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The Vital Role of Afghan Women in Peace, Security, and Economic Development Processes

Good morning. It is such a delight for me to be back in the Netherlands. Your country and mine have enjoyed close ties for more than 400 years when Henry Hudson first landed in Manhattan and we had very strong diplomatic ties going back to the earliest days of the United States. We have worked together bilaterally to address a range of global challenges and we have worked together multilaterally to address peace and security around the world. So it is so fitting that we come together today to address another extremely timely and important subject.

But before I add my comments, I want to thank Ambassador Hartog-Levin for the extraordinary service she has rendered on behalf of us in your country for the last two years and for bringing us all together this morning. And I know from my conversations with her, that it is very difficult for her to take leave of a place she loves. I know she will take a good chunk of your country home with her. So thank you, Ambassador Levin.

I also want to thank Foreign Minister Rosenthal for his comments today and for his leadership. We had a very excellent meeting yesterday and he conveyed to me personally much of what he said this morning.

And I want to mention the two Palwashas who are with us today. One, Palwasha Kakar, is in her government as a deputy minister and is doing excellent work. The other Palwasha is Palwasha Hasan – she is with the Afghan Women’s Network. She is an exceptional leader in civil society. And I think the two Palwashas represent a kind of coming together of women leaders in powerful positions, one in government and one in civil society. They are making a strong difference for their country, particularly in these times. And I want to add my acknowledgement to the Atlantic Commission for its great leadership in co-hosting this session.

Now in the aftermath of 9/11, the world’s eyes focused on Afghanistan and we made collective efforts to root out al-Qaeda, to overthrow the Taliban and to usher in peace, stability, and a better life for the people of that country. And I also want to add my acknowledgment to the role that the Dutch have played as a partner in Afghanistan, especially your contributions to security, stability, humanitarian relief, reconstruction and development in Uruzgan Province and more broadly across the country. You have been a key partner in organizing elections, fighting the epidemic of opium production and trafficking, and assisting aid organizations with clearing away deadly land mines. And this summer you have launched the initiative that the Foreign Minister talked about this morning in the northern providence of Kunduz to better equip Afghan police forces with training that they need to strengthen the rule of law and assist in the very hard work of reconciliation. You have understood both in your development work broadly and in your engagement specifically in Afghanistan that the future of Afghanistan depends, in many ways, on the degree to which women have an active role, a power sharing role in participating in the political process – certainly in re-integration and reconciliation – and are fully engaged in the economic sector and and have their rights protected. Investing in women and girls is one of the most effective investments that can be made for poverty alleviation, for security, for a country’s prosperity – and even to decrease corruption. Yes, there are studies that show as women’s roles increase in government decision making, corruption decreases.

Now I have read about your government’s recently propagated policies on development cooperation and your focus on the four areas in which the Netherlands can bring special value. And I am pleased that Afghanistan will continue to be one of your partner countries in that work. I was also pleased that the Dutch government launched the Funding Leadership Opportunities for Women fund – (the acronym, FLOW, I like the sound of that) – to promote security, economic opportunity, and political participation. You’ve clearly been guided by the research and the data which documents the soundness of these priority investments. I couldn’t agree more with your Minister for European Affairs and International Cooperation, Minister Knapen, who said, “Investing in women and girls is smart politics, smart economics, and smart security.” The concept of women as agents of peace and stability is also embodied in President Obama’s national security strategy, which says in part, “countries are more peaceful, more prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunities.”

And Secretary Clinton has echoed this view countless times. “The status of women,” she said, “is not only a matter of morality and justice, as important as that is – but is also a political, economic and social imperative. Put simply, the world cannot make lasting progress if women and girls in the 21st century are denied their rights and left behind.”

Following their bilateral meeting a few months ago in Washington, Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Rosenthal issued a joint statement on supporting women’s political empowerment in emerging democracies. Their statement said, “Experience shows that integrating women into transition, reconciliation and peace-building processes from the start helps to promote long-term peace and stability by ensuring a focus on critical broader priorities and needs.” They went on to say, “Where women are oppressed and marginalized, those societies become more dangerous and breed intolerance. The subjugation of women is a threat to the common security of our world, because the suffering and denial of the rights of women and the instability of nations goes hand in hand.” The United States is implementing this understanding in our strategy in Afghanistan – and obviously the Netherlands is also. We agree that Afghan women need to be involved in every step of securing and rebuilding their country.

Now let me turn for a moment to the continuing commitment of the United States to Afghanistan in this time of transition and add to what Ambassador Hartog- Levin has said this morning. In a recent address in India, Secretary Clinton described the Obama administration’s policy. “The United States is committed to Afghanistan and to the region. We will be there. Yes, we are beginning to withdraw combat troops and transfer responsibility for security to the Afghan people, a process that will be completed in 2014, but drawing down our troops is not the same as leaving or disengaging. We and the Afghans are making progress on a new strategic partnership declaration that will define our relationship after 2014. And through that partnership, we will continue to assist the Afghan army and police and the Afghan Government. And we will do everything we can to help the Afghan people rebuild after decades of war. At the same time, we are pursuing an active diplomatic effort with all the countries in the region toward two goals: First, a responsible political solution in Afghanistan, and second, stronger economic ties through South and Central Asia so that goods, capital, and people can flow more easily across borders.”

Those unambiguous redlines that Ambassador Hartog-Levin laid out, including she said, ensuring that the rights of women will be protected as the Constitution of Afghanistan provides – and let me say clearly that those rights include the right to an education, to participate politically and economically in their country’s public life, to be free from violence in their homes, workplaces and communities.

Now no one wants to see the conflict end more than the Afghan women and I have spent much time with many of them and you will hear from them again this morning. They have suffered unspeakable atrocities under the Taliban. So they want this conflict to end and they want a better life for themselves and their country but they want to be part of the process to ensure that the eventual peace agreement is sustainable. They want to be part of that power sharing that the Foreign Minister discussed this morning. This is not a favor to the women of Afghanistan. It is not just a nice thing to do. It is a necessity. Because any potential for peace will be subverted if women’s voices are silenced or marginalized. The United States will not abandon our values or support a political process that undoes the progress that has been made over the last decade. Secretary Clinton also noted that the diplomatic and political effort will only succeed if it is paired with a strategy to increase economic ties in all the countries of the region. None of us can provide aid forever. It is critical that Afghanistan’s economy gets going in a very strong way, that it achieves trade and investment. An Afghanistan firmly embedded in the economic life of the region would be able to attract new investment and connect to markets abroad. This is the vision of a new Silk Road – a 21st century regional economic network that enlists the international community and private sector to ensure a sustainable, economically viable future for Afghanistan.

I had a glimpse of what is possible just a few weeks ago because the State Department sponsored as significant coming together, a conference for female entrepreneurs from Central Asia and Afghanistan that took place in Kyrgysztan. It was called “Invest in the Future.” The women were so eager to accelerate their economic journey together, across borders, in order to grow economic opportunity. As a result of the conference, the United States, multilateral organizations and the private sector have committed resources to provide women with greater opportunity for success. So simply put, neither reintegration and reconciliation nor the promotion of economic opportunity can succeed without Afghan women’s full participation.

The United States, like the Netherlands, has been committed to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. It links women with peace and security. It says that we must ensure justice for acts of violence against women and ensure that women’s participation in conflict prevention, management, and resolution, and strengthening the conditions for lasting peace and prosperity, are real. Evidence shows that integrating women into peace building processes helps promote long-term peace by ensuring that a broader set of critical priorities and needs are on the table and addressed. Moreover, women’s leadership in peace processes positively correlates with a reduction of violence and armed action, the sustainability of those peace agreements and post conflict political frameworks, as well as the evolution of democratic systems of governance.

