Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues
Thank you so much, Steve and Janet, for having me here today. I'd like to thank CSIS for the work you do to promote such important and robust policy discussions. It is such a privilege to be among so many experts, and to have the opportunity to discuss these important issues with my colleagues from UNFPA and the
My job as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues is to advance the status of women and girls as a critical element of all U.S. diplomatic efforts. Investing in women and girls -- helping them unleash their potential -- is the right thing to do -- and the wise thing to do strategically.
Women are critical to every issue we face, including security challenges like terrorism and weak rule of law; health challenges like HIV/AIDS and infectious diseases; economic security challenges; and democracy and governance challenges. Studies have shown that countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunities.
I'd like to give you a sense of four areas where I hope to focus my time and effort in the next three years.
The first is gender-based violence. I've worked on violence against women and girls issues throughout my career. When I was at the
We are now working to implement and make real the goals of that strategy, and this is an issue I raise consistently in my diplomatic engagement.
We know an estimated one in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, and in some countries, 70 percent of female populations are affected. Intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence experienced by women globally. And as many as one in four women experience physical and/or sexual violence during pregnancy, endangering both the mother and her child. Further, studies indicate the risk of HIV among women who have experienced violence may be up to three times higher than among those who have not.
The U.S. supports comprehensive efforts to prevent and respond to GBV in all its forms, whether in conflict or peacetime settings, including intimate partner violence, rape, and harmful traditional practices such as child marriage, so-called "honor" crimes, and female genital mutilation and cutting. This includes both diplomatic and development efforts, and highlights our commitment to remain a leader in addressing this global scourge.
This commitment is exemplified in the new Safe from the Start initiative to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies worldwide.
Its initial commitment of
This commitment was on display at the global summit to end sexual violence in conflict in
This conference brings me to my second focus: political participation and women, peace, and security. Despite comprising over 50 percent of the world's population, women continue to be underrepresented in every aspect of political and public life.
Today, only 21 percent of the world's parliamentarians are women. There are 21 women either serving as head of state or head of government. Only 17 percent of government ministers are women, with the majority serving in the fields of education and health. Since 1992, women have represented fewer than 3 percent of mediators and 8 percent of negotiators to major peace processes.
These are the places where decisions get made, and simply put, there aren't enough women in them. Women often raise issues others have overlooked, reach out to constituencies others ignore and have unique knowledge that stems from their societal roles and responsibilities. Women's participation affects the types of policy issues that are debated and decided in parliaments, local councils, and government ministries.
Nowhere is this more critical than in countries like
Like millions of others around the world, we just watched the Afghan people show their commitment to a peaceful and democratic future for their country during the presidential run off and we are pleased with initial reports that Afghan women -- once again -- turned out in high numbers. We know women's unique perspective is critical to peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction. Women often suffer disproportionately during armed conflict.
They often advocate most strongly for stabilization, reconstruction, and the prevention of further conflict. Peace agreements, post-conflict reconstruction, and governance have a better chance of long-term success when women are involved. According to research conducted by the
This is why the U.S. provided training for Syrian women's civil society groups in negotiations, leadership, and conflict resolution training. And why we advocated for the inclusion of women in official delegations of the Geneva II negotiations.
The third focus is adolescent girls. Perhaps some of you joined us yesterday at Brookings, where I spoke extensively about the importance of secondary education.
Certainly all of you know about the ongoing crisis in
A child born to a mother who can read is 50 percent more likely to live past age 5. And a child raised by a mother who has been educated is more likely to be healthy, safe and in school. But girls are especially vulnerable to certain threats.
National Violence Against Children surveys from the Together for Girls partnership in four African countries reveal around one in three girls and one in seven boys reported experiencing sexual violence; and, one in four girls report their first sexual experience happened unwillingly.
Early and forced marriage is a significant issue for young and adolescent girls. There are more than 60 million child brides worldwide; one girl in three is married by 18; one girl in seven in developing countries marries before the age of 15. The health consequences of early marriage are severe and long-term. 15-19 year olds are about 40 percent more likely to die due to medical complications from pregnancy and child births than young women aged 20-24.
are most vulnerable to early marriage, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and dropping out of school. They and their parents will make decisions that will affect their lives -- and families for generations to come.
