only makes sense in economic terms, but it also should be a critical ingredient of any strategy for more inclusive growth. The presence of so many high-level policymakers and business women and men shows the importance of this topic.

But this is by no means a new finding. The OECD has been working on gender equality for more than 30 years – yes, you heard me right! The first OECD Declaration on Gender was issued in 1980. It included equal pay, shared responsibility of parents for childcare, equal education opportunities, and an end to gender stereotyping in the classroom and the workplace. Sure, progress has been achieved over the past decades, particularly in the developed countries. Yet, equality remains elusive. Women are not equal in the labour market. They are not equal in entrepreneurship. They are not equal in politics.

Today, young women are leaving school with better qualifications than young men, but before they turn 30, they already earn 10% less. Women are still less likely to work for pay, they tend to work less hours, they have lower hourly wages, and they are concentrated in less well-paid sectors. Women still face high barriers to advance into senior management.

Despite advances in the reconciliation of work and family life, they still do the bulk of unpaid work, and this is the case almost everywhere. Women live longer than men, but they are also more likely to end their lives in poverty. And I could go on and on… recounting the sad facts and figures of gender inequality.

Our report is indeed a wake-up call. But its main goal is to propose policy options to rise to the challenge. Gender inequality has many different roots, including and importantly in social norms and practices, as shown by our SIGI Index. But inequality also stems from flawed policies, economic incentives, laws and regulations. And we can impact and influence policies. This is our raison d’être at the OECD. Our report is thus about solutions, about policy measures that work. They exist and they do make a difference.

Above all, let me first remind you that gender equality is not a “women’s issue”. It is a vital economic and social issue, especially now as we are fighting to exit from the crisis.  Women are indeed not “the” problem, not even “a” problem, they are part of the solution. We found powerful evidence, for example, on how women supported their families by increasing their working hours or entering the labour market when men first started losing jobs.

Looking further into the future, the economic case for gender equality is even more compelling. The world’s population is ageing and this challenge can only be mastered by mobilizing all the talents available. We can no longer afford forsaking the contributions of so many well-educated women. In so many countries they still need to choose between babies and bosses. And not only do they want both, but actually they want to be bosses!

If we look at developing countries, girls are now as likely as boys to be in primary school in most countries. But things change radically during adolescence. Girls often leave school to get married or to care for their families, thus undermining their chances to find employment later in life. To quote former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance”.

In developing and OECD countries alike, entrepreneurship is a key driver of innovation and growth. But in this area too we have found a large gender gap. Far fewer women than men are running their own businesses, and when they choose to do so, it is often because they need the added flexibility that self-employment brings. Women entrepreneurs are better educated than their male counterparts, but they have less managerial experience. Perhaps this is due to the glass ceiling in the workplace which prevents them from getting that experience. There is huge potential here and we need to make the most of it.

So what are we waiting for? There are no more excuses. We have learned over the past 30 years that policy works. Equal access to higher education for women has shown results. Family policies, such as paid maternity leave and affordable childcare, have boosted the number of women in the workforce. And reforms of parental leave have led more fathers taking time off for children in countries like Iceland and Germany.  Employers have a key role to play in helping both mothers and fathers to stay in the workforce. Where governments or business have taken action, women’s representation on company boards has also increased. Such pioneering action must now become the rule rather than the exception.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We know what needs to be done, so let’s get on with it. We cannot afford to wait any longer. You came, sometimes from afar, to share your experience, the best practices, to bring new ideas to the debate. I hope our discussions today will provide you with good policy options to make a difference in your country, your company, your NGO… and also in your family. Let us not forget that change in gender equality begins at home!

But let us not forget either that in still too many places, women remain deprived of basic rights; the right to live, with millions of “missing girls” in Asia; or to live with dignity, denied to the thousands of victims of sexual assault, of slavery as a war tactic, or of forced prostitution; and finally, the right to learn. Let me pay tribute here to all the “Malalas” of the world. With only one small portion of their courage, we could change the world. Let’s do it.

Thank you.


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