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Amb. Karen Kornbluh Headshot

The World's Women Are Still Left Behind

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"Women are just men without money." On International Women's Day it
is worth remembering Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson's
1975 quip because, sadly, it's still relevant today. Only 30 percent
of the world's formal workforce is made up of women. Women make only
10 percent of world's income and own only 1 percent of the world's
property. Of 1.2 billion people living in poverty worldwide, 70
percent are women.

Fifteen years after the United Nations Fourth World Conference on
Women in Beijing established women's rights as human rights, it is
still essential that the world take up this challenge, acknowledging
that without economic opportunity, women are not free in any real
sense to pursue their hard-won rights.

Today, although more women are employed than ever before -- in the
U.S. women are about to become over half the workforce, and around the
world, women's share of nonagricultural employment has at least stayed
the same or risen from 2000 to 2006 -- women still lag behind men in
employment and wages, access to capital, and economic security. No
nation can succeed in spreading prosperity or increasing security if
half its population is left behind.

Detailed country-specific and gender-disaggregated data on employment
and wages is lacking in many cases. However, research by the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows
that while gender wage gaps in OECD member countries have decreased
over time, an average difference of 18 percent still remains.
Additional analysis of available data by the International Center for
Research on Women (ICRW) finds evidence since 2000 that informal
employment -- which often lack job security, benefits or adequate
income -- continues to represent a larger share of women's employment
than men's.

While the education gap has narrowed in many countries, other
obstacles to employment remain. The ability to stay in the workforce
is constrained when women lack access to childcare or paid family
leave -- even in most OECD countries, women spend at least twice as
much time on caretaking than men. In some developing countries, women
and girls can spend more time collecting firewood or water than
attending school or going to work outside the home. And gender-based
violence is not only a human rights violation but an impediment to
economic activity. Access to counseling and contraception is also
necessary for economic advancement.

In many countries, women face restrictions on inheriting or owning
property and have difficulty getting a loan from a bank.

Without the ability to earn, own, save or invest on her own, a woman
-- especially one with children to support -- does not enjoy the
freedom to leave an abusive relationship, escape sexual exploitation,
or exercise political rights. She is not free to choose to send her
daughter to school or care for her elderly mother; nor can she realize
her own potential by starting a small business or furthering her own
education.

Removing these barriers is important not only to women but to their
families, communities and countries. Economists have determined that
empowering women in their own right is key to economic growth, because
women are more inclined to choose more productive uses for money --
including supporting their children. When women work, they invest up
to 90 percent of their income back into their families. As U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, "women and girls are one
of the world's greatest untapped resources." We cannot build a
stable, global economy if we fail to leverage our human capital.

Making these changes requires political will. A better understanding
of the economic challenges women face and the steps that can make a
difference can help change political dynamics.

When President Obama signed the paycheck fairness legislation -- the
first bill he signed into law -- he said, "I know that if we stay
focused...we will make sure that our daughters have the same rights, the
same chances, and the same freedom to pursue their dreams as our
sons." To reach that goal, we must continue to make progress around
the world on the economic empowerment of women.