If we can ensure that more adolescent girls stay and graduate from quality secondary school, remain healthy and avoid early marriage and early pregnancy, they will indeed be on a course to a better life and positively influence the lives of future generations. And, because of these investments, countries will be more stable and more prosperous.
The fourth and final focus is to continue the momentum on women's economic empowerment efforts.
I would like to spend a few minutes on this issue because, as leaders around the world now understand, economic empowerment presents a real opportunity to address so many of the challenges facing women. Recently,
So what do we know about women and the economy?
First, we know several of the barriers to women's economic empowerment.
Many of them are the very challenges I have been discussing: inadequate education systems, high incidences of gender-based violence, and widespread gaps in health services. These issues are all connected. Other impediments strike at the heart of economic activity.
The Women, Business and the Law report indicates that of 143 economies surveyed, 128 make at least one legal distinction between genders that impacts women's ability to participate in the economy. For example, legal barriers and cultural norms in many countries inhibit women from accessing capital.
In developing economies alone, these barriers result in a
Second, we know the benefits of removing these barriers. This is important because of the profound impact that economic empowerment -- or a lack of it -- can have not only in the lives of billions of women and girls around the world, but also on their families, communities, and nations. Growth in women's entrepreneurship boosts economies and rising numbers of women on the factory floor or in the board room, improves the health of economies.
Many of these benefits accrue to the women themselves. Women who take home dependable pay from decent jobs are better equipped to provide for themselves and more likely to stand up for their rights. And investing in women also produces a multiplier effect. Women spend the majority of their earnings on local products and services that strengthen communities and on food, schooling, and immunizations that help secure their children's futures.
At the macroeconomic level, countries can realize significant gains from focusing on leveling the playing field for women.
The OECD found that the narrowing gap between male and female employment has accounted for a quarter of
The UN found that the
Finally we know that impediments to women's full participation in the economy are faced by women in all parts of the world -- by women in least developed countries and G20 countries alike.
Last November, I traveled to
Our challenge is to go from what we know and from where we are, to action. To find out where we -- my office, the
Such an approach will require a variety of partnerships, strategic dialogues, and public diplomacy outreach. We are working to develop toolkits that our embassies and forward-thinking governments or civil society groups can use to drive positive change.
Such an approach will leverage the established international fora that have already turned an eye toward economically empowering women, such as the G20 and APEC, and will look to see how we can enhance these efforts.
The G20 is focused on increasing female labor force participation, and APEC, after successfully elevating the strategic importance of women and the economy through high level policy dialogues that began in 2011, is moving towards regional action to support the consensus achieved in those dialogues.
This is just the beginning. Gains made in a regional forum like these can and should be transferred to other regions.
Such an approach will also draw on private sector engagement. With the private sector supplying the largest number of jobs in most countries, the importance of working with them to establish gender equality throughout internal and external business operations is crucial.
However, women make up the majority of the informal sector and unpaid workforce, and we need to ensure that our efforts take this segment of the population into account.
Such an approach will also convene new multi-member partnerships in support of women's economic empowerment.
Over the past few years, the
Both programs are terrific examples of what can happen when public and private sector stakeholders come together. And they demonstrate the commitment of the U.S and other countries to continue to support the economic empowerment of women.
I'd like to close with an example of a program I heard about when I was in
The trainees participate in modules on health and first aid because the Foundation recognizes that when women and their families are healthy, it benefits both the women and companies that hire them. In families where the total household income was formerly 3,000 to
In communities where women's freedom was limited by the fear of gender-based violence, every woman who takes the wheel helps dozens of others access markets and much-needed services. That, too, is a significant change.
So in all these areas, gender-based violence, women, peace and security, and adolescent girls, women's economic empowerment. We have a pretty good idea of the path forward. We only need to keep committing ourselves and recruiting others to join us.
Our work, and the work we do together, is integral to these efforts. Thank you.
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