Remarks at APEC Women Seminar of Empowering Women through ICT for Inclusive Growth

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Manila, Philippines
September 16, 2015

As prepared

Good morning everyone. Before I begin, I’d like to thank the Philippines and Chinese Taipei for organizing this event, and for their commitment to closing the digital divide that we see between women and men not only in APEC economies, but also around the world.

I’d also like to acknowledge Russia’s role in 2012 in ensuring that information and communication technologies and innovation were elevated in APEC’s agenda, and that women and girls are included in the discussion.

There’s no doubt that technology is transforming the way the world does business. The rise of the Internet and mobile phones have increased access to information, education, and financing. At the same time, we’ve also seen how tackling gender inequality can advance not only our global development agenda but also economic growth.

So we’re here today because there’s a clear opportunity to join together the powerful forces of information and communication technologies with gender equality. And we can do that by empowering women and girls with access to these technologies and the education needed to use them.

Let me give you an example of how powerful this combination can be. This year the State Department ran a program called Tech Camp that teaches women to use technology to overcome barriers they face when starting and growing their own business. One of the entrepreneurs who attended the camp in Colombia sold products by visiting her clients in person. But sometime after attending the camp, she was in a horrible accident, and she could no longer leave her home to sell her products.

Fortunately, with the skills she learned at the Tech Camp training, she was able to move her business online. Today, 80 percent of her sales come from the Internet. And even better, she didn’t lose everything she had built before the accident.

For far too many women, this success story is out of their reach—and not because they face health challenges, although it’s certainly true that healthy economies need healthy women. But this kind of outcome isn’t an option for women and girls because they don’t have the access to these technologies and the education needed to use them effectively.

A 2013 report that looked at how women and girls use the Internet found that women are 23 percent less likely than men to use the Internet in low and medium income economies. That means these women don’t have access to online banking. They don’t have access to loan options. And they don’t have access to the limitless information and resources that could change their lives for the better.

Developed economies aren’t immune to this issue either. Study after study shows that women and girls are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. In every part of the pipeline—the classroom, the university, the lab, and the workforce—we’re losing out on the talent and innovation of women and girls. And as a result, women are missing out on the stability, the prestige and the paychecks that often come with working in these fields.

Changing the face of these fields will not be easy, because it’s not a simple matter of access. People’s ideas about women’s roles and abilities are standing in our way. A few weeks ago I saw a report that followed girls and boys all the way through secondary school. It found that starting in sixth grade, teachers unconsciously graded girls lower in math and science than they did boys. And not surprisingly, by the time they graduated, many of the girls had stopped pursuing these subjects.

It’s not just economies and companies that miss out when half the talent opts out of technology and science before they even graduate. The girls miss out too, because they’re missing critical opportunities to learn the technological skills that can help them succeed.

The good news is that there are excellent projects around the world tackling these challenges. In the United States, there are many organizations working to end the stereotype that math is too hard for girls or that technological know-how is exclusive to men.

One of the members of the U.S. delegation here is Kimberly Bryant. She founded a non-profit called Black Girls Who Code that teaches computer programming to girls in underrepresented communities. That’s the kind of program that lays the foundation for girls to grow up to be a start-up CEO or an employee helping her company stay on the cutting edge of technology.

In other words, investing in tomorrow’s generation of women is a critical part of the long-term work we’ll need to do to empower women through these technologies.

But we can also do more to empower the women working in our economies today. That’s why the United States has been working in APEC to develop a Digital Economy Action Plan to help businesses—particularly micro and small businesses— access the Internet and what we call the digital economy—things like e-commerce platforms, mobile phone apps, and cloud computing services.

Just last week the State Department hosted the launch of a global campaign for the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, which is a global partnership that works to elevate artisans. As a $32 billion industry that employs millions of people around the world, artisan enterprise creates jobs, grows local economies, and preserves local cultural and heritage.

And yet artisans—the majority of whom are women, by the way—have a harder time accessing the financing they need to grow their businesses or the connections they need to tap into global value chains.

Fortunately, we can address these challenges through greater access to and knowledge of technology. The Alliance is bringing together governments, buyers, investors, and consumers to break down these barriers and empower artisans to do more. Getting involved with the Alliance’s campaign, which asks everyone to “choose artisan”, is one way we can support women artisans and entrepreneurs.

But as we all know, we can do more and we can do better. Whatever issue you care about—technology, gender equality, global development, or economic growth—you’ll find ways to move the ball forward by focusing on women in information and communication technologies.

Look for ways you can work at home and collaboratively through APEC to close the digital divide women face. And don’t forget the opportunity we have this week to connect with the incredible delegates who have joined us.

Everyone brings different ideas and perspectives to the table, which means we have a tremendous opportunity to brainstorm big ideas and come up with action plans and solutions to keep the momentum going forward. I look forward to seeing what we can all do together. Thank you.