GENEVA (ILO News) – The first woman president of Nepal said the empowerment of women in economic, political and social spheres is crucial for establishing peace and justice in society.
“Societies cannot stand a long time on the shaky foundation of discrimination and inequality. Discrimination against women must come to an end for which we all have to put our meaningful efforts,”said President Bidya Devi Bhandari at the ILO’s World of Work Summit, held annually at the International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva.
“It’s a fact that without political, economic, social and cultural empowerment of women, we cannot imagine the establishment of an equal, just and peaceful society,” she said.
“Despite decades of efforts, implementation of the international commitments remains weak. Progress of women in the world of work has been slow and inhibited. We continue to languish in low utilization of women’s potential,” President Bhandari warned.
With gender gaps remaining one of the most pressing challenges facing labour markets, the World of Work Summit was this year dedicated to discussing how to shape a better future for women at work.
President Bhandari was one of three women heads of state to address the Summit as keynote speakers, highlighting actions they have taken as world leaders to advance gender equality in the world of work. She spoke alongside President of Malta Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca and President of Mauritius Ameenah Gurib-Fakim.
ILO Director-General Guy Ryder welcomed President Bhandari to the Summit, highlighting her long career in activism as a student leader, women’s rights activist and trade unionist.
“You have been a lifelong activist for labour rights, and particularly the rights of women at work. The fight for gender equality has been well within your lifelong dedication to values and principles,” Ryder said.
Ryder highlighted how, after being elected to Parliament in 1994, Bhandari was instrumental in establishing a one-third quota for the representation of women in all elected bodies in government and in state mechanisms. He also highlighted her role “defying all gender stereotypes, not only in Nepal,” when she became Minister of Defence in 2009.
President Bhandari said Nepal has made numerous advancements in empowering women.
“Nepal has the highest Female Labour Force Participation Rate in the South Asia region,” she told delegates at the Summit. “Twenty-two years ago, the participation of women in the labour force was close to 66 per cent, and has increased to more than 80 per cent as of 2015,” President Bhandari said, also highlighting legal reforms that brought safer conditions and increased gender equity in the workplace.
“In spite of the constraints imposed by a weak economy and prolonged transition and challenges, Nepal has made significant strides towards achieving gender equality. However, these achievements are not the result of coincidence. We have a long history of struggles to come to the stage we stand today,” President Bhandari said.
The President’s address was especially resonant in light of Nepal’s emergence from years of internal as well two devastating earthquakes in 2015.
Despite periods of political and economic hardship, Nepal has sought to place social justice at the heart of its development and Decent Work agenda, with advancements in the areas of combating child labour, promoting gender equality and social protection, amending labour laws and ratifying core ILO labour standards.
In 2015, the country promulgated a new constitution which focuses strongly on human rights and contains provisions on Decent Work that call for freedom of association, collective bargaining, fair working conditions and social protection for all workers.
In December last year, Ryder paid his first official visit to Nepal since taking office. Ryder’s visit coincided with the 50th anniversary of the partnership between Nepal and the ILO. Nepal joined the ILO in 1966 and an ILO Office was established in the country in 1994. The ILO has had an important role in the country in developing a constructive social partnership between government, employers and workers.
Nepal has ratified seven out of the ILO’s eight core Conventions.This year, ILO members elected Nepal as a deputy member of its Governing Body government group.
The World of Work Summit had opened earlier in the day with an interactive High-Level Panel which discussed the main challenges women face in obtaining decent work, and what is needed to overcome the obstacles. The panelists discussed such issues as the work-family balance, the care economy, violence and harassment as a barrier to decent work for women, and the gender pay gap.
The Summit coincided with the publication of the ILO’s “World Employment and Social Outlook Report – Trends for Women 2017” report, which finds that reducing gender gaps would significantly benefit women, society and the economy. Closing the gender gaps by 25 per cent by 2025 could add US$ 5.8 trillion to the global economy and boost tax revenue, the report shows.