Gender Equality and Sustainable Infrastructure


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General 

7 March 2019 - Paris, France

(As prepared for delivery)


Madame la Ministre Kaba, Permanent Secretary Arnljótsdóttir, Ambassadors, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to welcome you all to our seminar on Gender Equality and Sustainable Infrastructure. Let me begin by thanking Ms. Nialé Kaba, Minister of Planning and Development of Côte d’Ivoire, and Ms. Ragnhildur Arnljótsdóttir, Permanent Secretary at Prime Minister´s Office of Iceland, for also joining us today.

We live in a new era. Today, infrastructure should not only be sustainable by nature, it should also be gender conscious, by nature. The sustainable-gender infrastructure nexus has become essential for any development strategy and therefore essential for the 2030 Agenda.


Let me remind you why.

Poor quality infrastructure is terrible for our environment

Current energy, transport, building and water infrastructure account for more than 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Poor quality infrastructure contributes to air pollution, lowers water quality and quantity, causes biodiversity loss and the degradation of our ecosystems. Billions of people in many countries, including some advanced economies, have been suffering from chronic underinvestment in infrastructure for decades. The impact of this underinvestment on the environment is colossal.

Today we know that we need to invest in infrastructure close to 95 trillion dollars between 2016 and 2030, that is close to 6.3 trillion dollars per year on average, to meet global development needs. And we will need to invest an additional 0.6 trillion a year over the same period to make these investments climate compatible, in line with the Paris Agreement.
But infrastructure is also essential for gender equality.


Poor quality infrastructure affects gender inclusion

Poor infrastructure has the power to exacerbate the gender gap in many ways. For instance, compared to men, women tend to rely more on public transport, travel shorter distances, and travel more during off-peak hours. Unsafe and low security transports also put women at a disadvantage as they are more affected by violence and this vulnerability affects their well-being and their labour force participation.

When we think of infrastructure we tend to focus on the physical and the visible – the roads and pipe structures we lay, the bridges and buildings we construct. Yet, there are many invisible elements of infrastructure that have implications for gender inclusion, and that are often overlooked.

For example, in low-income countries, women and girls are responsible for over 70% of water and fuelwood collection. The time spent on water collection adds up to 200 million hours every day! Women are also more exposed to household pollution from the use of fuelwood. Inadequate access to sanitation and hygiene facilities also disproportionally affect poor women and girls the most, constraining educational pursuits and putting personal safety at risk.


This needs to change: time for green-gender sensitive infrastructure

Infrastructure has to be green but also gender inclusive. Providing access to clean energy and water would dramatically improve women’s livelihood while protecting the environment. The IEA has estimated that shifting to cost-effective renewable energy solutions, such as small solar panels, would save women an hour a day for not having to collect fuelwood. It would also reduce household air pollution, avoiding premature deaths, and limit carbon emissions.

Another key measure to promote more green and gender sensitive policies and projects is to increase the participation of women in decision-making processes. Better integration of female talent into infrastructure planning, management and policy design should therefore be part of the solution for transformative action.

Much work still needs to be done in this area. Women are under-represented in decision-making positions in all infrastructure sectors. Globally, only 19% of leadership positions in the infrastructure sector are held by women. Women also only make up 18% of staff in infrastructure ministries. Out of the 59 member countries of the International Transport Forum (ITF), only nine countries had female Ministers of Transport in 2018.

We must recognise the role of women as both users and contributors to sustainable infrastructure development, as enshrined in the 2015 OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life and its Toolkit, to enhance women’s equal access to leadership positions.

The OECD is helping

The OECD has been focusing on an integrated policy approach to sustainable infrastructure development to tackle these challenges. One that recognises a gender-sustainable infrastructure nexus.
Let me highlight some of our key contributions:

First, our new report, which will be launched tomorrow, “Fast Forward to Gender Equality in Public Life” outlines the importance of the timely collection and use of gender-disaggregated data and evidence, as well as fully applying gender-sensitive analysis of decision-making levers and government tools – such as regulations, budgets, policies, service delivery and procurement – to advance inclusive policy outcomes.

Second, we have been focusing on frameworks for infrastructure development that can ensure sustainability and integrate gender-specific perspectives. There is a strong potential in using government tools, such as gender-smart procurement and gender budgeting, to enable gender-sensitive infrastructure projects. Through mechanisms, such as the OECD Policy Dialogue on Women’s Economic Empowerment and the DAC Network on Gender Equality (GENDERNET), we must continue to improve investments in sustainable infrastructure to promote women’s economic opportunities in developing countries. As providers of development co-operation, we can do more: on average in 2015-2016, 72% of bilateral donors’ investments in infrastructure programmes were gender-blind.

Third, we have been working to promote women’s participation and leadership in the decision-making process and throughout the value chain of infrastructure projects. In many countries, this means changing laws and norms that still prevent women from entering the infrastructure sector. This year the OECD will also deliver a set of integrated multidisciplinary guidelines promoting sustainable infrastructure with a gender lens. These will build on a whole-of-OECD approach, involving 19 OECD directorates and agencies, and the OECD will continue to engage closely with the G20, G7 and other global fora in this effort.

Last but not least, we are looking at ways to promote gender equality in tandem with and in order to achieve the 2030 Agenda, as part of our new initiative, OECD Gender Policy Platform: Accelerating Gender Mainstreaming, which aims to support and accelerate integration of a gender perspective in all decision- and policy-making processes.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is high time to recognise it. Gender equality and infrastructure have a symbiotic relationship. We must acknowledge this to address the challenges of the transition to sustainable infrastructure. Attention to gender equality would create socially improved and more sustainable infrastructure projects.

Let me conclude with some words by Diane Coyle – “It is just as bad to have mainly male economic research and policy advice as it is to test medicines mainly on men. The results will fail at least half the population”. This applies equally to our work on sustainability.

I look forward to hearing how we can work together, to design, deliver and implement better, more gender-conscious and more sustainable infrastructure policies, for better lives. Thank you.




See also:

OECD work on Gender Equality


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