Promoting gender equality in the G7 and beyond: education, employment and entrepreneurship


Speech by Angel Gurría

Secretary-General, OECD

G7 Forum for Dialogue with Women

Berlin, 16 September 2015

(As prepared for delivery)



Chancellor Merkel, President Johnson-Sirleaf,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,


Federal Chancellor Merkel, I want to thank you for your leadership in promoting gender equality by convening this Dialogue Forum with the women who make a difference in our lives, in our economies, in science, in technology, in the media and, thus, in our societies as a whole. Meetings like this one help to portray the desirable “new role models” and to denounce and destroy “stereotypes” which are one of the major hurdles in gender equality.


2015 is the year in which we aim to develop a new architecture for financing development for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to build, during COP 21 in Paris, a new framework to tackle climate change. In all these arenas, decisive action for women’s rights and enhanced gender equality can play a crucial role. Ban Ki Moon said it was the most important year for the UN and I believe this also applies to outcomes concerning women.


We also have a pressing responsibility to address shorter-term issues like the one we are seeing unfolding today, with the refugees from Syria and other countries seeking a peaceful, secure and prosperous life in Europe. We have already made public our support for Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande’s initiative in confronting this challenge. These are issues which affect women the most. Integration depends critically on women integrating successfully in host countries.


Women are overrepresented among the poor and represent a significant part of the world’s refugees. As such, they are particularly vulnerable: to the terrible consequences of war and civil strife, as well as to environmental disasters, resulting from climate change.


This evening I want to share with you the three “E”s that we think are crucial for women’s empowerment and ‘e’-quality.


The first “E” is equality in education. Women today represent the best educated generation in history. Thus, small wonder that there are more and more women in leading positions, in both the private and public sector.


I am privileged in that sense: My wife is an eye surgeon who dedicated all her career to help poor people with eye problems; she inherited the same vocation to my older daughter, my youngest daughter is working in the UNDP helping groups in developing countries develop both economically and environmentally sound projects and my son is married to a young lady that is working on genomics and genetics research.


At the OECD, for instance, I have a female Deputy Secretary-General, former Finnish Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi, and all my ‘chiefs’ - the Chief of Staff and G20 Sherpa, Gabriela Ramos, as well as the Chief Economist, Catherine Mann, and the Chief Statistician, Martine Durand - are women. So, for me, gender equality is second nature. As it is for the OECD.


We need to do more to unleash women’s full potential. We need to work together to remove all obstacles and put in place the necessary support to ensure that all women and girls can have a chance to be a part of the solution, whether by running a business, caring for a family, acting in governments or even leading countries.


And the most important solution is equal access to education. We need to continue focusing our efforts on keeping girls in school to complete secondary or tertiary education cycles and to drop stereotypes that block them from pursuing careers related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It is also important to provide better access for girls and women to vocational training.


The second “E” is equality in employment. In the OECD area, women still earn between 15% and 40% less than men, for the same tasks and with comparable qualifications. We know that experience on the job, hours worked and occupational choices explain only part of this difference; discrimination against women is part of this distortion too. Women remain under-represented in leadership positions, in both business and public life.


We know that paid leave and childcare are essential to help both parents fulfill their work and family responsibilities. Early childcare is a critical determinant for the success of our 15-year olds – the PISA scores, which carry over into tertiary education. But promoting gender equality is not just about providing women with more opportunities. It is also about changing men’s behaviors. If paid leave is not shared between fathers and mothers, women will continue to do most of the caring. Countries that have targeted paid leave for fathers are successfully encouraging dads to share childcare more fairly with their partners.


As was agreed in the Brisbane G20 Summit, reducing the gender gap in labour force participation in G20 countries by 25 per cent by 2025 will bring more than 100 million women into the labour force, significantly increasing global growth and reducing poverty and inequality.


This initiative started at the OECD. Then the OECD Sherpa for G20 took it to the USA Sherpa and to the Turkish Sherpa and to the Australian Presidency Sherpa (all women) who then convinced a male Sherpa to propose the idea, which they then enthusiastically supported. We are using the same model for reducing youth NEETs by 15%.


The third “E” is e-quality in entrepreneurship. Women-owned businesses are an important engine of economic growth, creating new jobs for themselves and others. Take the United States: in 2014 there were over 9 million women-owned businesses.


But in this domain too, women are a minority: there are about two and a half male-owned businesses for each female-owned one. Even when women own their business, they face greater challenges. Women are less prone to take out bank loans; they spend fewer hours on their start-ups than men in order to accommodate their unpaid vocation: rearing children; and they are less likely to have an education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines, which give start-ups have the best chance of succeeding.


In many developing countries, the legal framework and traditional practices discriminate against women and limit their ability to start a business. We know that laws on ownership, inheritance, succession and divorce still sometimes penalise women. This needs to change.


Policies should also support growth and innovation for women-owned businesses. One obvious step is to improve women’s awareness of business finance tools, encouraging them to join business ‘angel’ networks or venture capital firms. Consider the example of France, which has helped thousands of women obtain loans for their businesses, by establishing a fund that provides guarantees to women entrepreneurs. The experience of the OECD-MENA Women's Business Forum shows that support networks and awareness campaigns for women entrepreneurs also help.


Also, new business models based on Information and Communication Technologies are transforming the way in which people communicate, collaborate and work. The “sharing” and the “gig economy” for example create new opportunities for women and men to leverage what they often already own. They can access new services, including finance, and a larger set of choices, creating new opportunities, including for new ways of work and entrepreneurship. Many individuals value the higher flexibility this presents.


But we need more specific information and tools to help countries track their progress. A GPS on gender equality, where are we; where do we go from here? The work of the G7 and the mandate of the G7 Summit in Schloss Elmau are a great opportunity to advance knowledge on policies to promote women entrepreneurship and monitor progress. And we, at the OECD, stand ready to help by collecting evidence, evaluating policies and measuring progress.


Innovation, investment and aid can be an important lever to support women’s economic empowerment in developing countries. OECD data finds that aid in support of women’s economic empowerment has remained flat since 2008. Many lost opportunities. By the way, none of us likes to go for quotas as first recourse to achieve gender equality, but sometimes it is the only way: Norway, Germany, Mexico are good examples.

As many of us are going to New-York next week to build the new Development Agenda for 2030, gender must be a priority. We will continue to support wider G7 initiatives that aim to tackle this challenge: for example in context of the Deauville Partnership, the OECD is supporting transition countries such as Morocco, Jordan and Egypt to strengthen women’s participation in the design and implementation of policy making.


Dear friends: the G20, the SDGs and the G7 have put women’s economic empowerment on the global agenda. Madame Chancellor, as you said just before the Elmau Summit: “Women can make the world a fairer place. And the G7 can help to reduce poverty and inequality by giving women the chance of secure work.”


Count on the OECD to help you design, develop and implement better gender policies for better lives!


Thank you.