• English

TroNett Conference, Trondheim, Norway
25-27 August 2005
Opening statement by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová,
Executive Secretary UNECE

It is a great pleasure and honour to address the TroNett Conference on Leadership and Global Responsibility. I would like to thank TroNett for the invitation and congratulate the organizers of this event for the focus of the conference as well as the excellent organization and warm welcome.

The focus of the conference – Global Working Life, Leadership and Innovation in the 21st Century – is very timely in the context of addressing the major challenges in the economic and social fields. That is to manage globalization in a way that allows all countries and people to benefit from it, to achieve growth, social development and environmental sustainability. That is to make globalization fair and human-friendly.

The United Nations has consistently addressed this challenge and UN global conferences have formulated a set of policy directions. Member states have made a number of commitments, such as those embodied in the Copenhagen Declaration (1995), the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), the Millennium Declaration (2000), the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development (2002) and the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development (2002).

Gender equality has become an integral part of policy directions and global commitments. More discussion is, however, needed on how to mainstream gender concerns into a new development model and what women’s contribution could be to this process. The present Conference is an important step towards reaching this objective.

Let me focus on challenges for women in the economy in reference to key characteristics of the new development model. And share with you my views on what could be the role of women in different positions in the economy – as participants in the democratic process, in academia and in working life as owners, board members and employees.

What is a new model of development like?

Managing globalization requires a new model of development for the post-industrial era, which is based on global competition, progress in information technologies and a move towards knowledge – based on economy on one side, and on the other side on social cohesion and environmental sustainability. Investment in human capital – that is in education, health and adequate social protection – is central to a new model. This approach has long been advocated by the Human Development Reports prepared by the UNDP in cooperation with all UN agencies.

Investments in human capital are a goal in themselves from the perspective of promoting the democratization process and human rights. Investments in human capital, however, are also necessary to improve competitiveness and flexibility of national economies and maintaining social cohesion at the same time.

The new model of development implies changes at policy level in order to combine welfare and environmental concerns with higher efficiency. The process of changes has already begun in many West European countries including the EU Member States as reflected by the Lisbon Strategy and measures to improve the competitiveness of EU countries as well as reforms of the European social model. Similarly, countries in Eastern Europe and the CIS countries have undertaken programmes to restructure their economies and reform their welfare systems. In this context, however, many reforms of the welfare system particularly in Eastern Europe and the CIS, underestimate the need to invest in human capital and ensure social cohesion.

The gradual transformation to a new model of development pays off as shown by the performance of the Nordic type welfare states. Denmark, Finland and Sweden ranked as top performers in western Europe by economic indicators – growth, productivity and employment – and by the competitiveness index of the World Economic Forum. At the same time they are countries with advanced protection of environment and social cohesion.

These countries adopted a similar strategy based on three pillars: (i) restoring profitability and fiscal prudence; (ii) fine-tuning welfare states and liberalizing work and product markets, and (iii) investing in future growth focused on quality education, information technology, and which is environmentally friendly. Such a strategy requires a high degree of state intervention but also building new partnerships with the private sector, individuals and civil society.

Success depends largely on a careful mix of economic and social policies. Let me explain what I mean. Increased mobility between jobs requires measures to ensure security to individuals and helping them to find new jobs (such as through training and ensuring income during the time between jobs). This system, often called “flexicurity”, builds on a broad concept of active labour market policies and is a key component of a new development model.

True, moving towards a new model involves often difficult choices in the short-term and especially in countries with constraints on public finance, such as the new EU Member States, SEE countries and CIS countries, many of which are heavily indebted. We should be clear, however, that this is the only way to match global competition and ensure prosperity and social cohesion.

We should see the change as a process which reaches beyond the traditional ways of thinking (1) in terms of conflicts between the “economic” and “social” side of development and (2) “state” versus “market “ roles. We should use democratic procedures to build new partnerships among all stakeholders and reach policy consensus on national priorities. We should also be open to adjusting institutions, rules and regulations at national but also at regional and global levels.

A few words on a challenge for gender mainstreaming

One of the important aspects of a new model is gender equality. Women are central to economy and the ability to compete at global level. The increase of women’s employment is one of the goals of the European Employment Strategy (EES) for EU countries. In many countries women are the only source of new (additional) labour (except migration). They are well educated, entrepreneurial and ready for lifetime learning and flexible work contracts. Mobilizing women’s untapped potential will boost economic growth in the EU and across the UNECE region. This is an important message also for countries in Eastern Europe and the CIS, where women’s position in the labour market declined with cuts in employment, rise of traditional views and de facto discrimination especially by the private sector.

