Unlocking the full potential of women in the economy

Anne Hathaway speech for the B20/G20 Indonesia Summit

[Check against delivery]

Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,

It is my privilege to speak to you today as a goodwill ambassador for UN Women.

Women’s participation and equal power is fundamental to progress for everyone. I’m sure you are aware of the evidence which shows conclusively that equality between woman and men makes us all safer, happier, more prosperous, and more successful.

And yet, the reality in which we find ourselves is that at the current rate of progress, it may take another 300 years to achieve gender equality. I hope we all agree that this is three centuries too long.

It is going to take more than hope to get us to a better future. Our current position is far from good. Progress for women and girls is in dramatic reverse in many countries. Rights and freedoms that women and girls had experienced as normal – to work, to learn, to make choices about their bodies – have been abruptly taken away.

Some of those losses have been legislated or imposed by governing authorities against courageous resistance. Others have been brought to light and sharpened by unprecedented global crises such as the Covid 19 pandemic.

The pandemic had a devastating impact on us all, but it hit women especially hard. There was a frightening intensification of domestic violence against women.

Another threat to women’s safety was the seismic loss of economic opportunities.

Millions of women left the workforce in 2020, they lost their jobs at faster rates than men and have stayed out of the job market longer. And now, as fuel and food prices rise globally, amidst the climate emergency and sustained military conflicts, women’s incomes —as well as their contributions to businesses’ success and the recovery of markets — matter even more than ever.

Ironically, the pandemic also showed us just how much our future progress depends on the skills and leadership of women. Women sustained our healthcare systems and invented lifesaving vaccines. As leaders of countries, they gave us some of the most effective responses to the pandemic.

And yet, we show time and time again that we do not equally value women’s participation, contribution, and leadership. This year, in 169 countries and areas (that’s most of the world), women’s labour force participation is expected to stay below pre-pandemic levels.

What can we attribute this to?

Well, it is my regret to share with you that during the pandemic, women did an additional 512 billion hours of unpaid care work at home.

While I let that statistic sink in, I would like to acknowledge the essential importance of care.

Care is fundamental to the basic functioning of our economies and societies, and I’m not suggesting otherwise. In fact, the reality is, everyone will need care at some point in their life.

However, we must also recognize the reality that the current way care is provided and valued is unfair and unsustainable. We must address the cultural biases that automatically label care as “women’s work”.

Even before the pandemic women spent more than three times as many hours as men on unpaid care and domestic work. It was unfair then, it’s worse now. It’s time to admit something is very, very off.

Whether or not we mean to, the fact is, we are taking advantage of women.

Simply put: we must stop penalizing women for caring.

We must stop relying on women to “make it work” and instead proactively make possible, support, and fairly compensate care work.

UN Women has observed that care that’s appreciated and properly valued in all its forms is a critical missing link in unlocking the full potential of women in the economy and in society, which is, of course, the same thing as unlocking the full potential of everyone in the economy and society. Governments, businesses, and civil society can all play a role in this

UN Women would like to propose these practical and immediate actions:

  • Ask governments to support care services.
  • Pay the taxes that fund them.
  • Prioritize the creation of family friendly workplaces which include flexible working hours, paid parental leave, and in house childcare facilities.  

This is a moment when we must urgently act not only to restore what has been lost for women and girls but to end the harmful status quo which keeps inequality thriving.

The stakes simply couldn’t be higher. The world- not just women- needs innovative solutions more than ever. Optimizing inclusivity is our best chance at success.

This esteemed group which I am honoured to address today find themselves tasked with making decisions that shape lives. I urge you to put women at the heart of economic growth and recovery. Be the architects of a better future by doing what no one has effectively done before:

Prioritize women for the good of all.

Thank you. 

In video