Women have been distinguishing themselves in Afghanistan. As you heard from the Foreign Minister, the role they’re playing in Parliament, ministries and in the provincial government – and they also need to be fully included in the peace and reconciliation process as it moves forward. We and your country have advocated for their inclusion, as we have for women’s participation in the London Conference that the Foreign Minister mentioned, Kabul conference, in the Consultative Peace Jirga where the women so distinguished themselves several months ago and where they constituted roughly 20 percent of the participants, and now the High Peace Council – the lead Afghan body guiding the ongoing reintegration and reconciliation process. This has to take place on all levels – the national, provincial and local level, where real reconciliation will have to take place if the prospects for peace will truly take hold.

This is also true for the Bonn conference that will take place in December. The Afghan Women’s Network has described this as a step toward defining a vision for Afghanistan beyond 2014 and the transition. But for women to be included in the Bonn II conference, it will be up to the Afghan government, because they are in the chair of the conference and they will be putting together the Afghan delegation. And prior to Bon II, there will be a civil society meeting and it is our hope that representatives from the civil society discussion will also participate in the Bonn conference.

Countries that exclude women do so at their own peril. No country, especially one emerging from war, can afford to exclude and suppress the vital driver of economic growth that women represent. For every dollar a woman earns, up to 90 percent of it is spent reinvested in to her family and in her community. When girls go to school, even just for year, their income dramatically increases after they finish, their children are more likely to survive their families more likely to be healthier for years to come. Women’s capacity to participate and contribute economically is directly correlated to their ability to exercise equal rights, inheritance rights, land rights bear particular significance. Ultimately, access to equal economic opportunity for women and men form a very integral dimension of lasting stability and prosperity.

One of the key sectors for women’s economic participation is agriculture. I know that the Dutch, as has been said, have a great deal of expertise in this sector, as well as water management. And you are the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural goods. You have also developed a robust educational and training system for agriculture that offers so much to places like Afghanistan, which is traditionally an agricultural society. According to USAID, agriculture represents one third of Afghanistan’s economy and 75 percent of its population is engaged in farming – and that includes between 30 –60 percent of women, depending on the region they are from and what the season is. They are involved in farming, herding or otherwise connected to the agriculture industry. Women are playing an extremely important role in all dimensions of agricultural production. Increasingly their role is growing in livestock production and processing of dairy products. They make major labor contributions to a number of the marketed products. Fewer women own either land or livestock because of cultural subordination, traditions, pressure of women to cede inheritance to a relative, lack of credit, and like factors that diminish their prospects.

I remember on an early trip to Afghanistan, I had heard about how the country was importing chickens and I couldn’t understand how, when there was so much potential, that was the case. However, over time I have seen great expansion of poultry programs, through business trainings and other projects. One woman commented that she was now able to open her own poultry business. She said: ”It is unbelievable for all of us how soon our family life changed from misery to prosperity. Many chicks have grown, laid eggs. We are selling eggs, using them as a source of our food for our family and our lives are completely transformed.” And today increasing numbers of women are being trained in veterinary fields as more and more Afghans own their own livestock. The United States development and agriculture programs have focused on improving food security, increasing agricultural productivity and rural employment and to improve family incomes and well being. And this factor is particularly important for the livelihood and security of women. All of this also has a profound impact also on peace and stability. Our agriculture development programs have also focused on the high value fruit and nut production which Afghanistan has always enjoyed an extraordinary reputation. And we are working to train farmers in improving crop yields and business skills, to enable Afghan traders to expand their export markets which will be absolutely critical in the months to come.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) devoted this year’s study – they do an annual study on food and agriculture – on the vital role that women play in the agricultural sector. What the study showed is that there is a very strong economic argument for focusing on investing in women in agriculture. Yet women farmers do not have equal access to resources and this significantly limits their potential in enhancing productivity. They are often at a severe disadvantage when it comes to securing land tenure rights or owning land outright, owning livestock, accessing credit which is a major issue in Afghanistan, receiving the kind of extension training and resources that will grow her output. The FAO study shows that when women are provided with equal resources they can produce yields equal to those of men, if not greater. But because there is a gender gap in access to resources in everything from seeds and fertilizer to training, the opportunity to improve overall productivity has been limited.

We also know from the World Economic Forum’s Annual Gender Gap Report that in the countries that are closer to closing the gap between men and women on 4 metrics, including economic empowerment, those countries are far more economically competitive and prosperous.

When I was at the FAO I participated in a dinner with the Afghan Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock. He described the progress that was taking place in Afghanistan in his sector and he also described some of the key challenges that Afghanistan confronts. And he said that it is absolutely vital to the future success of agricultural production that women play a greater role. His ministry has adopted a gender mainstreaming policy and strategy. However because of a lack of capacity, it has not been implemented to the degree that it needs to be.

Unleashing women’s potential by closing that gender gap in the agricultural sector is a win-win strategy. We all need to do better in our collective efforts to focus on women in the agricultural sector, as well as to ensure that they are getting a greater percentage of resources than they are currently.

Let me just say that to visit Afghanistan, whether in the capital, big cities or in the provincial and rural areas, one is immediately struck by the number of strong, courageous and capable women, many of whom are risking their lives every day in order to work as they do – alongside the men – to create a better life for themselves and their country. One evening when I was in a discussion with some Afghan women, the session opened by one pleading, “Do not look at us as victims but as the leaders that we are.” Afghan women’s contributions are critical, whether in the peace process or advancing economic opportunity and greater productivity in the agricultural sector. They are leading the way. And with our support, they can go that much farther and do that much better.

A friend gave me a small calendar that has a quotation for every day of the year and I think the quotation for today says a great deal about the collaboration between the United States and the Netherlands. It is from an African proverb that says, “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to walk far, walk with others.” And your country, together with mine and so many others, are walking the distance, walking together to make a difference for peace and progress in Afghanistan and for a better world for everyone. I thank you for this and I thank you for all the things we are doing together.

 


Ambassador Verveer’s Remarks at the International Women’s Economic Summit “Peace Through Business” Graduation Ceremony

Thank you for that warm introduction. It is an honor and humbling to be here today with so many who are not content to simply dream of a better world, but are actively working toward one. I especially want to thank my friend Dr. Terry Neese, for her service as the founder and CEO of the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women. Terry could have chosen to simply enjoy the fruits of her extraordinary career in business – instead she has chosen the more strenuous, but rewarding path of “paying forward” her knowledge and skills to others. Looking around this room today, I can tell that her commitment to empowering others is infectious. And while more than 150 women have been directly affected by this program’s training since 2006, there are countless more that have been touched by the ripple effects that alumnae create when they return home.

We have gathered here to celebrate the graduates’ send-off as you prepare to return home to grow your enterprises—women invest upwards of 90% in their family and community—and you share the skills and knowledge you have obtained with other female entrepreneurs. This is a great responsibility that you bear. You have a great deal to share– lessons in financing and marketing, management skills and business strategy development.

All are important lessons, necessary to turn the dreams of your fellow entrepreneurs into reality. But there’s another lesson that I urge you to bring back home with you – and that lesson is that we are all in this together.

3,494 miles separate Rwanda from Afghanistan. I can imagine that when you were first selected to participate in the Peace Through Business program, that must have seemed like an awfully large distance – and not just in terms of geography. The differences are considerable and varied – in language, dress, religion and customs. You might have wondered what, if anything, you shared in common with some of your fellow participants.

