Thank you, Madame Chair. It is a great pleasure to join you today at the Commission on the Status of Women to speak about why the empowerment of rural women is vital to global development.
Growing evidence shows that investing in women is not only the right thing to do – it is the smart thing to do.
As Secretary Clinton has said, “To achieve the economic expansion we all seek, we need to unlock a vital source of growth that can power our economies in the decades to come. And that vital source of growth is women.” In rural economies – on which 70 percent of the world’s poor depend – women have a unique potential not only to help drive economic growth but also to help solve the crucial development challenges of our time, from food security to sustainable energy to global health. It is for this reason that the United States champions the advancement of rural women across a wide range of policies in key areas.
Take food security. Women are a sizable part of the world’s agricultural workforce, and are the outright majority in dozens of countries. They manage this in addition to caring for children and families, preparing meals and managing households, procuring water and firewood, and often also laboring in small-scale trading and enterprise.
Yet many rural women lack access to the capital, property, education and physical security that are essential to unlocking their potential. Women receive fewer and smaller loans than men do, and lack equal access to seeds, tools, and fertilizer. Closing the gender gap in agriculture would generate significant gains. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, providing women equal access to productive resources could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent and reduce the number of hungry by 100 to 150 million people worldwide.
That is why women are central to the U.S. global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. In Kenya, we are tailoring agriculture extension services to fit women’s schedules and training women in leadership and business development. In Uganda, we are working with partners to implement a women-led “community connector” program that addresses nutrition, sanitation, and agriculture in an integrated way. And we are piloting new tools to measure gender-specific results,including an innovative “Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index” that was launched yesterday here at the CSW.
Rural women also have significant potential to contribute to sustainable energy solutions. Nearly 3 billion people globally still rely on traditional cookstoves and open fires to prepare food. Smoke exposure from these traditional methods causes an estimated two million premature deaths annually, predominantly women and children. Cookstoves also emit black carbon and greenhouse gases. As we work to build a global market for clean cookstoves, we need to involve women at every step in order to increase adoption rates and generate new economic opportunities, such as local businesses for sales, distribution and repair. We also need to make women a high priority at Rio+20.
Women can drive global health outcomes, and unlocking the potential of rural women requires focusing on the health needs of women and girls. That is why a key priority of the Obama Administration’s Global Health Initiative (GHI) is the Women, Girls, and Gender Equality Principle, which aims to redress gender imbalances related to health. We know it can work: in countries with a long-term commitment to family planning and maternal and newborn health, we have seen maternal mortality drop 30 percent or more. That is also why United States is proud to co-sponsor this year’s resolution on maternal mortality – as we have done in prior years – with dozens of partners from every continent.
Finally, women and girls should be at the forefront of our common efforts to combat violence, abuse and discrimination, with special attention to lesbian and transgender women, ethnic minorities, and the displaced, who are among the most vulnerable.
When President Obama signed his landmark Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, the first of its kind by a U.S. administration, he elevated development as a core pillar of American foreign policy. He also called for new investment in women and girls as powerful forces for change in their economies and societies.
In my travels around the world, I seek out women to hear their views on the future, and I am always honored and humbled by their courage, ingenuity, and determination. A few months ago, I met with brave women in Libya. They spoke proudly of their role in the revolution and sought no less of a role in leading Libya into the future. Their experience, like so many others, shows us that we cannot leave half of any country’s rich human potential untapped.
Speaking before the UN General Assembly last fall, President Obama challenged UN member states to “announce the steps we are taking to break down economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls. That is what our commitment to human progress demands.”This is why we are here today. This session is an opportunity for us to challenge ourselves to go still farther, for there is much work yet to be done.