UN forum catalyses collective action to make feminist finance a reality for Asia and the Pacific

UN forum catalyses collective action to make feminist finance a reality for Asia and the Pacific

The second edition of the groundbreaking Feminist Finance Forum, organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), closed today in Bangkok with participants spotlighting the action needed to bridge the region’s gender finance gap. 

Throughout the two-day Forum, the resounding message was clear: Investing in women is key to fostering sustainable, inclusive and prosperous economies. Advancing economic equality for women could add as much as US$4.5 trillion - a 12 per cent increase - to the region’s GDP annually by 2025.

“While challenges still remain, the opportunity of investing in women is crystal clear,” Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, said in her closing remarks. “I have stressed the critical need to work with all stakeholders and for ESCAP to act as a platform to bring people and organisations together to create the systemic shifts needed to unlock the potential of investing in women.”

There is still a long way to go in ensuring that financial systems in Asia and the Pacific serve the needs of women. According to the recently published ESCAP report Financial Resilience, Inclusion and Entrepreneurship: Is Asia and the Pacific close to Gender Parity?, while there has been progress towards this goal, findings indicate a clear disparity from country to country, and the persistence of discriminatory norms and practices, which continue to constrain uptake and usage of financial services and access to finance among women.

This disparity has far-reaching consequences, not only impeding women’s ability to attain economic stability and financial resilience and independence, but also limiting opportunities for women to pursue entrepreneurial aspirations, innovate and grow their businesses.

“It is upon us to dismantle the structural and social barriers that hinder their success, especially amidst today’s economic and climate challenges. We must act collectively and decisively,” said Lynda Tabuya, Minister of Women, Children and Social Protection of Fiji.

The Forum facilitated a space for stakeholders to come together to strategise on how to create the required long-term solutions for feminist finance to become a reality. Participants explored the untapped potential to align gender and climate finance in the region; catalyzed action to finance the care economy; explored opportunities to promote gender-driven foreign direct investment; and exchanged actionable insights on gender lens investing and the development of gender-responsive financial products.

The Forum convened more than 350 key players in the regional financial ecosystem, bringing together governments, the private sector, civil society, academia, development partners, international organisations and – most importantly – women entrepreneurs, women-led businesses and women business leaders.

During the event, 10 women-founded climate tech start-ups took part in a pitching competition, presenting their solution to potential investors. The winning start-up was BillionCarbon, an innovative solution which works to decarbonise the food supply chain through nutrient mining from food waste to convert to micro-nutrient rich liquid bio-fertiliser concentrate and insect protein. During the closing session, the founder was awarded a seed grant of US$5,000 from ESCAP through a partnership with Accelerating Asia and funded by Global Affairs Canada.

In another key moment during the closing session, investment promotion agencies (IPAs) from around the world came together to sign a landmark gender equity pledge promoted by ESCAP and FDI Center to harness the potential of gender-responsive foreign direct investment as a catalyst for women’s empowerment. Invest in Canada, Invest Bhutan, Investment Fiji, Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation, Board of Investments Sri Lanka, Board of Investments Thailand and Board of Investment Philippines form the initial group of signatories leading the way in utilising foreign direct investments to further gender equality. IPAs are well placed to drive these efforts forward by setting gender targets, promoting women’s entrepreneurship, and reshaping internal practices.

With contributions from the International Development Research Centre, the Asian Development Bank, the Australian Government Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Investing in Women and UN Women, the Forum was organised by ESCAP in the context of the Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship (CWE) programme, funded by Global Affairs Canada.

Since 2018, the CWE programme has built momentum for the movement to close the gap in access to finance and create an enabling ecosystem for women entrepreneurs. To date, it has unlocked over US$90.3 million in capital and directly supported more than 178,080 women entrepreneurs through access to finance and enhanced skills to grow their businesses.

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