Gender and crisis recovery: building back better

By EBRD  Press Office

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Delivered by: 

EBRD President Sir Suma Chakrabarti


Gender and crisis recovery: building back better


  1. Introduction

Good afternoon.

It is an enormous pleasure to co-host this event with the W20. The EBRD is extremely pleased to join W20 as a knowledge partner after having worked with this very important and influential group for many years.

It has taken a long time – since the Brisbane Summit in 2014, in fact - but it is right and, I would argue, imperative that gender now sits confidently at the G20 table.

The G20 cannot claim to be the premier forum for international economic cooperation - representing more than 85 percent of global GDP and two thirds of the world’s population - if half of that two thirds are not equally at the centre of policy decisions.

So, this is an important agenda for the G20, for all of us.  Thank you very much for the invitation to speak.

At the EBRD we have been stepping up our activities to support gender equality over the last half decade.

We know there is still a long way to go.

We also believe that making progress on this front is more important today than ever before.

We can all see how the world is grappling with one of the worst crises of my - relatively long – lifetime.

This crisis is exposing entrenched systemic and structural inequalities. They require renewed vision, determination and action to overcome.

Many countries across the globe are, quite rightly, already planning their strategies for the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.

Despite the severity of the crisis, I firmly believe we now have a big opportunity.

An opportunity to build back better and in way that does not yearn for the old normal but shapes a more inclusive and sustainable future.

For the EBRD, building gender equality - and private-sector oriented solutions - into the recovery is part of a vision for a better future, one that boosts economic resilience and sustainability for a long time to come.

First, however, let me explain briefly why gender equality is a topic I am so passionate about.

Different people form their views about the importance of equality – be it of gender, race or any other kind – for many different reasons.

For me, my personal experience is key in defining where I stand on any given issue.

I am surrounded by strong women every day at work.

Indeed, we have worked very hard to increase the number of women in senior and middle management positions at the EBRD – and to nurture the sort of atmosphere that empowers them and all women from top to bottom of the Bank.

When I joined the EBRD, we had one woman on our top management team.

We now have four.

And I have been blessed – and shaped – by the presence of strong women in my personal life, not least my mother, wife, and daughter.

My mother raised me mostly on her own in a foreign country and was a school teacher who focused on kids with learning difficulties and poor English language skills.

My wife has excelled as an academic.

And my daughter determinedly carves out her own path through life as an artist.

There are three traits – courage, resilience, and creativity – that I see in the women closest to me and others, which I think everyone in the business world can learn from.

It certainly will not escape your notice that these three traits are some of the most important attributes for any individual, business, or country, trying to get through this pandemic and come out better on the other side.

Together, we want to chart the path to rebuild better economies and societies where everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive.

The huge impact of the coronavirus on the health of populations and economies has both exposed and exacerbated socio-economic gaps.

We see in the data that women are more likely to bear the brunt of the economic disruption and health risks caused by the pandemic.

On average, women account for 59% of medical doctors and 88% of nursing personnel in the EBRD regions; and are the overwhelming majority of workers in the care sector.

Women are also shouldering the burden at home.

And, with schools closed and elderly relatives shielding themselves, the unpaid workload increases, well above the average 5 hours per day of unpaid domestic and care work undertaken by women across the EBRD regions.

Under lockdowns, victims of domestic abuse, usually women, are more exposed and less able to seek and access social and institutional support.

Women are more likely to be in precarious employment or self-employed in the sectors hardest hit by the crisis: retail, hospitality and food-related services.

And, of course, we were some way off achieving gender equality before the crisis started.

So now we risk reversing the progress made over the past decades and finding ourselves even further from our goal.

  1. Gender Responsive Roadmap to COVID-19 Crisis Recovery


Yet, when I look at the audience in the virtual room today, I am reminded of the power of partnerships to achieve more than the sum of our individual actions.

And, as I suggested earlier, amidst all the bad news, there are definitely opportunities here to be leveraged.

Vibrant multilateralism is key to taking advantage of these opportunities – and the G20 is a group that I strongly believe can make a big difference in showing solidarity in responding to this crisis.

The W20’s role is critical in advocating for women as a crucial part of the economic recovery and growth story.

