Women need greater role in Third World industries to cut poverty: U.N. exec

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Women need to be given a greater role in industries in poorer nations to meet the global goal of cutting poverty by 2030, the head of the United Nations industrial development agency said on Monday after being voted in for a second term.

Li Yong said empowering women will be a priority in his second four-year term as director general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Data show only about half of the world’s women are in the labor force compared to about 75 percent of men, in less senior roles, and earn on average 60 to 75 percent of what men make.

But studies repeatedly show that more women working accelerates economic growth while women also invest more of their income into families to educate children and end poverty.

“We need to look at how you support women’s empowerment and job creation,” Li, formerly of China’s Ministry of Finance, told a news conference at UNIDO’s 17th General Conference in Vienna.

“Lots of projects like agro-industry are related to women’s empowerment … and one part of our evaluation is to look at women’s empowerment, at training, at jobs, all those things that are very concrete measures.”

Li was widely praised in his first term in office for re-establishing UNIDO as an important development organization in the U.N. system with its mission to promote industry as a driver to create jobs, boost prosperity, and reduce poverty globally.

As one of 15 specialized U.N. agencies, some countries had questioned UNIDO’s purpose and effectiveness in reducing poverty, with some nations withdrawing funding including Britain, the United States, Australia, Canada and France.

Representatives of member states, however, said Li had changed the focus to help developing countries find ways to build sustainable, environmentally friendly businesses using fewer resources, less energy and generating less waste.

He also encouraged public and private and local and international partnerships, with examples of UNIDO’s 860 or so projects underway including setting up agro-industrial parks and introducing clean tanning technology to Indian leather.

“We set an agenda,” said Li, acknowledging that member states had wanted more international visibility for UNIDO.

“We increased delivery and the evaluation,” he said, adding that this had attracted more funding from various sources.

One of the U.N.’s latest global goals — the Sustainable Development Goals — acknowledges industrialization as a key driver of sustained economic sustainability and prosperity.

Li said poverty, employment and hunger remained major challenges, exacerbated by climate change, resource depletion, environmental degradation and the potential impact of new technology which will cut jobs, with women to be worst hit.

“The core mission of UNIDO has never been more relevant than today,” Li told the General Conference.

“My dream is to give young people living in such poor conditions as I experienced in my childhood an opportunity to play a part — like me — in the global fight against poverty.”