UN Resident Coordinator’s Message on International Women’s Day

08 Mar 2017

With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, world leaders placed gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at the heart of the new global development Agenda 2030. Timor-Leste’s leadership made SDG 5 a priority goal for 2017, thereby recognizing that the achievement of the Global Goals rests upon gender equality and unlocking the full potential of women.

Empowering women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors and throughout all levels of economic activity is both critical for achieving gender equality, and a cornerstone for the sustainable development of a nation.

Yet, the world of work is still shaped by gender roles, globally and also in Timor-Leste. Data illustrates that men and women tend to do quite different forms of work. A range of factors influence how these gender roles are formed, including the high fertility rate in South East Asia and Pacific, a large rural population (70%), and limited job opportunities - particularly in rural areas. In Timor-Leste subsistence agriculture is the main form of work for one in four Timorese men and women (15 and above). As the country develops, and economic activity moves towards more market-oriented production, people are leaving subsistence production to seek employment opportunities.

Data from the 2013 Labor Force Survey (LFS) shows that of the Timorese working-age population (15 years and above), only 21% of women are participating in the labour force, compared to 40% of men (lower-middle income countries’ average: 34% women and 77% men). For women, family duties remain the dominant reason for not participating in the labour force, while for men, participation in education and training is the main reason for not working.

When employed, women on average earn 16% less than the employed male ($461 USD versus $553 USD per month). Women were also more likely to have inadequate earnings, low productivity and difficult conditions of work than men, with rural women representing most at risk. The analysis shows that in 2013, only a quarter of employed women (28%) versus half (49%) of employed men were in wage or salaried positions. The regularity of receiving a salary gives more security and frequently comes with a form of social benefit such as pension.

Timor-Leste’s development will only be achieved by building on the strengths of all members of society. For sustainable development to happen, we all need to work together to ensure women’s economic empowerment and to enable women to fully participate at all levels of society. Not only are gender sensitive measures needed from Government, but also paradigm shifts among private sector, civil society and development partners are required to include gender-responsive approaches across the board.

For, only if gender-responsive economic policies are in place for job creation, poverty reduction and sustainable, inclusive growth, then sustainable development can succeed. Only if the gender gaps in leadership, entrepreneurship and access to social protection are closed, and workplace diversity is promoted, then sustainable development can succeed. And only if policies protect the overwhelming majority of women in the informal economy, promote women’s access to innovative technologies and practices, and protect women from violence in the work place through strict private and public sector regulation, then sustainable development can succeed.

On this International Women’s Day, let us reconfirm our commitment and partnership for the achievement of gender equality and the protection of women’s rights in Timor-Leste and globally, and recognize their undisputed role in achieving the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

Mr. Knut Ostby
UN Resident Coordinator in Timor-Leste

— with Knut Ostby.

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