So where have you found common ground? The daughters of both Rwanda and Afghanistan have been forced to grow up all too fast, raised in the legacy of horrendous war and violence. No one in either country has been unaffected by the legacy of fighting. Both nations have experienced a terrible void left by so many being killed or forced to flee to safety.

And in both places, it has been ordinary women who have stepped up in an extraordinary fashion to lead the way to progress.

In the wake of the tragedy that unfolded in 1994, women and girls made up 70 percent of the population of Rwanda. With a pressing need to rebuild itself, Rwanda could no longer afford to tolerate the discrimination endured by so many generations of women in the past. Doors that had been shut for far too long were suddenly open to women. Girls who did not dare dream of lives outside the home now have jobs. Rwanda leads the world in political representation for females – at 56%, the highest percentage of women in Parliament of any country on Earth and the first to hold a majority. Rwanda has proven why eliminating gender disparities in elected representatives is so crucial, as female representatives have led the way on landmark legislation: reforming laws on sexual violence, property rights and family law.

Rwanda has rightfully been commended for its efforts to institutionalize the role of women in decision making. It has implemented “women’s councils” and “women only elections” to ensure representation. It has established a Ministry for Gender and Women in Development, with the mandate to install gender posts at all levels of governance. It is including the role of women and girls in the long view, incorporating a national gender framework into its Vision 2020 road map for growth. The Rwandan government has set forth a Girls’ Education policy in recognition of the critical importance of ensuring that our young women are in the classroom where they belong. Altogether 97% of both boys and girls in Rwanda attend primary school and girls comprise a full 50 % of students enrolled in college.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the women of Afghanistan have made their own significant advances toward greater equality. It was the women of Afghanistan who were instrumental in weaving women’s’ rights into the fabric of the 2004 Constitution. Now more women are returning to work. Women have been appointed to government ministries, serve as diplomats and today comprise a quarter of the parliament, with a record number of women standing for office in recent years – including Taj Sirat and Rahela Kaveer, two extraordinary leaders who this program can be honored to call alumni.

You know that under the Taliban, fewer than 900,000 boys were enrolled in school and no girls. Today, more than 6.2 million students are enrolled in Afghanistan’s schools and 35 percent of them are girls.

But you know that we can’t be satisfied, not even with the progress we have seen so far. Overcoming institutionalized exclusion is a lengthy and difficult process. Domestic violence remains at unacceptably high rates in Rwanda and Afghanistan. Only an estimated 21 percent of Afghan women are literate, and the female illiteracy rate is as high as 90 percent in some of the rural areas. And although broader popular support for girls’ schooling and empowerment is building, there are still those extremists who try to impose their brutal agenda by force – whether it is by throwing acid or burning down schools, or gassing brave young women.

We see a leader in Zarha Hossainy, who maintained her grades in high school despite the extraordinary challenge of supporting ten members of her family. She went on to earn a degree in English literature from Herat University and now works with the United Nations in Kabul, when not busy with her home-based carpet weaving company.

We see a leader in Diana Mbabazi, who works a full-time job and still manages to find both the time and energy to run an agro-industrial business that seeks to reduce poverty in her district in Karongi, Rwanda by diversifying agricultural products and reducing crop cultivation.

Chantal and Diana may have grown up a continent away from Mahbooba and Zarha, but it is clear that their struggles – and their triumphs – are linked. As the Secretary of State declared in Bejing in 1995, “human rights are women’s rights” – and that is true on the streets of Kigali and Kabul alike.

These are just a few of the heroes and leaders here today—we see all leaders. The group assembled in this room represents enormous potential that has been stifled for too long in too many parts of the world. You are heading back home as women on missions – to publish online magazines geared toward women. To create the first caring retirement centers for the elderly of Rwanda. To offer specialized technology training to engineers. To establish a fitness center geared toward women. To help others tap their potential and realize their own dreams of self-actualization. And when women progress, everyone benefits: men and women, boys and girls.

The United States is committed to backing you up every step of the way. This is why President Obama and Secretary Clinton have charged the Office of Global Women’s Issues with ensuring that the rights of women are considered across the board, in all of our relationships with our partners around the world. You are the leaders because you are serving on the front lines. It isn’t easy or glamorous. But this is how change comes about – from the woman who decides that she too can be a television graphic designer or a journalist or a school administrator. When times are hard and when change seems to perpetually be an uphill battle, I hope that you will remember the faces around you today. Your fellow leaders. We are all in this together.

I hope that you have taken away from this experience the realization that if a woman is denied a loan because of her gender or denied entry to a classroom because “her place” is deemed to be elsewhere, that makes all of our lives poorer – whether in Africa or Asia or America. However differently we may dress or speak, our differences are dwarfed by the commonality of our struggles and of our humanity. That which divides us is dwarfed by that which unites us.

I have three wishes for new graduates:

That you know the happiness that comes from caring about others;

The rewards of being a visionary activist; and

Experience a world in which women and men are equal, women’s rights are understood as human rights, and women have every opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential and contribute to societies.

Clearly, you already know the happiness that comes from using your activism and your vision in service of others. Work on the third wish. I have total faith that with your leadership, we can make that dream a reality, as well. Because women’s rights are human rights and we cannot settle for anything less.

Congratulations and Godspeed.

 


Ambassador Verveer’s Remarks at the Central Asia and Afghanistan Women’s Economic Symposium

As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Bob.

Let me begin by saying it is a personal pleasure to be back in Central Asia, one of the world’s most historic and beautiful regions, which I first visited over ten years ago, while traveling with then-First Lady of the United States Hillary Clinton. It is fitting that we come together in the region of the ancient Silk Road to spark greater economic opportunity and commerce through women’s leadership and participation on a modern day Silk Road.

I want to offer a very special welcome to each and every one of you, particularly the extraordinary women entrepreneurs, educators, policy-makers, and civil society leaders from Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. We are thrilled that you’ve come together. You represent a truly vital force for driving economic growth and progress in your region.

It is also a pleasure to be here with President Otunbayeva, whom I first met in Beijing in 1995 at the United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on Women, where she gave an impassioned speech about the importance of women’s economic empowerment and highlighted the power of microfinance. Several years later, I had the opportunity to spend several days with her discussing women’s political participation at the Salzburg Seminar. Little known then, today she is President of her country and a model for democratic leadership and women’s progress. I want to thank her for her outstanding work and for being such a willing partner in addressing these issues.

I also thank the members of the U.S. embassies and consulates who are here, who worked so hard to bring us to this day, and particularly Ambassador Pamela Spratlen and her staff in Bishkek. Our embassies were not only instrumental in selecting you, but they will continue to work with you when you leave here, through online conversations and meetings in your country and the region, as well as new investments in training programs, access to finance, internships, and more. This conference is not an end, but a beginning.

We also have a wealth of partners represented here today, from leading international organizations, including UN Women, OSCE, EBRD, and IFC, to universities and foundations, including the American University of Central Asia, the University of Central Asia, and the Aga Khan Foundation, to private companies, including Mary Kay, ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, and Chevron. All of you are men and women who possess a reservoir of talent and experience in finance, technology, management and so many other areas. We are pleased that you, as representatives of your institutions and companies, have come together to share best practices and to make this, as Secretary Clinton said, not just a one-time event, but rather the beginning of a meaningful collaboration and a true investment for the future.

