Opening Remarks at Asia-Pacific High-level Meeting for CSW 62

Delivered at Asia-Pacific High-level Meeting for CSW 62 in Bangkok, Thailand

Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls

Distinguished Delegates,

Welcome to this Asia-Pacific High-level Meeting in preparation of the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women - focused on the “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls”.

The rural or urban divide is one of the most enduring in our society1. Where people are born and live determines lifelong opportunities and employment prospects. It is closely linked to the degree to which people are vulnerable or at risk of poverty. In Asia and the Pacific, over 50 per cent of the population lives in rural areas. An estimated 40 per cent of the rural population from developing countries live in multidimensional poverty2. In rural areas, women are especially disadvantaged. They take responsibility for an increasing share of subsistence work and income generation, and face structural barriers which prevent them from achieving their full potential as agents of change: powering sustainable development.

The Asia-Pacific region is experiencing an unprecedented pace of structural change on demographic, economic and technological fronts which has implications for inequalities both across and within countries. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development should be a stabilizing force. But its commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ during the development journey can only be met by advancing women’s economic empowerment. Women reinvest up to 90 per cent of their income in their families and communities, compared to men’s 30 to 40 per cent. So the difference the empowerment of women in rural areas could make is real.

Let me focus on four key issues.

First, the intersections between gender and the environment are pivotal to advancing the empowerment of rural women and girls. In Asia and the Pacific, the livelihoods of a sizable proportion of the women in rural areas are tied to the use of the environment. Nearly 58 per cent of economically active women in the region work in the agriculture sector. Women constitute 54 per cent of the labour force in small-scale inland fisheries.3 More than 80 per cent of rural households in the region use biomass for fuel, compared with only 25 per cent of urban households. This means women operate in complex and stressful environments. ESCAP’s analysis, set out in our recent publication Gender, Environment and Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific, underlines the importance of enacting gender-sensitive policies responding to women’s concerns linked to their interactions with their environment.

Second, we must foster an enabling environment for women entrepreneurship. There is encouraging evidence emerging from our region about women’s engagement in the development and dissemination of decentralized renewable energy technologies, including solar home systems and lanterns, improved cookstoves and the management of community off-grid systems. We should see whether this can be replicated across the region.

ESCAP’s research on women’s entrepreneurship in ASEAN shows greater access to innovative technologies and creative approaches to making finance available to women are essential to create an enabling environment for aspiring entrepreneurs4. These could in turn support the development of other aspects of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, such as education and training, access to business support and networks.

Third, we need to account for the dynamics of rural-urban migration in policies to empower women in rural areas. Rural - urban migration can diversify the income sources for rural households. But demographic changes point to an increasingly vulnerable rural population with a larger proportion of women and ageing farmers who face risks associated with climate change, natural disasters and environmental degradation. Feminization of agricultural labour force in our region is an effect of male rural outmigration. Women now manage areas of farming previously the preserve of men, but regrettably at lower remuneration. Limited access to productive resources and bargaining power puts these women at a disadvantage. In response, we need clear sighted policies which respond to these challenges and promote women’s access to credit and technology.

Fourth, stronger normative and legal frameworks are vital. A whole-of-government approach is required to mainstream the relevant policies to empower women and girls. Actions to advance gender mainstreaming include establishing gender targets and indicators within specific sectors, along with gender-responsive budgeting to support equitable distribution of resources. Legislative and administrative attention is required to tackle urgent issues such as violence against women and land tenure security. We need to establish partnerships to promote inclusive dialogue and multi-stakeholder engagement in policy development, implementation and monitoring. Macroeconomic frameworks and trade agreements need to be reviewed, with a focus on its impact on women and girls in rural areas.
Distinguished delegates,

Without concerted effort and concrete actions, we risk leaving rural women and girls behind. Development which does not empower rural women and girls is antithetical to the rights-based approach enshrined in the 2030 Agenda. We must work together to create an enabling environment which supports women and girls in rural areas of Asia and the Pacific, to unfold their full potential as powerful agents of change.

This high-level meeting serves as a platform to share knowledge, identify policy actions and recommendations to advance gender equality and empowerment of rural women and girls. Through this, we hope that regional perspectives can be agreed and brought forward to the global deliberations at the Commission on the Status of Women. I am pleased to see government officials from 19 countries, as well as many CSOs represented today. Let me thank UN Women, FAO and WFP Regional Office for Asia & the Pacific for co-organizing this meeting. I look forward to hearing the outcome of your discussions.