Washington — Give women greater access to jobs and economic opportunities and your entire economy will improve, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told corporate executives on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Hawaii.
“At a time when the global economy is still struggling, we cannot afford to ignore this potential. …When we liberate the economic potential of women, we elevate the economic performance of communities, nations and, indeed, the world,” Clinton said November 11.
The secretary cited a recent World Bank report that found that the more fully women can participate in their country’s’ economy, the more likely it is that overall economic productivity will rise, development outcomes will improve, and institutions will be more representative.
Allowing half of the population the same economic opportunities as men will bring businesses more consumers and will result in more spending and saving by families, more food production, improved education and political stability.
“This is simply smart economics,” Clinton said.
But despite improvements over recent years, women still face an “economic glass ceiling” in many places, including in Pacific countries, because of existing laws, customs and values.
“Too many women in APEC countries don’t have the same inheritance rights as men, so they can’t inherit property or businesses owned by fathers and spouses. Some don’t have the right to confer citizenship on their children, so their families have less access to housing and education. And they must constantly renew residency permits, making it harder for them to work,” Clinton said.
“Some are even subject to different taxes than men. And too often, they are denied access to credit, and may even be prohibited from opening bank accounts, signing contracts, purchasing property, incorporating a business or filing a lawsuit without a male guardian. And women entrepreneurs are still more likely to face higher interest rates, be required to collateralize a higher share of any loan, and have shorter-term loans,” she said.
Women also have significantly less participation in the world’s largest firms than their male colleagues, particularly at the highest levels, Clinton said, noting that only about 3 percent of the CEOs in Fortune Global 500 companies are women.
“These aren’t just obstacles to prosperity for individual women; they are obstacles to prosperity for every business and every economy,” she said.
Clinton’s remarks followed on the APEC Women and the Economy Summit (WES), which took place in San Francisco September 13–16. Speaking in Hawaii, Clinton said APEC representatives there had agreed on a path forward to reduce the obstacles women are facing.
“We must commit to giving women entrepreneurs more access to capital so they can start and grow their own businesses. We must examine and reform our legal and regulatory systems so women can avail themselves of the full range of financial services. We must improve women’s access to markets, so those who start businesses can keep them open,” she said.
Women need to be better informed about opportunities for trade, and technical assistance needs to be better oriented to serve women as well as men, Clinton said, and “of course … we must support the rise of women leaders in the public and private sector so they can use their own unique experiences and perspectives.”
Thanks to technological advances, the world has now entered an age where every person, regardless of gender, is posed to contribute to their societies and to the global marketplace, and the economies and political systems that are making that shift more effectively and rapidly “are dramatically outperforming those that are not,” she said.
“At this particular time in the global economy … we can’t leave anybody behind, and we can’t leave any opportunity untapped,” Clinton said.
If human rights and equality concerns are not enough to motivate societies to offer greater opportunities for women, “we just have to hope that people will act in their own self-interest,” she said.
“Don’t do it because you think it’s a charitable action to take, do it because it’ll strengthen the economic base of a community and a country,” Clinton said.