Business leaders and policymakers in Thailand said today that top priority must be given to empowering women in the workplace if Asia and the Pacific is to recover from the economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic.
The CEOs of 110 companies in Thailand signed and announced new commitments to the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) during a ceremony to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the principles. They committed to broaden and strengthen gender-responsive business practices, including gender-equal corporate leadership, inclusive, safe workplaces and equal pay for work of equal value. More than 3,600 companies worldwide have signed the WEPs, established by UN Women and United Nations Global Compact. Before today, only 11 companies in Thailand had signed on.
Narumon Pinyosinwat, Thailand’s Deputy Minister of Labour, said today’s event will help boost women’s labour force participation in Thailand. She said women now make up 45 percent of the country’s total workforce. But it is estimated that by 2040, up to 17 million jobs (44 per cent of all jobs) in Thailand could be at risk of automation – and due to gender inequality, women are more likely to lose those jobs. That is why the Ministry of Labour has made women’s economic empowerment a top priority, Narumon said.
“The framework of [UN Women’s] WeEmpowerAsia programme is a leading example through which we can work together, to make our voices heard, and reinforce the gender-inclusive business culture and narrow gender gaps across industries,” she said.
H.E. Pirkka Tapiola, Ambassador of the European Union to Thailand, commended the 110 companies at the event for their collective commitment and presented the EU’s perspective on how gender equality charts a direct path towards inclusive growth: “Seeing more and more companies both in Europe and in Thailand become more gender-inclusive is important progress. The commitment and actions by the private sector help build an economy in which women can participate on an equal footing, with a positive impact not only on economic growth, but our societies as a whole.”
Thailand has done comparatively well in putting women into the highest positions in business. Twenty-four per cent of CEOs/managing directors in Thailand are women, compared to an average of 20 per cent worldwide and only 13 per cent in the Asia-Pacific. Thailand has the world’s highest percentage of female chief financial officers – 43 per cent – and the third-highest percentage of female CEOs.
Mohammad Naciri, Regional Director of UN Women for Asia and the Pacific, said the region’s economies can create an opportunity for full recovery by building on the trend towards equality.
“As women make half of the world population, empowering women to achieve gender equality would serve as a key to restoring economic resilience in challenging times,” he said. “UN Women has been at the forefront of the response since the [coronavirus] outbreak, and celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Women’s Empowerment Principles this year, we are dedicated more than ever to collaborating with our reliable partners in Asia and the Pacific region, including Thailand as well as the European Union.”
During the event, participants also discussed how to measure progress on gender diversity policies and highlighted the importance of transparent data and business accountability. Also, new and emerging entrepreneurs described how their companies were fighting gender bias and promoting women’s leadership.
The event was organized by UN Women’s WeEmpowerAsia programme, which is funded by the EU. The programme supports companies in implementing the WEPs and a gender-inclusive business culture in seven countries in Asia, including Thailand.
More than 250 people attended the event, including members of the Thai private, public and social sectors, as well as representatives of UN Women and the European Union.
PM Kishida Outlines Vision for a New Form of Capitalism
Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio called for a new form of liberal democratic capitalism, balancing economic growth and distribution, in a special address to business, government and civil society leaders taking part in the World Economic Forum’s virtual event, the Davos Agenda 2022.
“A key focus of my administration will be the revitalization of Japan through a new form a capitalism,” he said. Unfettered state capitalism without adequate checks and balances produces problems such as widening income gaps, rural-urban disparities and social tensions, he added.
Kishida emphasized that the time has come for “historic economic and social transformations”. He said Japan will pioneer a new form of public-private partnership, with leaders of government, industry and labour all working together to develop paradigm-shifting policies. “There has been an overreliance on competition and self-regulation to constrain the excesses of market forces,” he added. “This must change.”
These reforms will build on emerging strength shown by Japan’s economy. However, he reiterated that current policies are not sufficient to ensure that growth is sustainable and inclusive.
The prime minister called for Japan to lead the world in green transformation. He said investment in green technology “will be more than doubled” and become an engine of growth. He also announced that a carbon pricing system will be introduced as soon as possible and Japan will continue to support the Asian emissions trading market.
“Japan remains committed to the Paris Agreement and will achieve carbon neutrality by 2050,” he said. Private and public sector leadership will work tightly together on the demand and the supply side to support the transformation. One focus for Japan’s clean energy strategy is to reform the energy sector, which accounts for more than 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. Smart grids, upgraded power and distribution networks as well as low-carbon energy sources like solar and wind energy are all part of the solution, he said.
