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It's time to break the chains of dependency for girls and women

A woman walks amidst chains as she views an art installation near the Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure in Moscow, March 14, 2014.

"The voices for gender equality are getting louder and louder every year" Image: REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Justine Greening
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Davos Agenda

Throughout history, girls and women have often been invisible outside the home. Even now, in 2016, there are countries where women are prevented from getting a job, from owning their own land and even from setting up a bank account. This strips them of their independence. For every aspect of their lives, these women are completely reliant on someone else.

It's time to break these chains of dependency. Now we have the chance.

This week in Davos, the UN Secretary General announced he is establishing an expert team of leading politicians, expert economists, charity heads and business leaders to jumpstart a global movement on women's economic empowerment.

I'm privileged to be joining this High Level Panel, alongside the President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim and many eminent names who will be announced over the next few weeks.

As the UK's Development Secretary, I have put gender equality right at the heart of UK development. For me, it's about girls and women everywhere having a voice, choice and control over their lives and futures. We are helping more girls go to school, more women to vote and tackling violence against women and girls. I've also been determined to champion issues that, in the past, have been seen as too difficult and too sensitive to tackle. In the last few years I am proud to have helped push things like family planning access, Female Genital Mutilation and child marriage right to the top of the global agenda.

The case for women's economic empowerment is about basic human rights and the right of a woman to choose for herself the life she wants to lead. But it's also basic economics. Imagine the potential economic impact it would have if the millions of potential female entrepreneurs, innovators and business leaders, who are right now being airbrushed out of the picture, had the opportunity to choose their own path? What a huge difference that would make to them and the world economy.

A recent McKinsey Global Institute report estimates that if women in every country played an identical role in markets to men, as much as twenty eight trillion dollars would be added to the global economy by 2025. The same research finds that if every nation only matched the progress of the fastest-improving country in its region, it would add twelve trillion dollars, which represents an eleven per cent boost to global GDP. So, women's economic empowerment is the best poverty tackling strategy out there.

The voices for gender equality are getting louder and louder every year and, as a result, the great news is that we're seeing real progress. Last year the world agreed new Global Goals for ending extreme poverty and the UK, and others, successfully championed a number of key commitments on gender equality. Over 190 nations signed up to Global Goal 5 to end discrimination against women and girls, end violence against women, and to undertake reforms that give women equal rights to economic resources and equal rights to own land. This was an enormous step forwards but now we need to seize the momentum and turn those promises into action.

Over the next few months the UN High Level Panel will be taking on the specific barriers and discrimination that stop women from getting decent jobs and setting up their own businesses - things like improving women's access to bank accounts and land rights. We can tackle how we can reduce the burden of unpaid domestic work, which overwhelmingly falls on women.

We know how much all of this matters to women themselves. Wherever I go in the world women, and men, will tell me that their key priority is a job, and the power to shape their own future. The High Level Panel will launch a global consultation; speaking to people all over the world and giving a voice to some of the most marginalised and invisible. We will then report back to the UN, and all governments of the world, with bold and practical recommendations for improving the prospects of girls and women.

The High Level Panel is the first international initiative for galvanising international action around the new Global Goals. This underlines just how important gender equality is to achieving the Global Goals and ending extreme poverty. No country can truly develop if half their population is left behind. With the appointment of this UN High Level Panel, we have a chance to thrust women's economic empowerment to the top of the global agenda. I'm determined to seize this opportunity and help build a better future for girls and women, and for us all.

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