Remarks of Secretary Jacob J. Lew at the Meeting of the Equal Futures Partnership

By:  Jack Lew
Date: April 18, 2013
Location: Unknown

Thank you, Dr. Kim, for hosting us, and I want to thank you for strongly supporting the Equal Futures Partnership and for bringing us together today. And to all of you who are joining us from around the world, thank you for making this discussion a priority. Your participation today demonstrates the importance of gender equality to economic growth and development.
We are here today because we all recognize that we have more to do to expand opportunities for women. It's not just the right thing to do - the fact is, limiting the potential of women will limit a country's economic growth. For countries to raise productivity, generate demand, and increase their GDPs, women's full economic involvement is essential. No country can afford to leave half of its creative minds and productive citizens out of the economic mainstream. Women can provide the productivity gains and demand growth that are a critical driver of GDP growth. It is simply smart economics to promote women's full economic and political participation.

Now in the United States, we recognize gender inequality is still a serious problem. Women are more than half of the population, but hold 18 percent of the seats in Congress. Women account for only four percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. And women still earn just about 81 cents for every dollar that a man is earning.

Nevertheless, over the last 40 years, women have made progress in our country. And we have seen that progress ripple through our economy. Since 1970, women have gone from holding 37 percent of all jobs in the U.S. to 48 percent. Without this modest increase some estimate our economy would be 25 percent smaller today.

But action is still needed to increase women's economic participation in the United States and around the globe, and we are all here today because the Equal Futures Partnership is helping reach that goal. One of the clearest ways to bring women more fully into the global economy is to lift the obstacles that keep girls from attending school and women from starting businesses.

In the developing world, for instance, the agricultural sector is a critical employer of women, and women make up 80 percent of the workers. Yet there are places where, women are prevented from owning land or purchasing supplies like fertilizer that are necessary to run a farm. It is estimated that global agricultural output would increase by enough to pull 100-150 million people out of hunger if countries simply gave women the right to own land and equal access to fertilizer.

Through the Partnership, we are working to give women greater economic rights. And we have made a commitment to identify legal, policy, and regulatory reforms to help women. But we also must make sure we are held accountable for implementing these reforms.

Expanding opportunity for women and girls cannot be something that is just in our speeches -- it has to also be reflected in our budgets.

The World Bank recognizes the importance of extending economic rights to women, and that is why it is providing critical support to Equal Futures countries. Unfortunately, the connection between gender and poverty remains, with women making up 70 percent of the one billion people who live in poverty worldwide. At the same time, women hold the key to breaking cycles of poverty and maintaining stability since they reinvest 90 percent of their income back into their families and communities.

As the Bank works to extend economic rights to women, there are steps it can take to help improve our results. Right now, we lack the reliable information needed to drive our investments and gauge their effect.
We should take gender into account in all of the Bank's work, and track the effects of our interventions by gender. For instance, we collect key data on landownership and income without breaking it down by gender. That statistical blind-spot prevents us from making the most of our resources.

In war-torn regions, we can help avoid conflict and increase the effectiveness of peace-building programs by focusing on women. There is a direct connection between women's freedom and peace. We know that when women's lives are protected and they can fully participate in society, deadly conflicts are less likely to occur. And we know that when women are involved in the peace-building process, peace is more likely to take root. That is why the Bank should adopt measures to make sure that women are benefitting from its programs in fragile and conflict-prone states.

In Afghanistan and the Republic of Congo, the Bank adopted these kinds of measures with tremendous success, and we should use this approach in other places.

We also need to make ending violence against women not just a moral imperative, but also a core development objective. Violence against women makes families weaker, communities weaker, and economies weaker. For instance, the cost of domestic violence in Bangladesh was, by some estimates, 2.05 percent of GDP in 2010, and I'm pleased to see they are joining the Partnership today. But there are steps the Bank can take to reduce this violence. It can play an indispensable role in making simple everyday tasks that expose women to sexual abuse and harassment--from gathering wood for your stove or using a public restroom--safer. Look at the Bank's work in Brazil.

There, the Bank supported a program that increased shelter services for victims of violence and helped them get back to work. By financing projects that do things like put better lighting in public restrooms, the World Bank can help reduce violence against women throughout the world.

Beyond the World Bank, the U.S. is focused on making sure the G-20 does its part, most notably through expanded access to financial services. We know that having the chance to open a bank account, get a credit card, or receive a business loan can really open up doors of opportunity. To that end, this weekend the G-20's Global Partnership on Financial Inclusion is launching a Women's Finance Hub to eliminate the gender gap in financial services. This will help make it easier for women entrepreneurs to start businesses and make investments.

I saw this first hand in Tanzania where I met with a group of Masai women who organized to use their craft skills to create products which could be marketed, with the proceeds used to pay for their daughters' education. Access to moderate financial assistance combined with entrepreneurship and commitment meant new opportunities for the next generation.

The G-20's actions recognize that women's economic empowerment can help drive global growth. As business owners, they are an important source of jobs and investment. And when women are the primary decision makers, they have tremendous purchasing power. In fact, by next year, women are projected to hold an estimated $15 trillion in spending power worldwide, and by 2028, they will be responsible for about two-thirds of all consumer spending.

Let me close by saying how much I appreciate the opportunity to be here. Our goal must be to make sure everyone -- women as well as men -- have the same rights and opportunities. By working together, I am confident that we can drive change that knock down the barriers of discrimination, poverty, and violence that are keeping women all over the world from reaching their full potential.

Thank you.