Today, there are many converging studies–from the World Bank to the World Economic Forum (WEF), from think tanks, universities, and corporations–that show that investing in women is a high yield investment. Gender equality in access to education, healthcare, political participation, and economic participation is key to a country’s competitiveness and prosperity. No wonder the World Bank calls gender equality “smart economics.” Women’s economic participation also provides a multiplier effect because women invest upwards of 90 percent of their income in their families and communities on health, education, and other investments for the betterment of society.

Women entrepreneurs offer people everywhere so much promise. It is a fact that women-run small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) drive economic growth and create jobs. This is true in my country and it is true around the world. And, women-owned enterprises often have a better growth rate and a better loan payback rate. That’s why one CEO remarked, “If you want to drive GDP, the best investment that can be made are women-run SME’s.”

And many of you here today are perfect examples.

Women are growing their ranks as entrepreneurs in Afghanistan. Last week, I saw Taj Serat, who owns a soccer ball business that employs several hundred women who create high quality balls, which the company has just begun to export.

This past Saturday in Uzbekistan, I met a remarkable woman, Zora Rakhmatullaeva, who was disabled. She said that day after day she used to sit at home feeling useless. She got up her strength one day and set out to organize others like her to create a viable business. She now heads up the Association of Business Disabled Women and showed me pictures of the beautiful curtains, bedspreads, and other home fabrics that women with disabilities are making through their viable business.

I also remember meeting Rauschan Sarsembayeva from Kazakhstan several years ago. She is an outstanding business leader, who as head of the Women’s Business Association of Kazakhstan, has trained women through vocational technology programs and placed them in jobs. She pays her experience forward, so others may also succeed.

And when I was with First Lady Hillary Clinton here in Bishkek in 1997, I saw firsthand how women, thanks to micro-credit, were able to establish small businesses to support themselves and their families, despite challenging economic times.

But as many of you know, and as these women would also readily acknowledge, women’s success is often hindered by barriers that often undermine their ability to start or to expand their business. Barriers like lack of access to markets, to training, mentors, and technology. Today, for example, 300 million fewer women than men have mobile phones. This gender gap is depriving women of a vital technology that is critical to economic success. In addition, women often confront corruption, discriminatory regulations or practices like lack of inheritance and property rights. Sometimes women are subject to blatant or subtle harassment, disparagement, or dismissive treatment. In some places, women cannot conduct transactions without the permission or participation of male family members. And, of course, it’s also difficult to balance the responsibilities of family and work.

Access to finance is perhaps the major challenge to women for business growth everywhere. Micro-credit has lifted up millions and millions of poor women around the world and enabled them to earn an income, support their families, and pay back their loans at close to 100% repayment rates. I remember a woman who told me how she had longed for a high-powered sewing machine, but did not have the means to purchase one. She told me that she felt like “a bird released from its cage” when she got the loan that enabled her to finally get the machine, grow her business, and pay back her loan.

Yet the significant gender gap to finance remains painfully acute as it affects what we might call “the missing middle” of the small and medium enterprise sector, which is mostly women-run and has the best growth and jobs creation potential. That’s why my government is working to help women overcome obstacles to greater economic participation. We are hoping that through this conference and the follow-on activities, we will better help you to overcome such barriers.

Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coca Cola, put it another way. Several months ago he announced a significant new commitment by Coca Cola to empower five million women entrepreneurs by 2020. He said that the “21st century goes to the women.” He went on to explain why: “The only way a projected billion people will rise to middle class in the next ten years, the only way nations will rise out of poverty and become politically stable will be by women achieving gender parity on a global scale.”

To reach their full national economic potential, countries must also prepare and train their girls and women to participate equally, and to compete effectively, in the local, regional and global marketplaces. Educating a girl is the simplest, most effective development investment that can be made with high yield dividends for her and her future family. Young women also need market-relevant education, leadership skills, and encouragement to apply their talents in the more lucrative, although perhaps less traditional, sectors.

In addition, women need to be represented at the policy-making table if the needs of their families, communities and societies are to be fully addressed. As your businesses grow, we are confident you will speak out against corruption when you see it. As your businesses grow, we know you will be voices for a climate that fosters innovation and prosperity. As your businesses grow, you will advocate with your leaders for a system that promotes greater communication and trade. As leaders in business, we know you will also work to strengthen democratic institutions and civil society. And working together, you will not only benefit your businesses and grow your economies, but also strengthen cross-border relationships.

Each of you is helping to chart a path to a better tomorrow for yourselves and your families, your communities, and your countries. And in so doing, you are also role models for young women who want to start their own business or move ahead in their careers. If you build a network of women leaders that spans this region, there will be no stopping you and no stopping progress for this region. We know that empowering women is one of the most effective and positive forces for reshaping the globe. It is a simple fact that no country can get ahead if it leaves half its people behind.

We know too that you will share this investment in you with others as women always do, that you will pay this experience forward to benefit so many more. When women progress, everyone benefits: men and women, boys and girls. The Silk Road will thrive again as you travel on your journey, not on camels, but through women’s greater economic participation. As you move toward your destination of economic, social, and political progress, you, like the traders of old, will create new opportunities for all.

I hope you have a productive and rewarding experience over the next day and a half, and in the months and years to come. We will work together with you as partners, in order to create a better future for people throughout this region.

 


Ambassador Verveer on The Political and Economic Power of Women

Thank you Karen for your warm introduction. I’m delighted to be here with all of you for this conference, “Democracy that Delivers for Women.” We know that progress for women and progress for democracy go hand in hand.

CIPE has been visionary and effective in its more than 25 years of working to strengthen democracy by strengthening private enterprise. It’s making a difference—a big difference—and I know this conference will surely add to CIPE’s long list of accomplishments and break new ground.

I want to applaud Karen Kerrigan for many reasons. First of all CIPE is so fortunate to have Karen as the Chair of the Board. Hers is a record of commitment, leadership, and achievement and we are all fortunate for her long history of engagement from founding the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council to heading up Women Entrepreneurs, Inc. and for everything she has done here at home and around the world to promote and support women’s entrepreneurship.

Today I want to talk to you about the political and economic power of women in a spirit of realistic optimism. Political and economic realities are intertwined. As Karen said, progress in one dimension reinforces progress in the other. These are the two principal elements of empowerment.

Women’s political participation has been slowly improving. In the last ten years, for example, the rate of participation in Parliaments has grown from 13% to almost 18%. Currently there are fewer than 20 women heads of state or government, and women hold about 16% of ministerial portfolios. Clearly the figure ought to be much better, especially when exceptional women like Germany’s Angela Merkel and Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf have demonstrated the strong qualities that women bring to political leadership.

Let me state this reality another way, women are ½ of the population yet hold 1/5 of the positions in national governments. They are significantly outnumbered in the chambers of parliaments, provincial councils and more often than not missing from the negotiating tables where conflicts are to be resolved. All too often decisions that affect women, their families and societies are made without women having a voice.

In the South Pacific where I recently participated in a policy dialogue initiated by the U.S. that was joned by women leaders from twelve of the Pacific Uslands, female political participation is marginal at best. In Papua New Guinea, for example, there is one female parliamentarian out of 109 members. There has been legislation pending there to add 22 reserved seats for women but it remains pending.

Why should we care? For one, democracy without women is a contradiction in terms. Many of you may be familiar with the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report. It looks at the equality of women and men in a given country in four areas: access to education, health survivability, political participation, and economic security. Where the gap is closer to being closed (and in no country is it closed) – in countries where it has been narrowed and the disparities between women and men are not as great, those countries are more economically competitive and prosperous. In publishing the study over the last several years, the WEF has documented greater progress in access to education and health care than in economic and political participation. The gap in political participation has been the toughest to close.

