Speech Minister Ploumen at UNCTAD and World Investment Forum

Speech by Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, at the UNCTAD XIV conference and the World Investment Forum, 21 July 2016.

This speech is only available in English. Check against delivery.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Two-point-five trillion dollars. Annually. That is the rough estimate of the additional investments that must be mobilised to achieve the global goals. A huge task. Meanwhile international investments by the private sector are falling, not rising. How do we get back on course to realize the 2030 Agenda? The most important part of the solution: investments in women.

If women were to participate in the economy on an equal footing with men, countries would see GNP growth of over 25 percent in the next ten years! That would be equivalent to adding another US plus another China to the world economy! The United States of Women, if you will, or The United Women’s Republic. A superpower that would transform the world as we know it. For the better.

I concede that that is not going to happen within the next decade. But what if we booked at least partial success? If countries at least matched the rate of improvement of the fastest reforming economy in their own region? If my country, the Netherlands, were to close the gap in labour participation between men and women of prime working age by 1.5 percent a year, as Spain did recently? What if countries in East and Southeast Asia were to do so at Singapore’s rate, of over one percent a year? At these rates of progress, global average labour-force participation rates would rise by about ten percent.

That should be feasible. And according to a recent McKinsey report, in this scenario global GDP would still grow at a rate of well over ten percent! That is still equivalent to the current GDPs of Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom combined! Not bad.

These are opportunities that we cannot afford to miss. Recent surveys show that young female entrepreneurs are starting more companies, managing more staff and targeting higher profits than their baby boomer predecessors. They invest a much larger part of their revenues in their families, especially in education and the health of their children. Which means their children have a better chance of breaking out of generation-long cycles of poverty.

Of all possible investments in countering inequality, investing in women may just be the best. Because more than men, women invest their earnings in their families and communities. They equip their children to break out of poverty. They promote social cohesion in communities, which is so essential for the growth of economic activity.

The private sector can do a lot to improve the chances of female entrepreneurs. Smart companies know that investing in women pays. Banks know that female entrepreneurs pay back better and that women make the consumer decisions. Companies know that with more women in management, they perform better. Factories know that if they invest in the skills of their women employees, their productivity will increase.

To governments I say: play your part. Facilitate investments and stimulate the building of reliable institutions. Establish transparent processes to reduce risks. Create conditions to enable more girls to finish secondary education. Source part of your procurement from female suppliers. Work with the private sector so that women are provided with safe transport, cook stoves, renewable energy, mobile banking, improved water supplies and child care. And give women the jobs to run these services, because they are the ones who really care that the services work.

And where norms and values, habits and behavioural codes stand in the way of women trying to make something of their lives: change them. The world cannot afford to let the current state of affairs persist. The world needs women to achieve the goals it set itself.

Thank you.

Ministry responsible