Today’s event on “Women in Development” offers another important moment to highlight the important role of women in development and economic growth. Too many women around the world are marginalized. Too many girls are not given the opportunity to learn the skills and develop the tools that will help them contribute productively to their communities. We now have significant evidence that shows that by empowering women and girls, societies benefit as a whole, new socio-economic opportunities open, and economic growth is spurred. The United States recognizes this and has made the empowerment of women an integral part of its development agenda.
As Secretary Clinton said at the Special Session on Gender at the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness: “We believe we are entering the age of participation, one in which every individual can make valuable contributions to the global marketplace if they have the opportunity to do so. And it is incumbent upon us to make sure that men and women alike have that opportunity.”
The empowerment of women is of crucial, and growing, importance for harnessing the potential for inclusive growth and development. Women’s engagement in trade and economic activities, employment in export sectors, production of cash crops and the creation of new businesses enables them to make productive investments and reduce poverty.
The World Bank recently released a report showing that the developing world had collectively met the Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015. This occurred in spite of the challenges presented by the financial crisis and slowdown in the global economy. Women played a crucial role in this progress, and their potential is even greater:
- Globally, women will control $15 trillion in spending by the year 2014. And by 2028, women will be responsible for about two-thirds of consumer spending worldwide;
- The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent. This increase could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent, or up to 150 million people;
- Women disproportionately spend more of their earned income on food, healthcare, home improvement, and schooling, which has a multiplier effect in local communities;
- According to The Economist magazine, over the last decade women’s increased participation in the labor market in the developed world accounted for a greater share of global growth than China. In the emerging East Asian economies, for every 100 men in the labor force there are now 83 women, higher even than the average in OECD countries.
A growing body of evidence – including academic, policy, and private sector research – shows that empowering women and reducing gender gaps in health, education, labor markets, and other areas is associated with lower poverty, higher economic growth, greater agricultural productivity, better nutrition and education of children, and a variety of other outcomes. Agriculture, environment, food security, and intellectual property, among other issues, also have important gender considerations.
There has been considerable progress over the recent decades, but there is much work to do. We still face the questions of equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome, gender bias and income inequality, and how to translate women’s educational gains into equal access to full employment and decent work. These all must be tackled through appropriate measures.
The United States believes that to elevate the status of women and girls we must put them at the center of development efforts. To this end, the United States has prioritized women’s economic empowerment and engagement in trade and we have worked to ensure that this is adequately reflected in UNCTAD’s work. The accompanying Fact Sheet highlights some of the important initiatives the United States is doing in this area.