When women are discriminated against in the political arena, their experiences, talents and perspectives are shut out of political decisions, and democracies and the prospects for a better world are shortchanged. Moreover, according to the World Bank, increases in female participation in government leadership correlate with decreases in corruption. (And I salute CIPE for your efforts to stem corruption which has such a corrosive impact on democratic governance.)

I have seen first-hand the differences women make when they are empowered politically. In India, approximately 40% of the elected representatives in the village and municipal councils are women. Thanks to a quota that was adopted many years ago, today more than a million women across the subcontinent have been elected at the local level to serve on Panchayats—village councils or municipal councils–beyond the seats reserved for women. Their success has been described as a silent revolution in democracy in India. Research studies show that the women-led councils deliver much-needed public services more effectively. From sanitation to education, they target public resources to benefit the community and are responsible for considerable gains at the local level.

Women must also be at the table in peacemaking, peace negotiations and work on post-conflict reconstruction. Ten years ago, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 linking women, peace and security — recognizing that women have a key role to place at all levels of conflict resolution. Women suffer unspeakable horrors like sexual gender-based violence in times of conflict that must be addressed. Women can also help avoid conflict, end it, and recover from it.

The U.S., in both Republican and Democratic Administrations, has played a leadership role on 1325 and its successor resolutions. We need to continue to ensure women gain the skills and access to opportunities to participate in peace processes, political transitions, new constitutions, and the electoral process. The U.S. support for quotas for women in Afghanistan and Iraq, which was chiseled into their constitutions, helped pave the way for women to participate in their Parliaments and provincial councils.

One night in Kabul, I was meeting with a group of Afghan woment to discuss their role in their country’s transition in the peace and reconciliation process. One of the women made a plea that I’ve not forgotten. She said, “Don’t look at us as victims but as the leaders that we are.”

She was right of course. As Secretary Clinton has often said, “any potential for stability and peace in Afghanistan will be subverted if women’s voices are marginalized or silenced.” Today there are more women in the Parliament than previously: there are three women ministers, a woman governor (by all accounts, the best governed province), women elected to the provincial councils, and all of this despite threats to their lives and efforts to keep them from participating.

The U,S, has advocated for women’s participation in all the Afghan consultative bodies. The Peace Jirga that took place a few months ago had slightly over 20% of seats filled by women. The women were so impressive in the Peace Jirga that President Karzai even remarked to me that all of the working groups of the peace jirga recommended that women should participate in follow-on shuras and other consultations.

There is currently a delegation of Afghan women leaders from government, business, and NGOs in Washington. They have been meeting with members of Congress and Administration officials. They want to ensure – during this critical transition period for their country, that women participate in the reintegration and reconciliation process at all levels – from the High Peace Council to the local levels in the villages.

Among those with whom they met were members of the newly organized bipartisan Congressional task force on Afghan women co-chaired by Reps. McMorris-Rogers and Donna Edwards. The task force was established to underscore the importance the U.S. attaches to empowering the women of Afghanistan and particularly to support them in their political participation.

This is also why Secretary Clinton, in the first State Department Quadrennial Review of Development and Deplomacy, placed women’s issues at the center of U.S. foreign policy – so that women and girls are not just beneficiaries of development (as important as that investment is), but also as agents of transformation.

Next week, Secretary Clinton will be participating in the 6th ministerial of the Community of Democracies which will take place in Lithuania, as well as a high-level women’s leadership conference on Women and Democracy that will focus on the role of women in emerging democracies and transitional governments. If the Arab Spring is going to mark a turning point in history for democracy, economic opportunity and the safeguarding of women’s rights in the region, much will have to be done to support the efforts of those on the frontlines, especially the women struggling for political progress and economic opportunity.

This week, First Lady Michelle Obama will be in South Africa attending the U.S.-sponsored Young African Women Leaders Forum to catalyze networks of young women from across sub-Saharan Africa who are leading social and economic initiatives in their own countries.

Economic empowerment is essential to women’s progress. President Zoellick of the World Bank has noted the empowerment of women is smart economics—studies show that investments in women yield large social and economic returns.

Not too long ago, Foreign Policy magazine ran an article on women and the economy in the United States. Remember Rosie the Riveter? She was the emblem of all those women who went into America’s factories during World War II and helped manufacture the equipment needed to send the greatest Army, Air Force and Navy in history into battle. Her motto was succinct and I still like it: “We can do it.” (I have the Rosie poster in my office to remind us that all around the world, women can do it.)

As the Foreign Policy article pointed out, “The economic history of the last 50 years has been the entrance of the female half of the population into the workplace. Women started working out of necessity; they stayed when jobs became careers. They were hired in a hunt for diversity and kept because of their talent. The result has been a world-changing revolution. Today, women are not just good for the bottom line: they’re fundamental to bringing nations out of poverty and they just might be the future of work.” After World War II, the United States saw a significant increase in GDP largely due to women’s work outside the home.

We know that the best ideas and innovation flourish in a diverse environment. Today, in the U.S., women comprise half the workforce. In almost two thirds of families, they are the primary breadwinners or the co-breadwinner. Without women’s earnings, the economic viability of many families in our country would be worse today.

I remember many years ago, bringing an international group of emerging women leaders to the Chamber of Commerce for a meeting with one of the officials. He told them if he had one message for them to take to their leaders, it was the importance of women in the economy of their countries. He said, “Tell your leaders, the U.S. economy is booming because of women’s economic participation.” So in boom times, or the more challenging economic times today, American women are making a difference in growing businesses and driving economic growth.

What the Chamber official said was in contrast to an official I met when I was traveling with then First Lady Hillary Clinton several years ago. This economics official was going on and on about how women in his country have no role in the country’s economy. Mrs. Clinton stopped him and said, “Sir, as far as the eye can see, (we were traveling in a van), women are bent over with children on their backs doing the farming, carrying wood, carrying water…if they all stopped but for a day, your country would shut down.”

Let me give you a macro example of what the economic empowerment of women could mean, drawing on my experience at an APEC meeting. It is calculated that the Asia-Pacific region is shortchanged in excess of 40 billion a year in GDP because of the untapped potential of women. $40 billion! Can the world continue to afford to perpetuate structural discrimination against women in the workplace anywhere?

At the State Department, we’ve put a strong focus on women’s economic empowerment and placed these issues on the agenda of the multilateral platforms in which we participate, including APEC. Last year, APEC, with U.S. leadership, held the first ever Women’s Entrepreneurship Summit in Japan. It included government and private sector participants from the 21 economies. This year with the U.S. leading APEC, we will take this to a more prominent level with ministers and private sector representatives participating in the APEC Women and the Economy Summit in San Francisco in September. Secretary Clinton will give the keynote address.

The fact is that we are witnessing a dramatic change in the role women are playing in the global economy. But while some of the progress is encouraging, many significant challenges remain at home and abroad. These challenges impact the family, the workplace and economies everywhere.

If governments and their private sector and other co-collaborators cannot develop and apply appropriate policies and market solutions, the world’s economy will not achieve the sustainable, balanced, inclusive growth we all hope for.

Women entrepreneurs offer people everywhere so much promise. It is a fact that women-run SMEs drive economic growth and create jobs. One CEO described why they are a high-yield investment. He said they are the “lowest hanging fruit to pick to drive GDP.” This is true overseas, and certainly true here in the U.S. where women own 40% of U.S. businesses, contribute $4 trillion to the U.S. economy, and women-run SMEs are growing at a faster rate.

