By Heather Wokusch*
This is the eighth and last in a series of reports on the Vienna UN Conference from January 10-12, 2018, which discussed actions and challenges linked to the Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5) and in the spirit of SDG 17. The Vienna Liaison Office of the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS) organized this Conference co-ordinated by Heather Wokusch. – The Editor
VIENNA (IDN) – Women across the world face discrimination in accessing economic resources. As the resulting disparity hinders a range of development goals, such as reducing poverty and improving the welfare of children, a multidisciplinary conference at the United Nations Vienna recently explored possible solutions.
Cecilia Vera Lagomarsino, Regional Academy on the United Nations (RAUN) Coordinator for Austria, detailed the “deeply entrenched inequality” which persists as a result of discriminatory norms and practices. She noted that “women earn on average only 60 to 75 per cent of men’s wages” and bear “disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work.” When paid and unpaid work are combined, “women in developing countries work more than men, with less time for education, leisure, political participation and self-care.”
A contributing factor is the likelihood of women to work in “vulnerable, low-paid, or undervalued jobs.” According to Lagomarsino, as of 2013 “49.1 per cent of the world’s working women were in vulnerable employment, often unprotected by labor legislation.” Corresponding regional differences are striking. Women are far more likely than men to be in vulnerable employment in “North Africa (54.7 per cent versus 30.2 per cent), the Middle East (33.2 per cent versus 23.7 per cent), and Sub-Saharan Africa (nearly 85.5 per cent versus 70.5 per cent).”
Furthermore, gender discrimination is often legally entrenched. The World Bank estimates that roughly “90 per cent of 143 economies studied have at least one legal difference restricting women’s economic opportunities.”
In this context, Dr. Lucia Mokra of Comenius University discussed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, this international bill of rights for women has been ratified by 189 states. However, as Dr. Mokra noted, even if the treaty were ratified by all countries, it would not necessarily lead to worldwide compliance until the existing State Parties accept all Articles of the Convention.
Dr. Mokra concluded that even with appropriate legislation, the lack of corresponding practitioners means that equal treatment for women is guaranteed only de jure and not de facto.
Since many small businesses are run by women, another challenge is in reducing the legal obstacles faced by micro and small enterprises during their life cycle. At the UN Vienna conference, Jenny Clift, Officer in Charge of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), discussed the simplification of business structures facilitating access to finance and dispute-resolution mechanisms. She stressed the importance of promoting competition among credit providers and diversifying the assets that may be used as security.
Clift added that e-commerce “contributes to diversification and the achievement of more inclusive access to economic, educational and other opportunities.” As such, UNCITRAL’s e-commerce work aims at the “reduction or removal of obstacles facing women and girls with regard to accessing education, business opportunities, credit and justice.”
Gender imbalance in the startup ecosystem is a related challenge. According to Nina Wöss, investment team member at the venture-capital fund Speedinvest, the gender gap “exists not only when it comes to founders, but also regarding investors, institutions granting subsidies and grants, and employees working in those startups and institutions. It is everywhere.”
Wöss adds: “The number of female-founded or co-founded startups rarely surpasses 20%, and the same goes for women working in venture capital.”
As a result, Wöss co-created Female Founders, an organization to support women in entrepreneurship, increase the number of successful companies founded by women, and foster the next generation of female opinion leaders.
To achieve the goal of more equality in the startup ecosystem, Female Founders has framed a call to action based on: network and empowerment, awareness in schools and universities, female investors, and compatibility of family/career.
Clearly, such action areas reflect challenges and opportunities for women not only in startups but also in a variety of economic areas. As a result, tackling economic discrimination against women requires cooperation among civil society, NGOs, academics, business leaders, and the diplomatic community. To this end, the multidisciplinary UN Vienna Conference had clear consensus: undertaking reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources is an imperative for social and economic progress.
*Heather Wokusch authored two books reaching Amazon’s top ten for political activism, and her NYC-based television series has won multiple national awards. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 February 2018]
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