The 2014 APEC Women and the Economy Forum (WEF) has strongly reaffirmed the importance of unlocking the immense economic opportunities that come from increasing women’s participation in the regional economy.

The forum was held between 21 and 23 May 2014 in Beijing, China, with APEC Ministers, Heads of Delegations, senior officials, representatives of non-governmental organisations and private sector leaders in attendance.

The Australian delegation included private sector representatives and was instrumental in underscoring Australia’s domestic efforts to increase gender equality as well as confirming our commitment to work with APEC members to advance women’s trade and economic prosperity in the region. Australia’s delegation was led by Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja AM,

Consistent with a recent UN Women report which found that limits on women’s participation in the workforce across the Asia-Pacific region cost the economy an estimated US $89 billion every year, the forum restated the importance of keeping the promotion of women’s economic empowerment and the greater inclusion of women in the workforce high on APEC’s agenda.

The forum acknowledged that while globalisation and greater increased economic integration in the region has increased opportunities for women, significant gender disparities remain.

Women continue to be overrepresented in occupations and industries with lower average productivity and wages, underscoring the need for APEC members to increase employment conditions, opportunities, equality and participation for women in the Asia-Pacific region.

APEC economies were encouraged to implement measures to remove long-standing impediments to true gender equality, such as discriminatory gender wage gaps, while urging members to eliminate barriers to increased female labour force participation, including gender stereotypes and cultural impediments.

Recent changes to Australia’s foreign aid program align closely with the forum’s stated objectives, with resources directed towards increasing gender equality by promoting women’s economic empowerment, supporting women’s leadership and addressing violence against women and girls.

Australia has committed to build the capacity of trade promotion agencies to connect women’s businesses to export markets.  The project will showcase Australia’s successful Women in Global Business program which is a partnership between the Commonwealth and state and territory Government’s to support Australian businesswomen to expand their businesses into the global marketplace.

APEC is the Asia-Pacific region’s pre-eminent economic forum. Its 21 member economies are home to more than 2.8 billion people and include eight of Australia’s top-ten trading partners. Over 70 per cent of Australia’s total trade in goods and services is with APEC economies. Australia has participated in APEC WEF since its inaugural meeting in 2011.

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