The world has changed significantly since the Beijing conference in 1995. There have been significant achievements as more girls are enrolling in school and more women are working, getting elected and assuming leadership positions. Globally, three quarters of working age men are in the labour force compared to half of the working age women. In an era of unprecedented global wealth, many women are not able to exercise their right to even basic levels of health care, water and sanitation.

The gap between rich and poor women remains vast both between and within countries. In the least developed countries, a woman living in a rural area is 38% less likely to give birth with a skilled health professional than her counterpart in the city. Gender discrimination compounds other forms of disadvantages on the basis of socio-economic status, geographic location, race, caste and ethnicity, disability to limit women’s and girls’ opportunities and life chances.

Policy makers in rich and poor countries alike face huge challenges in creating enough decent jobs for all those who need them. And austerity policies in both developing and developed countries are shifting the burden of coping and caring back to families and onto the shoulders of women and girls. Changes in the global economy have not been beneficial for the majority of men either. In some countries where gender pay gaps have narrowed this has been in the context of falling real wages for both women and men and the gaps have narrowed only because men’s wages have fallen more dramatically than women’s. To meet these challenges, bilateral and multilateral agencies, governments, civil society organizations and the private sector have embraced the need for women’s economic empowerment.

International human rights treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) are legally binding commitments that require States to respect, protect and fulfill women’s rights.

Thus to empower women, priorities for public action seek to create decent work, implement gender-responsive social policies and adopt a rights-based macroeconomic policy framework. They highlight the need for resource mobilization, an enabling global environment, support for women’s organizations. They should be deliberated and fine-tuned through open dialogue.