Yet everywhere women face barriers that hinder their ability to start or expand their businesses—challenges that CIPE is also working to address. Women often lack access to finance, to markets, to training, mentors, and networks, and to technology. They also frequently face discriminatory regulations, policies and practices that are often deeply entrenched. Sometimes they lack property, inheritance or land rights.

CIPE’s studies are replete with examples of those impediments and innovative ways in which women are transcending their circumstances. To stem the costs in lost GDP and help women to overcome the barriers to greater economic participation, we at the State Department have instituted several programs in concert with private sector partners to focus on business training and mentorships—such as the mentoring partnership with Fortune’s Most Powerful Businesswomen or the Tech Women program in which women in technology from Silicon Valley work with women in the Middle East. We have also begun a series of training conferences for women entrepreneurs in the Caucuses, Central Asia, the Balkans and beyond called “Invest in the Future.” We know that if women progress economically, it will lead not only to stronger economies but to healthier democracies.

CIPE too is making important contributions. Let me mention specifically your efforts to support business associations. Your missions statement on this issue is well put: “Business associations play a crucial role in sustainable economic development and political advocacy. They are uniquely positioned to unite the business community around a common set of issues, needs, recommendations and policy alternatives. So often, what might be a concern for one small business is often the concern of many.”

I saw this first hand with a training program we began last year for African Women Entrepreneurs so they can better access the trade benefits of the African Growth Opportunity Act. A group of very capable and successful African women entrepreneurs from the AGOA countries participated in last year’s ministerial in Washington and headed out to the Midwest for 2 weeks of trainings. I was with them a little over a week ago at this year’s AGOA ministerial in Lusaka, Zambia where African businesswomen had garnered the attention they deserve. A year into the program, it was so exciting to see the enormous progress the women are making in growing their businesses, making them export ready, and expanding the network of women entrepreneurs in their own countries. They have also lobbied their government for improved investment climates. At the AGOA ministerial, Secretary Clinton announced that the U.S. would support another two years of trainings in the U.S. for additional African women entrepreneurs. This pan-African platform for women is powerful and taught us what we and CIPE already know—that investing in women is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing.

CIPE’s initiative in Afghanistan for over 200 women trained in advanced entrepreneurship skills has facilitated the expansion and creation of dozens of businesses. Although this is a business/economic initiative, it is also a political one. It too generates dialogue, discussion, and an agenda addressing critical needs ranging from property rights to access to credit.

Last month I traveled with Secretary Clinton to the OECD ministerial in Paris which focused on gender and economic growth. The great majority of the ministers spoke about the importance of including women in their economic growth strategies. They also endorsed the OECD Gender Initiative, which the U.S. led, and which among other elements, calls on the OECD to improve data collection on women’s employment and entrepreneurship and to work with other willing organizations on a plan to make gender data more comparable and useful, and to identify a list of common indicators for future data collections.

As Secretary Clinton said in Paris, “No society can achieve its full potential when half the population is denied the opportunity to achieve theirs.” We have studied these issues over many years; we have discussed them and we have placed them on the international agenda. That is progress. Although the debate is mostly over, the struggle for women’s full economic and political power is not. Much work remains and thankfully, CIPE is on the frontlines advancing women’s economic and political progress.

After all, gender equality benefits everyone. The rising of the women is the rising of us all. We know this to be true and it is without a doubt grounds for realistic optimism. Thank you, CIPE and other co-sponsors, for your leadership, your commitment and your efforts—for all you have done and for all you will do. And best wishes for a very successful conference and I look forward to hearing about strategies and solutions that are making a difference.

 


Ambassador Verveer Meets Indonesian Women Entrepreneurs

U.S. Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Initiatives Melanne Verveer visited a group of 18 women entrepreneurs in a poor Jakarta community. These women had started or expanded their businesses with U.S. guaranteed micro-financing loans. The women operate small businesses, ranging from a goat farm to a store that sells basic food items. Most are businesses that the women run from their homes.

“These women are great examples of how a small amount of financing can spark the entrepreneurial spirit and empower women,” explained Ambassador Verveer.

Ambassador Verveer visited the women entrepreneurs during a two-day visit to Jakarta.  She also met with women businessmen and civil society activists. Support for women entrepreneurs is part of the U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership signed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in November 2010.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched a four-year, $13 million loan portfolio guarantee with PT Bank Andara last year to stimulate more loans to small rural bank and non-bank financial institutions.  These institutions, in turn, provide loans to Indonesian micro and small enterprises that serve the needs of the poor in Indonesia. USAID agreed to guarantee a loan portfolio of up to $6.5 million.
Bank Andara is loaning to microfinance institutions that they consider pro-poor. Such institutions are comprised of women and youth groups, farmers and disadvantage individuals. Bank Perkreditan Rakyat (BPR) is one such bank. The BPR has 3,704 women borrowers which represents 76% of their total customer base. The amount of the average loan to a woman is about 3 million IDR (est. $350 USD) usually to support small stores set up before their homes.

USAID anticipates that this program will provide positive examples to spur larger commercial banks to target microfinance and microenterprises and begin to lend to these potential clients.

 


Ambassador Verveer on Integrating African Women Into the Global Economy

It is a pleasure for me to be here at the AGOA Ministerial to participate on this panel focused on integrating African women into the global economy. I’m particularly pleased to be here with my distinguished co-panelists.

I met Sylvia Banda last year at the first-ever African Women Entrepreneurship Program that took place in Washington during the AGOA Ministerial. Since then, she has been instrumental in creating AWEP’s dynamic Zambian Chapter and the AWEP Conference that is also taking place here. I’m told that you can’t turn on a radio or a TV in Zambia without hearing about AWEP! We have just concluded a special event with the Zambian Minister for Commerce, Industry, and Trade, Felix Mutati, at which he launched a women’s business incubator that will be housed here in Lusaka. Zambia has also agreed to serve as the secretariat for AWEP.

I’m also pleased to see Hanna Tetteh, Minister of Trade and Industry from Ghana. She and I met years ago when she was serving in parliament, and I’ve had the good fortune over the years to participate in many public policy discussions with her. It is a privilege to be able to refer to my friend as “Madame Minister.”

The AGOA Ministerial serves to remind us of the importance of the American – African relationship. Through AGOA over the past 11 years, we have strengthened our ties, increased our trade, and created economic opportunities for our people. I was serving in the White House when President Clinton signed AGOA in 2000, and it has had strong support in both the U.S. and in Africa ever since.

Each time I travel to Africa, I’m reminded just how rich this Continent is in its beauty and resources—the greatest of which is its people. But Africa’s biggest underutilized resource—in fact, the most untapped resource the world over—is women, and that is especially true when it comes to economic growth. When we fail to tap the potential of women, we not only shortchange them but shortchange our economies and prosperity.

Let me turn for a moment to the way women’s economic participation contributes to economic growth.

The World Economic Forum releases an annual Gender Gap Report, which measures the equality of men and women in four areas: access to education, health survivability, economic participation, and political participation. What the analysis shows is where the gap is closest to being closed—where men and women are more equal—countries are more economically competitive and prosperous.

World Bank research shows that gender inequality limits economic growth, and when gender-based barriers are removed, economies can better flourish. This is why the World Bank has a focus on gender equality as smart economics.

Furthermore, Goldman Sachs has produced seminal research that shows women-run small and medium-sized businesses are growth accelerators: if we want to grow GDP, they are a high-yield investment.

Today, more and more companies are recognizing the benefits of diversity to their bottom-line – diversity on their corporate boards, diversity in management, diversity in the workforce, and diversity in supply chains. We also know that diversity contributes to innovative thinking and innovation is the source of economic competitiveness.

