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Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Gender equality and women's rights are key to promoting development. We know from our own experience that getting women into the workforce is good policy – and good economics. In Norway, the high number of women in the workforce makes a significant contribution to our economic growth and the welfare state.
Access to jobs and a living wage is a key factor for poverty reduction. This means that private sector development and sustainable economic growth are crucial. At the same time, we know that increased participation of women in the workforce not only helps women develop skills and strengthen their position in society; it also has a stabilising effect on society as a whole. It leads to better living conditions, economic growth, and higher levels of productivity and social integration.
The Norwegian Government has recently presented an action plan for women’s rights and gender equality in foreign and development policy. This action plan sets out that we will promote full economic rights for women and their participation in the workforce on equal terms with men.
We will support targeted efforts to reduce political, economic, legal and other structural obstacles to women’s participation in the private sector. And we will seek to ensure that women’s rights and gender equality are integrated into Norway’s overall efforts to promote private sector development.
A key aspect of private sector growth is the potential for greater tax revenues. Greater tax revenues make it possible to increase spending on infrastructure and on basic services such as health and education.
Civil society organisations play an important role in private sector development by promoting better governance, anti-corruption, infrastructure development and respect for human rights.
They work for better access to credit and other financial services, better market access, favourable conditions for entrepreneurship, a better qualified workforce and local economic spill-over effects.
These organisations often have detailed knowledge about the local community, whether rural or urban. They have networks, a local base and – in many cases – a good reputation.
We therefore make extensive use of partnerships with civil society in our development efforts, not least when it comes to advancing economic empowerment for women.
In many poor countries, the majority of people work in the agricultural sector. A number of civil society organisations are working to strengthen land rights in poor communities, with a particular focus on women’s land rights.
Women make up more than half the workforce in the agricultural sector in most developing countries, but tend to have less access to land, capital and income-generating opportunities than men.
Strengthening women’s rights and opportunities is therefore important – not only in itself, but also to realise women’s potential for value creation in this and other primary industries.
Strengthening land rights creates opportunities for local private sector development, particularly when combined with better access to credit.
Another important task for civil society is to hold public authorities and the private sector accountable for their actions. Many civil society organisations are working for greater transparency in relation to contracts and capital flows. Norway attaches great importance to transparency, and will strengthen its cooperation with national and international watchdog organisations.
In the white paper on private sector development in Norwegian development cooperation, the Government sets out how it will intensify its efforts to create an enabling environment for private sector investments in poor countries.
This will involve supporting developing countries’ efforts to build an enabling environment for investment and economic growth, and establishing new schemes for public–private cooperation. Education and good governance are also of key importance in this context.
Just like business activities stimulate growth and women’s economic empowerment, knowledge institutions can foster economic development through capacity building and the transfer of expertise.
Close cooperation with higher education and knowledge institutions in Norway will therefore be important in our efforts to promote private sector development and women’s empowerment in developing countries.
Finally I would like to reiterate a key point I made earlier: improving the economic status of women is not only important for the women concerned, it is also beneficial for society as a whole.