Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


August 27, 2018 - Washington, DC

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Women’s equality and empowerment are essential to inclusive and sustainable development. At the OAS we work to ensure “More rights for more people,” and ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls is not only a development imperative, but a basic human right.


• My speech will refer to the financial empowerment of women. These and other rights, as are expressed in the agenda of the CIM, have been and are a substantial part of our commitment to democracy and democratization in the Hemisphere.

• Allow me to begin by welcoming our guests, Mr. Ray Washburne, President and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and Ms. Ivanka Trump, Senior Adviser to the White House, who have joined us today to speak about “Financial Empowerment of Women for the Sustainable Social and Economic Development of the Americas.”

• Within the past two decades our region has made great strides in strengthening the legal framework of women’s rights and gender equality, in fact, Latin America and the Caribbean are recognized for having some of the strongest legal protection frameworks for women and girls in the world.

• We also seen breakthroughs in reducing inequality, which allowed the Latin American and Caribbean region to see progress in women’s economic empowerment. In fact, women’s active and diverse economic participation was one of the main sources of protection for the region during the global economic and financial crisis of 2008. According to the World Bank, were it not for women’s work, the poverty rate in Latin America and the Caribbean would be 28% higher.

• Nonetheless, we must acknowledge that there are still challenges and structural inequalities that must be addressed:

o Reports from the UN and others indicate that while millions across the region emerged from poverty, women have benefitted less from this reduction and continue to make up the majority of the poor.

o Similarly, the participation of women in the labor force is 26 percentage points lower than that of men, while women’s unemployment is 50% higher than men’s, and women’s formal employment is more sensitive to economic instability.

o Women face a gender pay gap of 19%.This despite the fact that for more than a decade, women have been the majority of students in formal education at all levels.
o Approximately 60% of women in Latin America and the Caribbean work in the informal economy, where they have limited rights and very little security.

o Women also remain significantly underrepresented within innovation ecosystems and as entrepreneurs, they are less likely to receive start-up funding, more likely to use their own credit, take out home equity loans in their own names, or rely on informal familial loans. Thus, women worldwide face a US$320 billion shortfall in access to credit, while women in Latin America face the largest credit gap globally.

o Women are still almost exclusively responsible for unpaid domestic and care-giving work, which is the single biggest obstacle to their equal participation in paid employment. In addition, the lack of benefits like paid parental leave, flexible working arrangements, and child care can exacerbate these difficulties.

o These gender inequalities are even more pronounced for Afro-descendant and indigenous women owing to the intersection of socioeconomic, geographic, ethnic and racial inequalities.

• In response to these challenges, member states have made a number of national, regional and international commitments in relation to gender equality and women’s rights, including the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

• The OAS has long recognized the importance of advocating and ensuring that women’s voices are heard in our discourse. The Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM), established in 1928, was the first inter-governmental body created expressly to ensure the recognition of women's human rights.

• Through the Inter-American Program on the Promotion of Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equity and Equality and the Commission’s 2016-2021 Strategic Plan, the CIM is guiding the work of the Organization on sustainable economic development. This includes advancing women’s economic citizenship and increasing their economic security through equal access to the resources and benefits of the economic and social policies adopted by Governments. In particular, the CIM focuses on ensuring recognition and valuation of women’s unpaid domestic and care-giving working, and encouraging the joint responsibility of women, men and the State for this work. It is a full rights agenda.

• Within this context, we laud the work of the Americas Competitiveness Exchange, which is designed to expose participants to innovation clusters in various industries and provide a networking forum for key decision makers from the public, private and academic sectors across the region. This program, which has actively promoted gender equality and fostered awareness of the value of inclusive entrepreneurship, has seen a steady increase in the participation of women.

• If we want to talk about financial empowerment of women, we need to talk first about empowerment of women.

• Unfortunately, we live in a world that it seems to be by default more open and friendlier to men. Women and girls must try harder to assert themselves in productive societies. We drag cultural barriers that do not allow for gender equality in practice, for effective access to all rights, and to all peoples.

• Chauvinistic behavior and attitudes have no place in our free societies. They are simply unacceptable.
• As a father of three girls, you can be sure I am a feminist Secretary General.

• And I can tell you this: our world would be better if women ruled it. World development needs women empowerment. We cannot aspire to sustainable and economic development if women are not in the centre of it.

• Women and girls must not only lean in, but jump in. We need womanpower, not just manpower, to achieve more sustainable, inclusive, and free societies.

• Simone de Beauvoir said that women are the second sex. I say it is the first. And we all must start acting and making decisions in the public sphere like it is so.
• The OAS will always be a partner, a genuine force that promotes initiatives in favor of equal rights, equal pay, equal access, equal opportunities, equal representation, and equal recognition.

• I look forward to today’s discussion and to the concrete implementation of these initiatives, as we work together towards charting new avenues for the continued progress of the people of the Americas.

• Thank you.