We know too that women form one of the fastest growing markets with the greatest purchasing power. It therefore makes strategic sense that the composition of companies involved in supplying, designing, and marketing goods and services reflect this market.

Women’s incomes constitute a multiplier effect on the economy because they invest upwards of 90% of their earnings in their families’ health and education, investments which transform the community and build the broader economy.

So it is a simple fact that women are drivers of economic growth, and today we have the data to support it. Let us resolve to apply this data and grow women’s economic participation to build and expand economies as we move forward.

The Obama Administration understands the importance of investing in women, which is why we launched the African Women Entrepreneurship Program at last year’s AGOA Forum. AWEP is helping African businesswomen grow their SMEs, create and expand women’s business networks, build export-ready businesses, and work with governments to improve business opportunities for women.

In just a year, the women have created a pan-African businesswomen’s platform, and they have reached into their own pockets to provide training and support to other women’s business networks. And they’ve worked with many of you in government to improve business opportunities for women.

Rugie Barry, the CEO of one of the largest construction supply companies in Liberia, was first introduced to the concept of an incubator at the 2010 AWEP event. Barely three months later, Rugie launched a business incubator for women in Monrovia. Today it is enabling several hundred small businesswomen to access sound business practices.

AWEP women are entrepreneurial in every sense of the word and are creating their own opportunities, and in so doing sending positive ripple effects throughout this great Continent.

All of us need to do more to support women entrepreneurs. Governments should enact laws to ensure women’s property and land rights, facilitate access to capital, do away with discriminatory regulations, policies, and practices, and better enable women to operate businesses and participate in trade that benefits everyone. This is a win-win prescription for economic growth.

African women are working hard to start and expand their businesses and to invest in the well-being of their families and communities. They are innovative and industrious, but they still face many barriers that stand in their way. AGOA can do more to recognize the role of women-run SMEs in Africa’s growth. After all, when women progress, everyone benefits. And when women participate fully in their economies, economies are more competitive and countries are more prosperous. That is true here in Africa and that is true around the world.

 


Ambassador Verveer: Policy Dialogue on Healthy Women, Healthy Economies

Secretary Hillary Clinton came here last November to underscore the commitment of the United States government to the people of Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific region. She recognized the critical importance of investing in women and girls and announced that a Pacific Women’s Empowerment Initiative policy dialogue would take place in PNG. She also announced that I would come. So here am I and all of you! I want to extend a very special welcome to each and every one of you. You come from 15 countries, and you represent government, business, and civil society. You are all leaders and experts in your field.

Today we begin a journey together for “healthy women and healthy economies” in the South Pacific region. Together, we will develop effective programs and policy recommendations, and together we will continue the hard work of implementing the efforts that begin here and build on what so many of you have done over the years.

So many people brought us to this day. It took a village!

I want to thank our co-hosts. The government of PNG joined with the U.S. government and the World Bank to lead this policy dialogue. I want to thank especially Dame Carol Kidu for her inspired leadership and commitment and for the work of her colleagues. I also want to thank the World Bank and IFC — and especially Laura Bailey and Carolyn Blacklock. This project has also had the strongest commitment from the U.S. government, especially the Office of Global Women’s Issues. I want to thank our embassy staff here in PNG and those coming from Manila and Suva for their on-the-ground assistance. And I want to thank Ambassador Taylor for his leadership and for hosting the reception last night and CDC and USAID for joining us here today. I also want to acknowledge the presence of the Asian Development Bank, the UN, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and Pacific Islands Forum.

The recommendations of this policy dialogue will be supported in the months ahead by an array of programs that will further our work together. The United States – through the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor – will underwrite an initiative through the International Foundation for Electoral Systems to further the political participation of women in PNG and the Solomon Islands. It will train women for effective advocacy with their governments.

During Secretary Clinton’s trip here and to Australia and New Zealand, she and her counterparts announced additional new support. The U.S. and Australia will collaborate with the World Bank to co-host a policy dialogue in Australia on effective means to combat gender-based violence and promote women’s empowerment in the South Pacific in Canberra in November. In February, the New Zealand government hosted a policy dialogue and, as a result, New Zealand has agreed to support Vital Voices to conduct a leadership training to strengthen women’s political participation and empowerment. It will take place in Vanuatu in August. We hope that some of you will join as mentors.

In addition, we are so pleased to see that the government of Australia announced a grant to the GSM Association to support the mWomen initiative to increase women’s access to mobile technology in the Pacific region. This builds on the U.S. commitment to close the gender gap in mobile technology made by Secretary Clinton last year.

Much progress has been made on behalf of women and girls, thanks to the hard work and commitment of so many citizens and government leaders – thanks to all of you. Effective partnerships have been forged among donor governments, the UN and other multilateral agencies, the private sector and NGOs. We know that when women make progress, everyone makes progress — all of society benefits.

Today, there are many converging studies from the World Bank to the World Economic Forum showing that investing in women is a high yield investment. Data show that development investments in women and girls correlate positively with poverty alleviation, better health, and a country’s general prosperity. Educating a girl is the simple most effective development investment that can be made with high yield dividends for her and her future family.

In countries where men and women are closer to being equal in economic participation, political empowerment, access to education and health survivability, these countries enjoy greater prosperity and economic growth. Simply put – no country can get ahead if half its people are left behind. Gender equality is a key condition for a country’s prosperity.

We know that when women bring their talents, perspectives and experiences to bear in the political arena, they are far more likely to invest in the public good. The number of women serving on village and city councils in India (the panchayets) – as a result of the quota adopted by the Indian parliament – are a well-documented case of the difference women are making in elected office. The women are investing in safe drinking water, education, sanitation and other community needs. We also know that as women’s participation in parliament goes up, corruption goes down. Yet women are still significantly out-numbered in the parliaments, provincial councils, local governments, and ministries around the world. The South Pacific region has extremely low levels of representation of women in government decision making. Together we must make greater progress in advancing women in politics. There is no shortage of talent, but women’s opportunities in politics are too often circumscribed. Democracy without the participation of women is a contradiction in terms.

Gender equality is also smart economics. Women are too often under-represented in the workforce. Women as entrepreneurs running small- and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) offer so much promise. It is a fact that women-run SMEs drive economic growth and create jobs. Moreover, women’s work has a multiplier effect because women invest most of their income in their families and communities – in what makes for better societies. Yet women face barriers that hinder their ability to start or expand businesses. They often confront lack of training and mentors, access to finance and markets. They confront discriminatory laws, regulations or customs, and lack of land rights. Financial inclusion – the full range of services of credit, savings, and insurance are critical elements for women’s economic progress and must be supported.

According to a UN study, it is estimated that the Asia Pacific region is shortchanged between 42 and 47 billion dollars a year in GDP because of the untapped potential of women. Women’s contributions to the formal and informal economy are not to be under-estimated. Together we must make greater progress in ensuring women’s economic participation.

Women’s health is important for her and for her family’s well being, yet women so often put themselves last in addressing their own health care needs. Available statistics for the region show that women are dying prematurely from natural health causes as well as from infections and pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. The Millennium Development Goals that address ending maternal mortality and child mortality are significantly behind their targets, yet we know from the decreases that have taken place over the last decade that progress is possible. Voluntary family planning is one of the most effective public health interventions and prevents both maternal and child deaths. Government officials need to recognize its importance and the health care priority that women represent. There is much that needs to be done if we are to see progress on women’s health.

