The Women's Foundation Annual Gala Fundraising Dinner, Hong Kong

Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Video Statevment
Washington, DC
October 17, 2011

As prepared for delivery

Thank you very much. It is my great honor to be able to speak to you. I only wish that I could be with you in person.

I am very aware of the excellent work that The Women’s Foundation has done over many years in empowering women and girls in Hong Kong. Your focus on challenging outdated gender stereotypes and working to increase the number of women in decision-making positions has made a positive impact in your community in a relatively short period of time.

I especially appreciated the recent op-ed that the Women Foundation submitted to the South China Morning Post, which made a very eloquent argument and a compelling case for why these issues are so important.

The United States shares your sense of urgency. That’s why the position that I hold as the first US ambassador for global women's issues was created by President Obama. He recognizes -- as we all do -that the many challenges that our world confronts -- whether they have to do with the economy, peace and security, the environment and so much more -- cannot be tackled, let alone addressed, unless women are fully engaged at all levels of society. It is a simple fact that no country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind.

Or as Secretary Clinton has noted, " Women are critical to solving virtually every challenge we face as individual nations and as a community of nations... and until women around the world are accorded their rights and afforded opportunities to participate fully in the lives of their societies, global progress and prosperity will have its own glass ceiling.....for when women thrive, we all thrive -- families, communities and countries -- men and women, boys and girls.”

Almost 16 years ago this October, the UN 4th World Conference took place in Beijing. 186 countries signed onto a platform for action - for women's access to education and health, to be free from violence, to participate fully in the economy and political affairs, to enjoy full legal rights. It is a blueprint against which we continue to measure our progress. We can take satisfaction in our achievements, but ours is still an unfinished agenda. As then-First Lady Hillary Clinton said in her address, "Women's rights are human rights" - and we cannot settle for anything less.

Today we have a mountain of research and data that shows that investments in women and girls correlate positively with poverty alleviation and a country's general prosperity. According to the World Economic Forum's annual gender gap report, the countries where men and women are closer to being equal in health, education, economic participation and political empowerment, are also the countries that are more economically competitive.

The World Bank recently released the Women's Development Report, a significant study on gender equality. The study notes that gender equality is a core development objective in its own right. It is also smart economics. It can enhance productivity, improve prospects for future generations and make institutions and societies more representative. Women-run small and growing businesses are known accelerators of economic growth, yet it is calculated that the Asia-Pacific region is shortchanged in excess of 40 billion a year in GDP because of the untapped potential of women - $40 billion! How can we continue to afford to shortchange women, shortchange our economies and shortchange opportunities to create a better world?

Knocking down barriers is a challenge too large and too complex for any single government or institution or even sector to address. It requires all of us working together. It certainly requires a vibrant NGO sector to complement the work of the private sector and government- and even to hold it accountable, when necessary.

The Women’s Foundation is serving as a leading voice and dynamic force for women’s and girls' advancement -- whether in teaching financial literacy to low-income women workers, providing experienced mentors in business to enable young women to improve their entrepreneurial skills or helping girls transform their struggles into art through short films. Your work is truly remarkable work - I wish there were a women's foundation in every community around the world!

I was especially grateful that representatives of the women's foundation were able to participate in the recent APEC women’s entrepreneurship summit that was held in San Francisco. Government ministers, high-level private sector representatives and civil society leaders came together from across the Asia-Pacific region to identify ways to strengthen women's economic participation and to grow economies.

We were so pleased that your president, Su-Mei Thompson, was able to participate. She also served as an excellent moderator of one of the important panel discussions. It was at the APEC summit that Secretary Clinton made an address in which she referred to this time as the beginning of what she likes to call “the Participation Age” – a time when everyone, regardless of gender or circumstances, is poised to be a valued and contributing member of the global marketplace.

Hong Kong is justifiably recognized as not only the most business friendly city in Asia but also the financial center of the region - and The Women's Foundation is a recognized leader in advancing the progress of women and girls, both in the economy and every other way as well. You are making a profound difference. We congratulate you on your work and we wish you much success in the weeks and months ahead. Thank you for all that you do and will do.