Closing Speech: Innovative Integrated Development Solutions to Advance Women’s Empowerment

Saturday, January 27, 2018
Closing speech by Sarah Knibbs, UN Women Representative

Closing speech by Sarah Knibbs, UN Women Representative

Regional Learning Workshop
Innovative Integrated Development Solutions to Advance Women’s Economic Empowerment
25-26 Jan 2018

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,

On behalf of UN Women and myself, it is an honour and a pleasure to be with you today and to have shared in some of your dialogues and discussions.

I would like to thank Oxfam very much for their initiative in supporting this forum for sharing and exchange between committed advocates and practitioners working to advance women’s rights and situation around the region. While our work may focus on different technical areas I believe we are all united by a belief in the strength and potential of poor women and girls and a commitment to social justice to enable them to use their agency not just to survive and manage, as they do on a daily basis, but to thrive and realise their dreams and hopes.

It is really encouraging to hear from many of you about how your thinking and innovations are built on a respectful understanding of women’s real lives and experiences. For example, finding concrete, practical ways to build trust in a group as our volunteer team demonstrated this morning. It is also very encouraging to hear about how saving group initiatives are a model for meeting women’s real needs, enabling them to make choices and be more resilient to shocks. It is impressive to hear how many of you are making connections between economic empowerment and the very real issues, like control of our own bodies through understanding our sexual and reproductive health, that can be life changing for women.

I believe that we can only hope to promote women’s economic empowerment when we start from this broad perspective and from a deep understanding of the barriers women and girls face. n your presentations many of you have referred to the ways in which social norms about gender can limit women’s opportunities. A good example of this is that all over the world women are typically burdened with several hours of unpaid care work (like cooking, laundry, cleaning and child care) per day. This is in addition to their work outside the home and is considered their responsibility just because they are women. This care work is an invisible part of the economy which we need to count and make visible in order to understand how our economy really works and how it could work differently. n Cambodia, for example, we have very little data on women’s unpaid care work, though there is one estimate suggesting women do around 3 or 4 hours extra work per day. But what we do know is that the rural-urban migration that is fueling economic growth in Cambodia often relies on the unpaid, uncounted work of grandmothers who carry the burden of caring for grandchildren alongside farmwork so that their children can go to work in the city.

Collecting evidence about how social norms act as barriers to women’s empowerment and using it to design our programmes and policies is very important. But I think all of you are well aware that changing these social norms is not quick or easy work because it is about values – what we believe as well as what we think. It is a long uncomfortable struggle that forces us to ask hard questions. And those are not just questions for other people. We often ask a lot of the people we work with – expecting community women to make transformative change. But if we really want to support the people we work with on these journeys of deep change that we have been sharing over the last two days I think we need to also look inside and change the way we behave, because these limiting norms and values live in us too.

closing I would like to thank you all once again for this sharing of expertise and perspectives. It was great to have this opportunity to learn from colleagues from around the region, thank you for your effort to make the journey to Cambodia to take part. UN Women looks forward to continuing opportunities to collaborate with you in our shared work to promote women’s empowerment and gender equality here in Cambodia and around Asia. I wish you safe travels back home and continuing success in your work to support meaningful change for women.

About the workshop: