Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Governing Council

Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Paris, France
October 14, 2010

Thank you for your kind words. I want to thank you for this opportunity to address the Council. I haven’t been here at the OECD since my first meeting with the Secretary General and senior staff about a year ago. Mr. Secretary General, it’s good to see you again. I also had the opportunity to participate in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) OECD Women’s Business Leaders Summit with you in Morocco — which was an impressive enterprise.

I want to thank Ambassador Kornbluh. She is doing an exceptional job on behalf of the United States here at the OECD and has brought great leadership and expertise on issues of importance to the Mission.

Secretary Clinton is looking forward to her visit here for the 50th Ministerial and anniversary observance.

We remain committed to OECD’s important role in economic and social development around the world.

I come here as the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, a new position in my government. President Obama and Secretary Clinton recognize that we cannot address today’s global challenges in security, the economy, governance, development, the environment — and so many more — if women are not participating in all areas.

In the United States, we are putting women and girls at the core of our foreign policy and development efforts. We are integrating gender issues into all aspects of our work at the State Department, from the geographic bureaus to the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. Under Secretary Hormats and I, for example, work closely together on these issues. Women’s economic empowerment is not a “niche” issue but one we know affects outcomes in all areas. We view women’s empowerment as not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do if we really want to advance economic, political and social progress.

Today we know there is an explosion of research (some of it from this organization) that shows that investments in women and girls correlate positively with poverty alleviation and a country’s general prosperity.

As Secretary Clinton often says, unless women have access to healthcare and education, and can participate fully in the political and economic life of their societies “global prosperity and progress will have its own glass ceiling.”

From Larry Summers’ seminal work, years ago when he was a young economist at the World Bank, work which has stood the test of time — we also know that educating girls is the most effective development investment in the world. It leads to future employability and higher wages, as well as improvements in the well-being of the family. At the macro level, girls’ education means higher returns on investment and greater productivity. I recently participated in the launch of the World Economic Forum’s 2010 “Gender Gap Report” in New York. This report measures the gap between men and women in a given country based on four metrics: health and survival, educational attainment, economic opportunity and participation and political empowerment. Nowhere is the gender gap completely closed, but the countries where it is closer to being closed are more prosperous and their economies more competitive. Why else would the World Economic Forum do an annual report on the gender gap?

The MDG Summit recently took place during the opening of the UN General Assembly. There are eight Millennium Development Goals and timetables adopted by the community of nations that are key to ending extreme poverty. Leaders gathered at the MDG Summit to assess progress and chart the way ahead toward realizing these goals. MDG 3 is devoted to gender and women’s economic empowerment. It is widely recognized that although significant in itself, MDG 3 is also critical to the realization of all the other MDGs. Among key indicators for MDG 3 are waged employment (outside agriculture) and the generation of employment. Women-run Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are proven accelerators of economic growth. As one CEO has noted, women-run SMEs are “the lowest hanging fruit to pick” — the highest yielding investments — to grow GDP.

Women continue to confront great inequality in workforce participation and women-run businesses face many roadblocks, such as access to credit and markets, a lack of training and mentoring, and in some places, discriminatory laws and regulations, even the lack of property or inheritance rights.

The role of government is key to removing barriers through finance and tax policy regulations and laws and programs in support of education, for example.

When we boost female employment and tap women’s potential, it results in economic growth. It also helps to reverse the plummeting birthrates that many countries are experiencing. When we do nothing, we shortchange prosperity. The Asia Pacific region, for example, is not fully tapping the economic potential of its women. According to a UN study, this is estimated to shortchange the region of 42 to 46 billion dollars a year in lost GDP.

Countries face astounding losses by not addressing the economic potential of women. We in the U.S. are focusing on women and economic growth — in programs and policies at the State Department. The Obama Administration’s major development initiatives like, global health, and growth in agricultural productivity have a gender focus. From the African Growth Opportunity Act to the Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas Initiative, we are focused on enabling women to grow SMEs and access markets.

At this time, when we are working to move out of the global financial downturn and focus on post-recession growth, closing the gender gap is a “silver bullet” we cannot afford to ignore.

The OECD is uniquely suited to address and analyze these issues. You produce some of the most rigorous research from which best practices and other data can be gleaned.

It is critical to have more comprehensive, sex-disaggregated data to better capture women’s economic status across countries, including variables like access to land, finance and other assets. Policymakers need to know: what works, what doesn’t, and what are the best practices? We are very fortunate to have the OECD’s contributions in this area.

We are excited about OECD’s initiative looking at the economic empowerment of women through examination of gender equality in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

We want to thank the Secretary General for his leadership on this initiative. It cannot be more important. The Scoping Paper and data collection to track women’s economic participation is well on its way and I know we will all benefit from its fruits.

As a result, I am confident we will have a road map for closing the gender gap and creating sustainable economic prosperity. Thank you.