The EBRD and W20 are jointly committed to helping G20 leaders develop today the gender-responsive recovery policies that preserve the gender equality gains achieved so far.

And to lay the groundwork for societies that benefit from the full participation of women in economic activity in the future.

Multilateral development banks such as the EBRD have a vital role to play in shaping and implementing the gender responsive roadmap to recovery.

Before we turn to the panel, let me say a few words about EBRD-specific approach to promote gender equality.

  1. The EBRD’s work with the Private Sector & COVID response


The EBRD has a unique mandate among the MDBs – to promote private and entrepreneurial initiative and to foster transition towards open market-oriented economies which are: competitive, integrated, resilient, green, well-governed, and inclusive.

Since our establishment some 30 years ago, we have invested more than €145 billion in over 5,700 projects.

Today, we operate in 38 economies, from Morocco to Mongolia, Estonia to Egypt, and 79% of our investment is in the private sector.

The Bank launched its first Strategy for the Promotion of Gender Equality in 2016 to promote women’s access to finance, skills and services.

Some questioned why a private sector-focused Bank needed a gender strategy at all.

Work on gender belonged to the social realm, they argued.

What a decisive turning point it was when, at long last, decision-makers at the Bank finally accepted the economic logic of gender equality!

Since then our gender inclusive projects have steadily grown, year after year.

And given our boots on the ground in more than 50 regional offices, we have been able to respond quickly to the economic downturn caused by Covid-19.

Our Solidarity Package ensures that the Bank will adapt and scale up existing instruments and develop new initiatives to provide finance.

We combine this finance with enhanced policy support to help combat the immediate economic threat from restrictions in response to the virus, and prepare our countries for the post-virus era.

For example, our flagship Women in Business programme recently passed the €500 million financing landmark, providing credit to more than 60,000 women-led small and medium-sized companies in 18 countries.

We have also extended more than 20,000 training opportunities to women, youth and other vulnerable groups.

It is thanks to these projects and our presence in our countries of operation – and not just in capital cities - that we know a lot about firms and the sectors of the economies in which we invest.

On policy engagement we have facilitated the removal of job restrictions for female employment in Kazakhstan through policy dialogue between the private sector and the Government of Kazakhstan.

We built bridges between the private sector and Kazakh government there which did not previously exist.

Thanks to this dialogue, 100 occupations have already been removed from the list of jobs  banned to women.

And we continue to work with the Kazakh government to drop the remaining 180 over the coming years too.

And the EBRD is leading on rapid support for workers affected by this crisis.

Earlier this month, as a direct result of recommendations put forward by the EBRD and the ILO, the Government of North Macedonia adopted a decree on extending the unemployment benefits scheme to cover all workers whose employment contracts were terminated in the immediate days following the beginning of the lockdown.

Data tells us that women-led businesses are in fact performing better than others during the crisis.

The EBRD is assisting with crisis management tools, and supporting ways to structure businesses to survive and maintain employment through the crisis.    

More broadly, EBRD supports the resilience of women with its gender-sensitive and inclusive approach to infrastructure work.

For example, in Egypt and Kazakhstan, we are helping women gain “green skills” and employment opportunities in the high-growth renewable energy sector.

Just like everyone else, we have shifted our offer online too.

Women-led entrepreneurs are signing up in droves to our virtual webinars, making the most of technology and using their networks to find creative solutions to get through the crisis.

For example, we are expanding our work with UNDP under the joint Skills for an Inclusive Future Network to include the provision of knowledge advisory services in digital transformation and digital skills development.

We are also supporting labour ministries in assessing the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on enterprises and workers, including the identification of groups/sectors hardest hit.

  1. Conclusion


This is one of my last events as EBRD president, a role and responsibility I have cherished over the past eight years. 

The fact that one of my last public appearances in the job is at an event on this topic is no accident.

One of the key messages I wish to bequeath the institution as I depart is the centrality of gender to achieving the EBRD’s very purpose: the creation of modern, sustainable and open market economies.

A week today I will be stepping down as President and my formal relationship with the EBRD will end.

But I hope that the work we started on nurturing the leadership, culture and skills for progress on gender – both internally and externally – continues.

And indeed intensifies.

Thank you very much, and I look forward to the rest of the discussion.

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