Previewing the Equal Futures Partnership Launch

Special Briefing
Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
New York City
September 24, 2012

MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. Good morning. For our first briefing of UNGA week, on the record today we have Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large For Global Women’s Issues, to talk about the Equal Futures Partnership event later this afternoon. Just to tell you that this is on the record with the exception of the country pledges, which are going to be embargoed until the countries announce them at the event, which Melanne will give you at the end.

Over to you, Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Well, thank you, Toria, and good morning to everybody. This afternoon, Secretary Clinton will be launching the Equal Futures Partnership to expand women’s political and economic participation around the world. This builds on a challenge that President Obama issued last year at UNGA, calling on his fellow leaders to make commitments to expanding women’s progress in these areas in their countries. It also builds on much of the work that has gone on over the last several years to grow women’s participation in all sectors, recognizing that no country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind.

To that end, today, the leaders – either the presidents, prime ministers, or the foreign ministers – will be announcing for their countries a number of new commitments. The first tranche includes the United States and 12 other countries, which are Australia, Benin, Bangladesh, Denmark, Finland, Indonesia, Jordan, the Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, Tunisia, and the European Union. In addition, there will be private sector commitments both as part of the United States announcement, which Valerie Jarrett will make for the White House, which has put the U.S. domestic commitments together, as well as four companies who are joining in making international commitments. And those are Intel, Discovery Communications, Mary Kay, and Goldman Sachs.

This is but the beginning of what will be hopefully an inclusive international effort over many years. Already, several countries have announced their desire to participate in the next tranche of announcements, which will take place this coming April at the World Bank meetings in Washington. And the countries already signed up are Latvia, Italy, Thailand, and – was there another – and Belgium.

Additionally, today participating, besides the leaders of the countries making the pledges, will be the president of the World Bank, Mr. Kim, as well as the head of the UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile. And both the World Bank and the – and UN Women are committed to becoming partners in this effort. They will be housing best practices, they will be supporting the implementation of these pledges, it will be an ongoing effort with the countries and the stakeholders, as well as UN Women and the World Bank being fully participatory.

So this is an announcement that involves many players and participants, and it is one that is hoped will make an ongoing difference in growing women’s economic and political participation. We know, for example, that today, there is a mountain of data, research, evidence of all kinds that shows what women’s economic participation does both in the workplace and as entrepreneurs in growing economies and creating jobs. We also know what a difference political participation makes in bringing perspectives and experiences to public policy that can have tremendously positive outcomes.

The World Economic Forum does an annual Gender Gap Report, and in that report they look at the gap between men and women in a given country based on four metrics: education, health, economic participation, and political participation. There’s been great progress in many areas. There’s been particular progress in education and health accessibility. But economic participation still has a way to go, and political participation for women is the hardest of all. The World Economic Forum does their Gender Gap Report because in countries where the gap between men and women on these four metrics is closer to being closed, those countries are far more prosperous and economically competitive.

So these are win-win propositions for everybody involved, and today’s announcements will take these issues hopefully to a much stronger place with greater realization of progress by all of the countries and the private sector companies who will be involved in this.

So with that, I will answer any questions.

MS. NULAND: Nicole.

QUESTION: Madam Ambassador, do you have a blueprint or a metric by which you’re going to measure progress?

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Yes. There will be a process that is put in place, working with the countries that are making the pledges. A system will be adopted largely through the efforts of the World Bank and UN Women to ensure that – both that progress is being made, that we’re learning from it, that where it is having positive results, that those lessons can be adopted to other places by other countries. So this is meant to be both an opportunity for the countries involved to grow in ways that they seek to make this progress, but it’s also an international contribution so that, through the measurements, through the indicators that will be put in place, through the process that will be adopted, that we can share that information in ways that will help many other countries.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: Yes, Ambassador. Ambassador, in the countries that you listed, you have Jordan and Tunisia from the Arab countries, but not Egypt, at a time when the current ruling party is holding all kinds of seminars and workshops about the virtues of subservience, that women should be in the back and (inaudible). So what are you doing in that area?

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Well, there’s a lot that’s going on with respect to all of the Arab Spring countries in the work of the Administration, and particularly in the State Department. This is not meant to be an exclusive list. This list of countries that are in this first tranche were invited representing all parts of the world, and it’s meant to be the opening and something that will grow over time.

Tunisia has come to the table in this process, making a commitment having to do with ongoing efforts to ensure women’s fundamental rights of equality. As you know, they have a strong record, garnered over many years, where equal rights for women have been guaranteed in Tunisia. Obviously, today there are all kinds of counter-pressures. Their commitment is to continue to promote women’s full participation in the public and political sectors of the country. They really want to focus also on a reactivating of efforts to combat violence against women.

Jordan is seeking to address relatively low rates of women’s participation in the workforce, which is obviously having impacts on the fact that it needs to grow its economy and it hasn’t tapped the potential that women represent.

But this is only with respect to today’s announcements. There’s a lot happening in many countries. There’s a lot of work going on with many other countries. I myself have had Egyptian women engaged in many a roundtable in Egypt and in the region where they’ve participated, where they’ve talked about the kind of support they need. The Secretary has spoken out repeatedly on retrenchment, on issues that are matters of serious concern, the lack of engagement since the revolution of women in the process, the kind of violence that was experienced in some cases.

