Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has announced two initiatives to increase economic opportunities for women.
Clinton announced the strategies June 29 at a forum focused specifically on women in the economy as one event in a two-day conference of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum member economies being held in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“We want to help governments use their purchasing power to support women entrepreneurs and grow their economies,” said Clinton to a diverse audience of government, business and academic representatives from the 21 APEC member economies. “So we are working with the United Nations International Trade Center to improve the ability of APEC governments to source from women-owned businesses.”
The United States has long-standing policies to support women- and minority-owned businesses in fulfilling contracts for goods and services, which has provided greater opportunities for employment and expansion among these companies.
Clinton has direct experiences with these types of initiatives, dating to her experience as a U.S. senator.
“So a woman who had a very small business making quality soap got a huge order and didn’t have the personnel to actually fill the order,” Clinton recalled.”So how do we fill that gap so that if we help women’s businesses improve, how do we create more capacity for them?”
APEC participants have been mulling questions of that kind since 2010, when a study showed that the potential for women to contribute to the economies of the region was underutilized. In 2011, under Clinton’s leadership, APEC nations issued the San Francisco Declaration, in which APEC nations pledged action to improve economic opportunities and potential for women, to remove the barriers that block them from markets and maximize their contributions toward economic growth.
“Evidence from both developed and developing economies has shown that increased participation of women will generate faster and more equitable income growth, create greater business opportunities, and enhance competitiveness for firms and economies by facilitating innovative thinking and fuller use of a significant resource,” according to the San Francisco Declaration.
Clinton announced a second action plan to address the recognized problems that women have in obtaining credit. "We are joining with expert partners to train central and commercial banks throughout the Asia Pacific in inclusive lending practices so that women can access finance and capital.”
Clinton said this action can have ripple effects throughout a community or a nation. As a woman gains access to more capital, she will expand her business and hire more employees, who, in turn, will recycle their earnings back into the economy. In the United States alone, she said, women-owned businesses contribute $3 trillion to the economy.
Though the APEC member economies made their commitment to advance economic opportunities for women less than a year ago, Clinton said progress is already under way.
“Here in St. Petersburg we are looking at how corporate structures discourage women from assuming leadership positions,” she said. “And we are discussing ways to improve women’s skills in science, technology, engineering, and math.”
Clinton said the global economy needs the contributions that women can make, and she pledged ongoing U.S. support for this effort.