Greetings, MENA-OECD Women’s Business Network! I’m so sorry that I can’t be with you today in Tunisia, but I am delighted to join you from afar. I know how much wonderful and creative work OECD and all of you are doing to integrate gender into our overall economic growth strategies. For that, I commend the leadership and effort of Secretary-General Gurria and U.S. Ambassador Karen Kornbluh, and so many others of you.
In recent years, multiple studies have shown that legal reform and removing the traditional barriers that impede women’s success in business, if they are addressed, will unleash their potential and drive economic growth. I recently helped launch two new World Bank tools: one was on business and the law, and the other, a guide for policymakers and practitioners. The first examines laws and institutions that affect men and women differently, in ways that can negatively affect women’s opportunities as entrepreneurs and as workers. It focuses on issues such as business registration, property ownership, and access to the courts. It examines constraints on women’s rights to work in different industries and at different times of day – as well as access to parental leave and benefits. And it looks at such things as whether credit information systems can take into account information from the microfinance institutions that so often are used by women, so that a woman who builds a reputation with her microfinance provider can leverage that reputation as her business and banking needs grow.
This report shows just how widespread unequal treatment under the law actually is – across all regions, and all income levels. Only 20 of the 128 non-OECD economies covered established equal legal rights for women and men in terms of economic opportunities as entrepreneurs and workers.
The second tool, the Practitioners Guide, serves as a critical reference book for policymakers, development practitioners, and advocates in identifying, designing and reforming those laws and institutions that apply unequally to men and women. It promotes approaches that could facilitate women’s increased economic participation and help to unlock countries’ full economic potential.
Research and data collection are so important. But they are only initial steps for us to understand where the gender-based barriers and discrimination exist. We need solutions, and one of them is to build networks for, and capacity in, women entrepreneurs, like all of you are doing in the MENA region. You are an inspiration to all of us.
I have been working with businesswomen over the past several years and the hubs that have you have grown considerably are doing great work. Not only to bring together the brightest and most entrepreneurial minds, they are expanding those emerging women leaders’ horizon as well. With MENA-OECD’s investment and the U.S. State Department’s support, I am confident that this region will grow record numbers of prosperous women-run businesses.
As President Obama said in his Cairo speech last June, “I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons. Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential.” What MENA-OECD is doing today is investing in women entrepreneurs. Your potential needs to be tapped, for the benefit of your communities, your countries, and your regions, and certainly for our world. Thank you again for this opportunity, and I look forward to working with all of you in the weeks and months ahead. Our best wishes for a terrific conference.