Violence against women is a global epidemic and we know from studies that this region has among the highest rates of domestic violence in the world. This is not a private family matter, nor can it be dismissed as cultural. Gender-based violence is criminal and needs to be prosecuted. It also means that police and judges need to be trained, laws need to be implemented and enforced and programs need to be put in place to keep women safe. Violence against women is a very serious challenge. It is a fundamental violation of human rights. It is a serious health issue. It also affects a country’s productivity and its economic prospects. It destabilizes societies and undermines security in the long term. Together we must make combating violence against women and girls a policy priority and engage men and boys in being part of the solution.

You have achieved much, but no one knows better than you how much remains to be done. Each of you is helping to chart a path to a better tomorrow in the South Pacific region. Women are the greatest untapped resource on earth.

Working together, we will make a difference!

 


Ambassador Verveer’s Remarks to the OECD Ministerial Session on Development and Gender

As we mark the OECD’s 50th anniversary, we are rightly focused on addressing today’s challenges to ensure a future based on smart economic policies, inclusive and sustainable growth and effective development. If we are to achieve these goals, women and girls need to be at the core of our efforts.

When we boost female employment and promote women’s entrepreneurship, we drive economic growth. It also helps to reverse the plummeting birthrates that some countries are experiencing. It is a simple fact that economies are severely shortchanged when we do not tap the economic potential of women–or as Secretary Clinton described the consequences, “Global progress and prosperity will have its own glass ceiling.”

Further, development investments in women and girls correlate positively with poverty reduction and a country’s general prosperity. According to the World Bank, the greater the representation of women in government decision-making, the lower the level of corruption.

The OECD Gender Initiative, which the United States is pleased to support, is focused on education, employment, and entrepreneurship; and it is a much-needed resource for the promotion of economic growth. One outcome of the Initiative will be the creation of a data bank of vital economic data disaggregated by gender. This will be essential to better capture women’s economic status and enable the creation of indicators for evidence-based decisions, as well as identify better ways to address the barriers women confront.

In her opening remarks, Secretary Clinton called for the OECD and other partners, like UN Women and the World Bank, to work together to improve gender data. This coordination will improve data comparability and build a more comprehensive body of evidence to track progress and analyze the impact of different practices, regulations and policies.

We also join in supporting preparations on the joint plan for discussion at the upcoming High-Level Aid Effectiveness Forum in Busan by OECD, the UN and the World Bank.

In addition, we are pleased that the OECD will produce a report focused on the APEC countries and their 21 economies to be released at the APEC Women and the Economy Summit which will take place in San Francisco in September.

Lastly, unprecedented changes in North Africa and the Middle East (MENA) include serious economic challenges as well. I want to commend the OECD and Ambassador Karen Kornbluh for the important work that is being done to create an open and growing inter-regional network to support the creation and growth of women-led businesses. The MENA region has the lowest rates of women’s economic participation.

Without women’s empowerment, the promise of the Arab Spring will be dashed. The OECD Women’s Business Forum has undertaken an ambitious program to identify the barriers that persist and to develop recommendations to MENA governments on how to create enabling environments to foster women entrepreneurs and business owners. Few initiatives will be more important in the days ahead.

In short, as we chart a future that results in “better lives for all,” it is critical to promote gender quality. Otherwise we will have neither smart economics nor smart development.

 
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Melanne Verveer: Introductory Remarks at Media Roundtable With Egyptian and International Journalists

Ambassador Verveer: Thank you for coming out this afternoon and I hope you haven’t had to wait too long. I’m very happy to see you and to take any questions, and to have a discussion. My portfolio is a new position in the Obama administration. This ambassadorship did not exist before, but President Obama and Secretary Clinton recognize that in today’s world, within our countries, between our countries, working as our foreign ministry does, as every foreign ministry does around the world, that we can’t hope to tackle the challenges that we confront in the world, whether they have to do with economics, with security, with the environment, with how we govern ourselves, unless women are fully participating at every level of society.

My job is really to integrate the issues as they affect women…putting them into the equation, whether it has to do with our department that deals with economics or departments that deal with different parts of the world or with human rights. Because in addressing the issues of those departments, having a lens on women’s issues really will create more effective outcomes. It is really predicated on the simple fact that no country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind, if it leaves the women behind.

I come back to Egypt, a country I love to come to—where I’ve come to know so many extraordinary people, at a time of historic moment in your country. The events that unfolded on January 25th captivated not just everyone in the United States, but everyone around the world, and obviously it has created an influence that continues every day in this region. Just hearing Egyptians, men and women—of all ages, of all sectors in society, and from different backgrounds—come together as one Egypt, talking about their aspirations for a new Egypt for themselves, for freedom, for economic opportunity, has been more inspiring than I can describe. There is so much interest in our country, from people in government, outside of government, who want to know how they can be helpful, particularly women, because they come to me and they say, “How can we help our Egyptian sisters now? They are on the threshold of something extraordinary, but it will be a difficult transition.”

I have been here for the last several days to listen, to really understand how things are moving forward and hopefully to be able to use my voice to echo what the women here have been telling me. I have had the privilege over the last several days to meet with civil society leaders, to meet with many of those active participants on Tahrir Square, both the young and those who’ve been pioneers for women’s progress, often struggling very hard to achieve some of the laws that have been achieved. I have met with dynamic women who are running small and medium-sized businesses, because it’s clear women have to be a part of economic solutions; they have to be participants in the economic growth of this country. What is going to be done to ensure that they can overcome barriers so that their potential to grow GDP can be unleashed? And I’ve also met with women in the poorer sections of town who are struggling with some tough issues—dealing with violence, dealing with child marriage, [human] trafficking—to see how they are becoming empowered and really taking control of their lives and contributing to a better future for their families.

I’m nearing the end of my visit here. I only have a couple more meetings before I fly out tomorrow morning, but I’m pleased to be able to have some time here now to be able to talk to you…to be able to hear your questions, and to be able to talk some more about my experiences here.

 
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U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue On Women Empowerment

Islamabad – As part of the U.S. – Pakistan Strategic Dialogue initiated in March, 2010 by Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Mr. Shah Mahmud Qureshi, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melane Verveer and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, Ms. Shahnaz Wazir Ali jointly chaired the dialogue on Women Empowerment held in Islamabad on June 24, 2010.

This is the first official dialogue between the U.S. and Pakistan focused on women’s development and empowerment seeks to identify a common agenda and activities for both countries to affirm their interest in empowering women and advancing women’s rights. The Pakistan Government delegation presented the overall program for women’s empowerment which was appreciated by the U.S. delegation. The discussion encompassed a range of issues including: exploring greater economic opportunities for women; political empowerment of women; addressing violence against women; provincial variations in the challenges and accomplishments for women, gender sensitization of key judicial and law enforcement agencies.

The following initiatives were discussed as potential next steps:

1) Developing a training program for women local leaders at the union council levels to help support capacity building and leadership training.

2) Exploring the use of technology to improve the lives of women and girls.

3) Creating programs that seek greater economic opportunities for women’s technical training, entrepreneurial development, microfinance, access to domestic and international markets, and access to capital.

4) Supporting institutional measures for relief and rehabilitation of women victims of violence and displacement.

The US delegation appreciated the government’s commitment to bring about progressive legislation for women.

These discussions were the eighth of the Strategic Dialogue working group meetings held earlier this month which included defense, energy, water agriculture, economics and finance, market access, science and technology.

Ambassador Verveer and Ms. Shahnaz Wazir Ali along with delegation members also visited the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women Crisis Center in Islamabad and will provide Rs.2million in support of the Center’s most critical needs.

 
 

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