March 8, 2018
Liz Patterson, DFID Private Sector Development Adviser
Inle, Nyaung Shwe Township, Shan State
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It’s a real pleasure to be here with you today to celebrate International Women’s Day. I want to thank the Inle Professional Women’s Network for organising this event and for the valuable work that you do.
Though I’m not a historian I am aware of the long history of the 8th of March as a day in which women have risen together to challenge society and push for positive change.
Founded over 100 years ago in New York, it quickly spread to the suffragette movement in my home town of London, England and from there it has spread around the world including to here in Myanmar.
So today is a day of celebration of women.
Yet I find that quite often when we make the case for inclusion and greater gender equality, we quite rightly do so by highlighting the negatives. We talk of the problems women face, the hard issues they are confronted by and the challenges they face.
All this is true and we should never stop raising those issues and fighting for change, but today must also be a day of celebration. So today I also want to make the positive case for gender equality.
And as by training I’m an economist, I want to argue that it is in the economic interests of everybody in society to increase gender equality.
Because in studies, academic papers and reports there is a consensus that when you empower women to take a more equal and active role in the economy, the whole of society benefits.
Not only does gender equality make sense for society as a whole, but it also makes business sense too.
The McKinsey Global Institute recently released a study which estimated that if we achieve gender equality globally we would see a 26% increase in global GDP by 2025.
And a recent paper by the Asian Development Bank included a model which simulated the economic impact of closing the gender gap Asia. The model suggested that if we succeed in closing that gap in just one generation, we would see a 30% increase in incomes.
These studies demonstrate something obvious. That when women are excluded from full participation in the economic life of a community it deprives everyone in that community of the prosperity that they would have created and shared.
Because there is a virtuous circle that comes when you make sure that women are given full access to education, employment and economic opportunities. Because when women’s incomes increase, they become more financially independent, investing and spending their money in their daily lives in the places they live and increasing the wealth and prosperity of the communities they are a part of.
And if we take this principle and extend it across a whole country, we can start to understand the huge and positive impact that increasing women’s economic participation in an economy can have.
It demonstrates that not only is greater gender equality the right thing to do, but it is the smart thing too. This is why organisations like the Inle Professional Women’s Network are so important and the support, education and empowerment that you provide is vital work.
Because in working to increase the economic empowerment and activity of the women in the communities around you, you are working to increase the prosperity and wellbeing of all.
I want to congratulate you on organising this event and on the progress you have already made in making the case for gender equality in the business and economic life of Myanmar.
And I want to encourage you today as International Women’s Day is celebrated across the world, that you do not do this alone.
You are part of a global movement for change and as such we in the UK Government also stand with you as you move forward towards greater gender equality.
This is why the UK Government is so keen to support your work and also to be supporting economic empowerment for women through the funding we are providing to projects across Myanmar.
It’s why amongst other things we are funding projects which include gender sensitive practices in agriculture through grants in Shan, Chin, Pa’O, Magway and Yangon.
And we are also supporting the Government in implementing its National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women, particularly in the area of economic participation.
Now I couldn’t stand here today without mentioning the work that we’ve supported here in Inle.
One project stands out as it was one of the first I signed off when arriving in this country.
When I first came to Myanmar I was asked if we could fund the “a little loom” project which works here in Inle to support and preserve traditional weaving techniques, employing women to create beautiful products that not only preserve culture, but also make money and spread prosperity here in Inle.
And it was through that project that I met Yin Myo Suu and saw the work of the Inle Heritage Foundation. Yin Myo Suu it’s so good to see you again today and can I just say you were a real encouragement and are a true inspiration.
My hope is that by promoting gender equality, we are ensuring that women are treated equally in all aspects of life. That by empowering women equally we make their success and prosperity normal and in doing so ensure a more prosperous future for all in Myanmar.
So I thank you all again for the work that IPNET is doing and I look forward to the rest of the days event and hearing of your successes in the future.