Gender perspective is also essential for welfare reforms and improvements in income distribution. This has to be seen in the context of declining fertility and ageing in most European countries. Recognizing women’s unpaid caring work in pension reforms and other social provisions will help to reconcile employment with raising a family. It will have positive effects on women’s participation in the labour market but also on social cohesion as women are at higher risk of poverty and social exclusion in all countries in the UNECE region.

Finally, gender equality is essential to building new partnerships between the Government and other stakeholders – private sector and civil society – to implement a new development model. This involves redefining responsibilities of all stakeholders and channels for cooperation and reaching consensus, such as through the process of social dialogue. As women are under-represented as stakeholders (except for some civil society organizations) this process has a strong negative gender bias.

Mainstreaming gender into a new model of development is a true challenge for all countries in the UNECE region despite a different mix of priorities in sub-regions and individual countries. This challenge has to be seen in the context of a very slow progress of gender sensitive reforms of market institutions and a current shift to neo-liberal economic policies in many countries.

The case of transition economies demonstrates that a setback in women’s position in the economy is a common “side-effect” of neo-liberal reforms, particularly within the framework of privatization of health care, pensions and education as a main drive of the welfare reform, cuts in public provisions and other austerity measures. These kinds of reforms affect women disproportionately as they are penalized for their unpaid care work, or low paid work in sectors like education, healthcare, etc. It also shows that growth revival, which has taken place in many of these countries, including countries in central Asia, has not translated into progress in gender equality.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a strong advocate for changing the role of women from the target of gender sensitive development to a role of women as a driving force of development and particularly of a new model of development adequate for the beginning of the 21st century.

What can women do to promote a new model?

The women’s contribution to promoting a new model of development is largely defined by their position in different fields of their involvement: in academia, in the private sector as leaders, as employees and as policy makers at international, national and local levels and NGO leaders.


There are a growing number of women economists within academia. Women economists should promote research to provide arguments why mainstreaming gender into economic policies is a “right” policy choice. Women economists have already contributed to conceptualizing the links between gender equality and economic policies, which have been traditionally considered as gender neutral. More work in this area, however, is needed to provide an analysis based on gender disaggregated data in such areas as employment, gender implications of fiscal policies, gender aspects of pension reforms and policy implications of ageing.

There is experience in academic research which shows that team work and research networks of women and men - experts in economic and social policy - bring good results. The International Association of Feminist Economists is one such example. The Association has Prof. Amartya Sen, as its founder, a worldwide network of economists and an academic journal which publishes research results.

Women leaders in the private sector

Women play an increasingly important role in the private sector as entrepreneurs and employers and as members of boards of directors. In the US between 1997 and 2004 women-run companies grew at nearly twice the rate of all privately held firms. Similar trends are seen in Canada and most countries in Europe.

At the top of the corporate world women are still few. In the US less than 8% of its top managers are women. And not a single woman appears in Fortune magazine this June among the 25 highest paid CEOs in Europe.

Women, however, move up to the director level as companies see the promotion of women not only as a moral issue but a decision which makes the business case for diversity. Norway is leading the way in opening the door to women in the corporate world with over 20 % share of female directors. (The Economist 23 July 2005).

Women in the private sector should lead the process of promoting business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR). This means promoting a stakeholder approach to business versus a shareholder model, establishing principles and procedures for addressing labour standards for supplies, environmental reporting and human rights within a company. But also defining a company’s external policy towards social problems and emergencies (such as Novartis contributing antibiotics free of charge to the victims of the tsunami). This relates also to medium-sized and even smaller enterprises, which could make a difference at national or local levels.

Women at the top of business world have most chances to change corporate culture and behaviours. They could use arguments that these changes would improve not only social cohesion within the company but also the company’s efficiency and market value as reflected in the rising investments in socially responsible mutual funds. They should also provide role models for other women.

Women as employees

Looking from a longer term perspective women’s participation rates in the labour market have substantially increased throughout Europe and other countries of the UNECE region. Women’s jobs, however, tend to be clustered at the lower end of the labour market, including part-time jobs and informal sector jobs.