So this is an ongoing engagement. But for purposes of today’s announcement, it is not meant to be exclusive, but these countries have come to the table making additional commitments at this time.

QUESTION: You started with a couple of those examples, but I was hoping you could give us a little bit more sense of what specifically these countries are committing themselves to do. Are you talking about legal reforms? Are you talking about loan programs? I mean, what actually happens on the ground that --

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Let me give you some specifics. And as I said, this afternoon at the event, their leaders will make it specific in terms of what it is, and there will be a fact sheet that will present a fuller picture.

Australia, for example, is working to improve women’s representation and leadership in male-dominated industries such as mining, utilities, and construction. They’re also committed to achieving greater balance on Australia’s government boards by 2015, and to establishing a national center of excellence to reduce sexual assault and family and domestic violence.

The Netherlands, for example, is encouraging employers in the private and public organizations to commit themselves to increasing their present ratio from 9 percent of women on boards of directors and supervisory boards to 30 percent. And they are setting up programs to encourage more girls to choose technical education and providing more incentives in that way. Additional to their domestic commitment, they have a joint agreement with the United States to work in the Arab region, and today they will be announcing a fund that they are establishing to strengthen the financial and organizational management of women’s organizations in the MENA region.

Senegal is implementing a comprehensive program to operationalize gender parity laws on women’s political participation in advance of the 2014 elections.

Some of these look at, actually, as you heard in one instance already, actualizing laws that have just been passed. Others are new initiatives to go to the heart of some of the intractable problems that these countries still are challenged in addressing. Others have to do with establishing new entities. So it is a variety, but they’re all focused on one goal, which is to enhance women’s economic and/or political participation in their countries.

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: I’d be curious to what the U.S. is committing to do, and --


QUESTION: -- also if you could explain the role of the companies that you mentioned. I mean, how do they fit in?

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: The United States is committing – and this is what Valerie Jarrett will announce today – to making new steps in the following areas: opening the doors to high quality education and career opportunities in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math – for women and girls, and they’re going to be announcing that this will be done in conjunction with private and nonprofit partners. Further, they will be announcing a new initiative to promote civic and public leadership education for girls to get them more engaged in future careers in public service and greater civic activity. Thirdly, they will announce new efforts to ensure economic security for victims of domestic violence, and this will be in a variety of areas addressing financial independence through credit counseling, through microcredit kinds of support, and through financial and education literacy programs.

And lastly, the United States will support women entrepreneurs in promoting greater innovation and economic growth. This will be done significantly through the Small Business Administration, in expanding training programs and greater financial literacy programs. And I think the White House website will also have a specific fact sheet with the underpinning of what all of this represents.

In terms of the private sector engagement – as I mentioned, it’s for the international programs. There are also significant companies involved in the U.S. commitments that I just mentioned. But for the – in the international sector, Intel for example, is going to be undertaking a new study looking at the gender gap in access to the internet, which, when one looks at previous studies that focused on the gender gap on mobile technology, that has had a major impact in moving to close that gap because mobile technology is so important to women’s progress.

This will look at the gender gap in internet access. Discovery will be looking at some educational programs and some of the developing countries. Mary Kay is creating a new hotline having to do with a response network to report domestic violence, and Goldman Sachs is going to enhance its work to – in women’s entrepreneurship to enable greater connectivity of woman-trained entrepreneurs to markets, because access to markets is one of the critical hurdles for women entrepreneurs to overcome.

Let me just add one more piece that is not part of the Equal Futures Partnership as such, but is a significant announcement that the Secretary will make today in this arena, and that is the establishment of a new U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council. This is modeled after the existing longstanding successful U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council that was established many years ago and continues. It is an arena, as this one will be, for the private sector to come together with individuals and with government to be able to focus more concretely, significantly, hopefully with great results to enhance women’s economic opportunities in Pakistan.

In the announcement today, the State Department is a partner in this, and the State Department will be providing a Foreign Service officer to lead this effort. American University in Washington will house the Council and it will have significant support already committed from business entrepreneurs, particularly those who are part of the diaspora as well as individuals who want to become engaged. There is a very significant need to grow women’s economic opportunities in Pakistan, as there is in many places, but particularly at this time, this new initiative, I think, will bear good fruit.

MS. NULAND: All right.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more question?

MS. NULAND: One last, Said, and then some of us have to get to the --

QUESTION: Very quick. You mentioned Jordan – where does honor crimes figure into this? When you said (inaudible).

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Well, honor crimes is not addressed in this initiative. It is obviously an issue that has gotten a lot of attention from us in the State Department. It’s one which, I know from my experience - that Jordan has sought to address through efforts that they have put in place, both in terms of trying to ensure that the justice system works in these cases. It is a serious problem in so many countries, still, and it is one that we note and we try to address in the everyday work that we do in a bilateral capacity.

MS. NULAND: Great. Thank you very much, Ambassador Verveer.

PRN: 2012/1498