Good evening. It is wonderful to be here. And I want to thank our hostess and the chair of the Federal Council for welcoming us here to this absolutely amazing, beautiful place at Catherine’s Palace in St. Petersburg during the White Nights. Valentina, personally, I am so grateful to you. And I appreciate everything the Russian Government has done to host APEC women and the economy. And we look forward to working with Indonesia next year to ensure that this issue remains a central part of the APEC agenda.
So many people contributed to making this gathering a success, from the Governments of Singapore and Japan, who have made this issue and this forum a priority from the very beginning, to our partners in the private sector who are part of the APEC agenda, who have been working to further the goals that we all agreed to in the San Francisco Declaration. And I think it’s especially fitting that here in the Catherine Palace, in this beautiful city, we remember that Russia has a history of strong women leaders in the past and the present. And we are – (applause) – we are honored to be celebrating the progress we are all making together at this time.
I think it’s fair to say that since Peter the Great, Russians have viewed St. Petersburg as not only their “window on the West,” but as a place to showcase so much of Russia’s great art, great workmanship, which we can see around us in this palace. But certainly given the huge size of Russia, Russia looks in all directions and, in particular, looks toward Asia and the Pacific.
Like the United States, Russia is a Pacific power that has the opportunity to play a constructive role in the region. Last July at the ASEAN Regional Forum, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and I spoke about the need for Russia and the United States to deepen our cooperation on the future of trade, investment, and business in this critical region. We are working to intensify our shared efforts in the Asia Pacific on everything from strengthening maritime security, to responding to natural disasters, to halting nuclear proliferation, and, of course, working to promote the rights and opportunities of women. So we look forward to continuing this dialogue, not only between Russia and the United States, but among all of our APEC partners.
If you think about APEC, our membership includes the first, second, and third largest national economies in the world, as well as many others that are growing, despite the economic downturn. Yet for all our diversity, 9 months ago in San Francisco, we joined together around a shared vision and commitment to the kind of growth that we believe will go even further to provide opportunities by taking concrete actions to increase women’s participation in our economies.
As I reported last year in San Francisco, there is a growing body of evidence that proves bringing more women into the workforce spurs innovation, increases productivity, and grows economies. Families have more money to spend. Businesses expand their consumer base and increase their profits. In short, when women participate more fully in their economies, everyone benefits.
Now for developed economies with aging populations, women can help create new jobs and opportunities. Women-owned businesses in my country contribute nearly $3 trillion to our economy, and they have actually been growing at more than twice the rate of businesses owned by men. In Japan, raising the 60 percent employment rate among women to match the 80 percent rate among men would add more than 8 million workers and could increase Japanese GDP by as much as 15 percent.
In other countries throughout APEC, increasing women’s entrepreneurship raises incomes while reducing inequality. There are nearly 6 million formal, women-owned small businesses in East Asia. And in economies like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, women-owned businesses are increasing and growing at a fast rate. Women now represent 40 percent of the global labor force, 43 percent of the global agricultural workforce, and more than half of the world’s university students. So it’s just logical: Limiting women’s economic potential is for every country like leaving money on the table. It doesn’t make sense, especially when we are still struggling to grow our way out of the economic crisis.
Yet let’s be clear. We all know women still face obstacles. According to the World Bank, there are more than 100 countries where laws are different for women than men who wish to participate in the economy. In some countries, women cannot open a bank account or sign a contract. In other countries, women are restricted as to what professions they can enter and what hours they can work. In still other countries, women are not permitted to be the head of her household, and they are not permitted to make decisions for their own good and the good of their children. So these rules undermine women’s economic participation and women’s dignity and rights while reinforcing the damaging idea that women should be treated differently because of our gender. Even where there are no legal barriers, social or institutional restrictions often hold women back. In the United States we are still grappling with issues like equal pay.
In San Francisco we pledged to take on these challenges and we identified four critical areas: access to capital, access to markets, skills and capacity building, and women’s leadership. And we are making progress. Japan has hosted the first regional forum addressing barriers to women’s leadership. Here in St. Petersburg we are looking at how corporate structures discourage women from assuming leadership positions. And we are discussing ways to improve women’s skills in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Today, I am announcing two new APEC initiatives to expand women’s access to capital and markets. First, we want to help governments use their purchasing power to support women entrepreneurs and grow their economies. So we are working with the United Nations International Trade Center to improve the ability of APEC governments to source from women-owned businesses.
We will also work to help governments see how they can help build the capacity of women entrepreneurs to meet the needs of large-scale buyers. When I was a United States Senator, I worked to help improve small businesses, both women and men, and to help them advertise their products. So a woman who had a very small business making quality soap got a huge order and didn’t have the personnel to actually fill the order. So how do we fill that gap so that if we help women’s businesses improve, how do we create more capacity for them?
Second, we are joining with expert partners to train central and commercial banks throughout the Asia Pacific in inclusive lending practices so that women can access finance and capital. Westpac Bank has increased their bottom line by 2.5 billion Australian dollars in 2009 by focusing on women as borrowers.
So I think we can do even more (inaudible), and I’ll leave you with one example of how our San Francisco commitment inspired a new initiative in the Americas. Now the Americas and the Asia Pacific have many distinct concerns, but the needs of entrepreneurs are similar around the world. Two months ago at the Summit of the Americas, we launched a program to create public-private partnerships to support women entrepreneurs. I’ll give you the example of one woman, Estephany Marte. Her father started out selling pineapples out of his truck almost 30 years ago. Now she employs more than 30 people and runs a small business supplying local grocery stores and restaurants with fresh fruit pulp. She’s ready to go international, so she has joined our Women Entrepreneurship Program and has been connected with business leaders, given a training session, helped her get contacts so that she could grow her business. Now she needed access to capital – and she was able to get it – to purchase a refrigerated truck.
So we’re looking for both the big ideas that will inspire people and the very small steps that will help individuals succeed. We’re connecting people like Estephany to large-scale buyers such as Coca-Cola or Marriott. And we know there are millions of women like her in Vietnam, in Thailand, here in Russia, across the Asia Pacific, and the world. And what we have to do is open our minds, think creatively, look for new and better ways of doing business, and be sure that we keep women at the table.
And we know this is not going to happen overnight, but I am so pleased by the progress we’ve made in just one year from San Francisco to St. Petersburg, and now we will go on to Bali and beyond. Progress is possible. It needs to be accelerated. We need the economic engine that women can provide in every one of our countries, and I pledge that the United States will continue to work with you as a partner as we make progress together.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)