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Amb. Karen Kornbluh Headshot

Global Gender Action Plan to Increase Equity and Growth

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For all the progress women have made around the world, too many "gaps" persist -- the wage gap, poverty gap, education gap, technology gap, access-to-capital gap. By closing those gender gaps, we can increase both equity and growth -- and do it without breaking the bank.

In a world where girls can spend more time collecting firewood or water than attending school, and where women can face restrictions inheriting property or getting a loan from a bank, it's high time we get them more involved in the world economy. Removing obstacles to their participation can speed the global recovery and fight economic insecurity plaguing families around the world.

The Obama administration has put women and girls at the core of its foreign policy, extending worldwide a key focus of the president's domestic economic agenda: opportunities for women. At the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development we have launched a three-pronged Gender Action Plan involving government, businesses and families:

Action Options: Identify the economic obstacles women face and show successful approaches in different countries. The OECD has begun working with the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the United Nations and the European Union to create a "virtual think tank" with new indicators and to update the OECD's Family Database to measure what really works.

Business Feedback: Test and strengthen those ideas through an Employer Engagement Network. Businesses have the greatest interest in producing more consumers and productive employees. We began such a dialogue with the Women's Forum CEO Champions created in Deauville France last week and are bringing in other employer groups.

Political Commitment: A political call to action by OECD member countries, declaring women's empowerment is critical to economic growth and commitment to work with business and families to promote the full participation of women. The OECD's last such agreement was thirty years ago.

The United States is creating a test case for the Gender Action Plan. We are funding the OECD's Middle East-North Africa Women's Business Forum which I co-chair with the Jordanian Ambassador to France. It will convene in Beirut at the end of November.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. But as countries reexamine policies in search of new sources of growth in the wake of the Great Recession, they can work with each other on strategies to remove, finally, the remaining obstacles to women's economic opportunity.

It's not just about fairness to half the world's population. It's simple economics: There is broad consensus that when women prosper, their children prosper, communities are stronger and economies are more productive. Millennium Development Goal 3 -- the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women -- is recognized as key to the achievement of all the other MDGs. Yet, today women make up only 30 percent of the world's formal workforce, earn 10 percent of the world's income and own only 1 percent of the world's property. Of 1.2 billion people living in poverty worldwide, fully 70 percent are women. In many cases, women took the brunt of the economic crisis.

The Gender Action Plan is also part of the retooling mission here at the OECD. In the past 12 months since becoming U.S. Ambassador, I've seen that much of our economic framework dates back to the immediate post-War period. The postwar institutions created -- including the OECD, the implementing arm of the Marshall Plan -- the policies adopted, and the ways of doing business led to unprecedented prosperity. However, this framework is in urgent need of updating to include new nations, technologies, business practices and working patterns -- including the entry of women into the workplace. Today, we can modernize as we rebuild to ensure that our economies are both stronger and more equitable.

Shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama emphasized the importance of women's economic opportunity, saying, "Issues like equal pay, family leave, child care and others are not just women's issues. They are family issues and economic issues."

2010 marks the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Women, which declared women's rights are human rights. We still have a long way to go. Even in OECD countries, women still face a wage gap of 18 percent and spend at least twice as much time on caretaking than men yet women too often lack access to quality childcare or flexible work options.

As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, "women and girls are one of the world's greatest untapped resources." The Gender Action Plan will help create the economic opportunity to help liberate those "untapped resources" for the benefit of economies everywhere.