As prepared for delivery
I especially want to thank Loula and salute her for her commitment and remarkable leadership of the Euro-American Women’s Council (EAWC). I have known Loula for many years and she has brought enormous dedication to her work whether in Greece, the U.S. or around the world. It is no surprise that I saw her most recently supporting Afghan women entrepreneurs who were in the U.S. receiving valuable business training. EAWC has done such an excellent job of strengthening ties between women in the public and private sector worldwide since 1996, and so much to create opportunities for the next generation of women leaders. You too are investing in the future. I am very grateful for all that you do.
I also must congratulate my friend, Congresswoman Maloney, who has been such an effective and passionate advocate and leader for our nation in advancing women’s rights and gender equality. She has been unflagging in her efforts, and women at home and around the world claim her as their champion.
Women entrepreneurs offer our world so much promise. We know that investments in women correlate positively with a country’s general prosperity. Today there is a mountain of research and data that show that women’s contributions are vital to economic growth. Every year the World Economic Forum releases the Gender Gap Report, which assesses the progress that countries have made toward gender equality. It looks at the gap between men and women in a given country on four indicators: access to health and education, economic participation and political empowerment. Where the gap is closest to being closed – where men and women are more equal – those countries are more prosperous and competitive. It is no wonder that the World Bank – which just released a significant Women’s Development Report – recognizes that “gender equality is smart economics.” Studies show that women-run small and medium-sized enterprises are particular accelerators of economic growth, one of the highest yield investments to grow GDP. In fact, women-owned enterprises often have a better growth rate and a better loan payback rate.
But as many of you know, women’s success is so often hindered by barriers that undermine their ability to start or to expand their business. Barriers like lack of access to markets, to training, to mentors, to technology. Women are often harmed by corrupt practices and discriminatory laws and regulations. In some places, they are denied inheritance rights and property rights or women cannot conduct transactions without the permission or participation of male family members. Access to finance is perhaps the major challenge to women for business growth everywhere.
Small and growing businesses are what has been called “the missing middle” – the great engine for growth and jobs creation. Access to finance for SME’s remains a significant challenge. Without it, entrepreneurs cannot fulfill their dreams, no matter how good their business plans, ideas and potential.
I remember several years ago traveling with the then-First Lady Hillary Clinton who was meeting with a group of businesswomen - two of whom had started what is today a very successful technology firm, but they almost didn’t make it. They had an exceedingly difficult time procuring the capital they needed to create their business. They told Mrs. Clinton something I have never forgotten. They said, “the best ideas die in bank parking lots.”
The United States is committed to helping women knock down the barriers that too often stymie growth and limit opportunity. President Obama created the position I hold as the U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues because he recognizes that we cannot hope to tackle the most difficult challenges that confront the world – whether they have to do with the economy, with peace and security, or with the environment and so much more – unless women participate fully on every level of society in every nation around the world.
It was gratifying to see the Nobel Peace Prize Committee recognize the work of three extraordinary women for their efforts in peacemaking, peace-building and post conflict reconstruction, and in the process remind the world that women’s efforts are also critical to peace and security. I have learned in my travels that despite our differences, women all over the world have far more in common than that which separates us.
Despite the challenges, women are on the frontlines everywhere advancing economic, political and social change. Secretary Clinton likes to call this “the Participation Age” – a time when every individual, regardless of gender or circumstance, is poised to be a valued player in the global marketplace. A few weeks ago, she gave a keynote address on women driving economic growth to the APEC Summit on Women and the Economy, where participants came from government and the private sector in the 21 economies of the Asia Pacific region. It is a simple fact is that no country can hope to get ahead if it is leaving half of its population behind. Moreover, as Secretary Clinton has reminded us, “If women are not accorded their rights or afforded opportunities to participate fully in their societies, global progress and prosperity will have its own glass ceiling.”
So I thank you again, all of you for your commitment, service and leadership. Thank you for all you do and for all that you will do to advance economic opportunity and progress, gender equality and a better world for all. I wish you much success.