Another important pillar for Japan’s transformation is digitization. “While Japan has traditionally lagged in digital uptake, COVID-19 has given Japan a chance to leap-frog its digitization efforts,” Kishida said. To support this, the government will invest heavily in next-generation networks, optical fibre and 5G-related infrastructure – extending it to 90% of the population over two years.
Kishida also laid out plans for increased corporate disclosure to encourage investment in human capital. “Investment in people is often regarded as a cost, but it is a source of medium to long-term corporate value,” he said.
The prime minister pointed out that Japan continues to take a cautious approach to COVID-19, with borders closed until the end of February. “Changes will be made to border policies as more data comes in,” he said. The government is taking a realistic view and he stressed that a zero-tolerance policy towards COVID-19 is neither possible nor appropriate.
Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum’s Founder and Executive Chairman, thanked Japan for taking an active part in collaborative global efforts to combat shared challenges. “The capabilities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution open up new possibilities and opportunities,” Schwab said. “The future will be much greener, more digital and human-centred.”
In Jamaica, farmers struggle to contend with a changing climate
It’s 9 am and the rural district of Mount Airy in central Jamaica is already sweltering. As cars trundle along the region’s unpaved roads, chocolate-brown dust clouds burst from behind their back wheels.
It is here, 50km west of Kingston and 500 meters above sea level, that the Mount Airy Farmers group are having a morning meeting. There are around two dozen people and they all say the same thing; they’re struggling to keep their plots productive amid dwindling rainfall, a byproduct of climate change.
“The weather here’s a lot drier for longer these days,” says Althea Spencer, the treasurer of the Mount Airy Farmers group, which is based in Northern Clarendon. “If you don’t have water, it makes no sense to plant seeds because they will just die.”
The farmers though, have recently gotten some help in their search for water.
Just meters from where they are gathered stands a two-storey shed with a drainpipe on the roof that funnels rainwater into a tall, black tank. It’s one of more than two dozen reservoirs dotted across these mountains. They are part of a project backed by six United Nations (UN) bodies to help Mount Airy’s farmers adapt to climate change.
“This partnership among the UN and with communities is exactly the type of activity needed to address the day-to-day and practical impacts of climate change,” says Vincent Sweeney, Head of the Caribbean Sub-Regional Office at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “As we look beyond the Glasgow Climate Change Conference, it is vital that we… adapt to the new realities of a warmer planet in order to protect lives and livelihoods in Jamaica and the Caribbean.”
The challenge is not unique to the region. Droughts, floods, and the spread of pests, the byproducts of climate change, are threatening agricultural production around the globe, says the Food and Agriculture Organization. That is potentially disastrous in a world where almost 700 million people go hungry each year.
Small-hold farmers, who work more than 80 per cent of the world‘s farms, in particular, will need support to remain resilient in the face of climate change, say experts.
A country at risk
Farmers in Jamaica, an island nation of 3 million, are especially vulnerable. In 2020, Jamaica became the first Caribbean country to submit a tougher climate action plan to the UN because the country was at risk from rising sea levels, drought and more intense hurricanes, its government said.
In 2018, the Mount Airy farmers enrolled in the United Nations-backed programme that helps build the resilience of communities to threats such as climate change, poverty and water insecurity. It is regarded as the first joint programme of the United Nations in Jamaica, combining the resources of six agencies, including UNEP.
In Mount Airy, the UN programme has invested in 30 new water harvesting systems. The large, black tanks, which appear across the hilltops like turrets, catch and store rainfall, allowing the farmers to use it evenly via a drip irrigation system. This reduces the emerging threat of longer and more intense dry spells.
The new irrigation system also frees farmers from watering their crops by hand. “Before we got the new system, you had to predict rainfall to put seedlings in,” says Spencer, a rollerball pen tucked neatly into her hair and her feet shifting on the sunbaked earth. “It feels pretty good. It allows me more time to do housework, keep up with my farm records, and I have time to go down to the market.”
Alongside the tanks sit drums which mix fertilizer with water and spread it evenly among the crops, saving the farmers valuable time. The dissolvable fertilizer is also cheaper than standard fertilizers.
On top of that, the irrigation system improves yields. Spencer now grows and sells more sweet potatoes, peppers and tomatoes than ever before.
Coupled with the water tanks, the programme has also prioritized education. Seminars are run by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, a government agency, which aims to broaden the farmer’s knowledge and skills.
