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 stint as director general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), which oversees about 860 projects to boost economic growth and tackle poverty.
Data shows about half of the world’s women are in the labor force compared with about 75 percent of men, hold 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 our projects help women’s empowerment and job creation,” Li, formerly of China’s Ministry of Finance, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview 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 a key development organization in the U.N. system with a mission to promote industry as a driver to create jobs, boost prosperity, and reduce poverty.
Some countries had questioned the purpose and effectiveness of UNIDO, one of 15 specialized U.N. agencies, and some nations withdrew funding in the past decade including Britain, the United States, Australia, Canada and France.
Representatives of UNIDO’s 168 member states, however, said Li had changed the focus to support developing countries and find ways to build sustainable, environmentally friendly businesses using fewer resources, less energy and generating less waste.
He had also encouraged public and private, local and international partnerships such as setting up agro-industrial parks and introducing clean tanning technology to India’s leather industry.
One of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, an agenda to be reached by 2030, acknowledges industrialization as a key driver of sustained economic sustainability and prosperity.
Li said UNIDO’s core mission had never been more relevant.
He said poverty, employment and hunger remain 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.
Africa remained a priority, but climate change meant thinking differently about manufacturing, particularly in low-lying small island nations with limited resources, he said.
Such nations import expensive crude oil to generate power, he said.
“I said to them ‘Open your eyes. Expand your vision.’” said Li. “If they could use renewable power, like solar or maybe tidal … they can manage their fishing industry, or tourism, and expand job creation.”
He said the Pacific island nations of Kiribati and the Marshall Islands had joined UNIDO in the past two years and others were keen to follow suit.
“Our work is very relevant to their economic development,” he said.