Women employees should have a stronger voice on how to establish more effective policies to improve women’s access to better jobs, eliminate the gender wage gap, remove discriminatory barriers in career development (“glass ceiling”), improve access to life-long learning and encourage women to choose a more technical profile for their education.

The fact that women are dominating the segment of part-time and other jobs with atypical work contracts, places them in a good position to push for decent work conditions for these jobs – that is, adequate social benefits but also mobility between part-time and regular jobs. Women employees should thus be at the forefront in discussion with policymakers on how to increase the flexibility of the labour market and use it as a factor of growth and social cohesion. So far, women in part-time jobs and other atypical work contracts, are the losers – in most countries they are underpaid and have no or few social benefits, which increases their risk of poverty.

Women as economic decision-makers

Progress made by Norway and other Nordic countries in bringing women into decision- making positions in Government is impressive. However, Governments in most countries still have few women ministers. As members of Government women have been traditionally responsible for social ministries, such as health, education or social protection. Though social ministries are important for promoting a new development model their bargaining power vis-à-vis economic ministries, such as finance and economy, is usually limited.

There is thus not only the need to increase the number of women in Governments but also the number of women in decision-making positions in economic ministries. They should ensure that there is dialogue and efficient communication channels between economic and social ministries. This could be done through promoting the concept of gender budgets as well as taking into consideration gender implications of pension reforms.

The good news is that it is not only in the Nordic countries that women are more frequently seen at top positions in economic ministries, which decide on how Government raises and spends money. The structure of these expenditures matters to make social spending a factor of economic growth and not a burden. These women could thus greatly contribute to the change.

Parliamentarians and NGO leaders

Women’s share in parliament is consistently high in all Nordic countries and some countries in Western Europe. Progress in many countries, however, is uneven and varies over election periods.

Again women have traditionally been involved in the social side of the work of national parliaments and their presence in budget committees has been limited. This pattern is changing and more women parliamentarians are actively involved in economic discussions and the implications of economic decisions on social policies.

Women as NGO leaders have been the driving force in putting on the political agenda concerns and issues related to a new development model and mainstreaming gender into concrete actions. An important role is played by international networks of NGOs, such as the European Women’s Lobby, but also the Beijing process led by the UN at global and regional levels.

However NGOs, which focus on economic aspects of gender equality, are in the minority as compared with those involved in human rights activities, advocacy and promoting institutional progress. More NGOs oriented to economics would facilitate the process of advocacy for the “right” policy agenda in the area of economics.

Women at international levels

The commitment of women at international level to promote a gender sensitive development model is especially important as such model has to be supported by global institutions and the global rules of the game. These women could initiate work on new concepts and policies, such as in the case of global public goods or new global governance. This do relates to senior women in the UN system but also in WTO and international financial institutions at global level, such as IMF and the World Bank, and also at regional levels, such as EU and EBRD.

As in other areas, women at top level as heads or senior officials within international organizations are few. This is despite efforts to promote equal opportunity at the UN and all international organizations.

In the United Nations, women now represent around 22 per cent of all directors (D-1 and above). Some head such important UN agencies as the Commission for Human Rights, UNFPS and UNIFEM. There are also two women Executive Secretaries out of the five regional commissions (ESCWA and UNECE). The United Nations is committed to progress both in moving women to the top and mainstreaming gender into its work programme. These efforts are coordinated by the Inter-agency network grouping gender focal points for all organizations headed by the Special Adviser on Gender to the United Nations Secretary-General. The network has various working groups including that on MDG.

While the number of women at top levels in the United Nations is not satisfactory, the situation in other international organizations and IFI, like WTO, the World Bank, IMF, etc., is more disappointing.

To conclude:

  • I believe that we are at a turning point in developing new ideas, implementing policies and actions to establish a new gender sensitive development model. We have to clearly conceptualize a new model of development and make it work in specific country conditions.
  • Women should take a lead in promoting such a model and “right” policy choices. They need to be well prepared and engage in solutions which would combine economic efficiency with social cohesion and solidarity.
  • This requires coordinated progress on many fronts –academia, employers and private sector, employees and decision-makers both at the level of central and local governments, parliamentarians and civil society. Such coordination needs vertical and horizontal networks.
  • More than ever the role of international cooperation among women working at local, national, regional and global levels is necessary as the world has become “a global village” and all countries are closely inter-connected.

Let me wish you success in your discussions and say that I will be looking forward to the results to incorporate them into our work at UNECE.