Although it is not unusual for women to farm these lands, Spencer speaks about how the trainings have helped to empower the female members of the group by coming together. “To me, the learnings and the trainings bond us ladies together,” she says.
A life in the mountains
Back at the gathering of the Mount Airy farmers, the assembled say some prayers and repeat their mantra aloud two times: “We are the Mount Airy Farmers Group our motto is: All grow in fear and failure bearing fruits of confidence and success.”
Spencer, who is in her 40s, is a vocal participant at the meeting and obviously well-liked. She was born in Mount Airy and has been farming these fields most of her life. She has vivid memories of working on her father’s farm as a child. Unable to afford to pay anyone else, he often pulled her out of school to sow and reap the fields.
That’s a common refrain among many who grew up in Mount Airy – and one the new UN programme is aiming to change.
“If my father had this harvesting system, would I have gone to school more?” Spencer asks herself. “Yes, probably. But even then, he was always working us. So I’m sure he’d find something for us to do,” she says laughing.
Spencer welcomes the introduction of the water tanks. However, she says current rainfall patterns mean water sometimes still runs out. “If you don’t manage your water properly, one will run out before you get anywhere,” she says ominously.
Her story may be one of success today, but it shows that living with climate change will require adaptation and continued investment for years to come. UNEP’s 2021 Adaptation Gap Report called for an urgent increase in financing for climate adaptation. It found that adaptation costs in developing countries are five to ten times greater than current public adaptation finance flows, and the adaptation finance gap is widening.
FAO launches $138 million plan to avert hunger crisis in Horn of Africa
More than $138 million is needed to assist rural communities affected by extended drought in the Horn of Africa, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Monday, launching a comprehensive response plan for the region.
A third consecutive year of poor rains is posing a major threat to food security in countries already facing natural resource limitations and conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, and locust invasions during 2020-21.
FAO fears that a large-scale hunger crisis could break out if food-producing rural communities do not receive adequate assistance timed to the needs of the upcoming agricultural seasons.
Millions at risk
The bulk of the funding under the FAO Horn of Africa Drought Response Plan, $130 million, is urgently needed by the end of February, to provide critical assistance to highly-vulnerable communities in the three most impacted countries: Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia
Projections indicate that some 25.3 million people will face “high acute food insecurity” by the middle of the year.
Should the scenario materialize, FAO said it would place the Horn of Africa among the world’s largest-scale food crises.
Now is the time
“We know from experience that supporting agriculture at moments like this is hugely impactful – that when we act fast and at the right moment to get water, seeds, animal feed, veterinary care, and much needed cash to at-risk rural families, then hunger catastrophes can be averted,” said Rein Paulsen, the agency’s Director of Emergencies and Resilience.
“Well, the right moment is now. We urgently need to support pastoralists and farms in the Horn, immediately, because the cycle of the seasons waits for no one.”
Mr. Paulsen warned that the clock is already ticking as the lean season, which just started, has been marked by limited grazing opportunities for pastoralist families whose livestock will need nutritional and veterinary support.
Meanwhile, families who rely on producing crops will need seeds and other supplies in time for the Gu planting season that begins in March.
Water and seeds
The FAO plan targets 1.5 million of the most at-risk rural populations in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
For pastoralist families, support will include providing animal feed and nutritional supplements, as well as mobile veterinary health clinics, to keep their livestock healthy and producing milk; transporting water to 10,000 litre collapsible water reservoirs set up in remote areas, and upgrading existing wells to run on solar power.
Crop-reliant families will receive seeds of drought-tolerant early-maturing varieties of sorghum, maize, cowpea and mung bean, and nutrient-dense vegetables. The UN agency also aims to arrange for pre-planting land-ploughing services and access to irrigation, as well as training on good agricultural practices.
Cash for work programmes would allow able-bodied households to earn extra income by helping to rehabilitate irrigation canals, boreholes or other agricultural infrastructure.
Those not able to work due to health or other reasons will receive “unconditional infusions of cash”. FAO said that providing rural families with extra disposable income gives them the means to buy food at market while they wait for their harvests to come in.
In Somalia, the FAO plan calls for the provision of boats, equipment and training to help coastal communities who do not typically fish, to secure a new and much-needed source of nutrition, building on existing programmes to promote the diversification of livelihoods in the country.
FAO said if fully funded, the plan would allow for the production of up to 90 million litres of milk and up to 40,000 tonnes of staple food crops in the first part of 2022, putting over one million highly food insecure people on a safe footing, for at least six months.
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