Although women have been called "the most powerful engine" of global economic growth, for far too long they have also been the world's most under-utilized resource.
In fact, women have been experiencing their own economic crisis for decades:
* Women are 70 percent of the 1.5 billion people living on less than $1 a day.
* The gender-wage ratio has not improved significantly for nearly two decades. For example, in the US women are still paid only 77.8 cents for every dollar a man makes for full-time work. The disparity is even greater for women of color: African-American women make 63 cents and Latinas make only 52 cents for every dollar of white male earnings.
* Women perform two-thirds of all labor and produce more than half of the world's food. Yet, women own only about one percent of the world's assets.
As world leaders struggle to find solutions to our global economic crisis, one fact is clear -- any attempt to lead us to recovery will fail unless it prioritizes women's leadership and solution-building.
On Saturday, May 1, in Atlanta, Georgia, the Women's Funding Network is bringing together nearly 300 women leaders, along with economists and experts from around the world, to make the case that a real stimulus and lasting turnaround can only occur if the economic power of every woman throughout the world is unleashed.
You've heard of that old adage: "Give a person a fish and they will eat for a day; teach a person how to fish and they will eat for a lifetime."
We've rewritten that parable to demonstrate the accelerative effect of investing in women: "Give a woman a fish and she will feed her family first and possibly go hungry. Teach a woman to fish and she will feed her family until the lake becomes polluted or they take away her fishing rights. However, give the women in the community access to capital and they will buy the lake, feed their families, keep the lake environmentally clean and have something to pass on for generations to come."
Simply put, women are capable of creating lasting change -- starting first with their families, then to their communities and beyond. That's the perspective that drives the work of women's funds; we are about buying the lake. We invest in solutions created by and in partnership with women who are pushed to the margins. The funds that comprise the Women's Funding Network invest $60 million per year in women and girls globally, from Asia to Eastern Europe to North America. For decades, we've seen first-hand how granting women the resources they need to lift themselves out of poverty and gain economic security benefits entire communities and, by extension, our world.
The powerful returns on investing in women and girls have been receiving increased recognition in recent months. In the U.S., President Obama's signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Act and the launch of the first-ever White House Council on Women and Girls are strong steps. The Davos World Economic Forum also recently convened its first panel on teenage girls. But more needs to be done.
Bottom line: if we truly want to solve not only this current crisis but also our long-term economic woes, we must jumpstart "the most powerful engine" of economic growth by investing in women.
Christine Grumm is President and CEO of the Women's Funding Network. For more information, www.womensfundingnetwork.org.