Huffington Post, 27 September 2012
Cherie Blair, Founder, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women
Writing from New York where I have been lucky enough to attend both the UN General Assembly and the Clinton Global Initiative, I have been struck by the mainstreaming of issues relating to women and girls at both events.
I have been fortunate enough to work with the Clinton Global Initiative team on developing the topic discussions in past years. With so much collaboration being done at such a high level, it's crucial to craft an agenda that covers the right priorities. This is pertinent now more than ever, with 2015 looming and the next round of Millennium Development Goals being decided. We need to focus on long-term, sustainable solutions. We need to consider what will really make a positive change in the world.
This year's Clinton Global Initiative theme was 'designing for impact' and gender equality was prominent. It permeated many of the discussions even when not officially on the agenda. Each year it seems there are more organisations and institutions joining forces to do so much on a grand scale on gender equality. With a theme like 'designing for impact', it's no surprise to see more done around women empowerment. Investing in women results in substantial returns. If corporations really want to achieve results on a large scale with knock-on benefits, they would be hard placed to find a more worthy cause.
It is well documented that countries with greater gender equality have stronger economies. According to the UN, if women were given the opportunity to achieve their full potential, the Asia-Pacific economy could earn $89 billion annually. But the benefits of investing in women go far beyond the economic argument. Financial independence gives women greater control over their own and their children's lives. Economic security gives women a more influential voice in tackling injustice and discrimination in their communities and wider society. As women tend to reinvest their income into their children and businesses, the result is healthier families, stronger communities and ultimately a reduction in national poverty.
Out of a global population of some seven billion people, 50% of us are women. The world's women represent 40% of the workforce and are over 50% of the world's university students. Despite this significant contribution, women continue to face many formal and informal barriers that hinder their potential. Women entrepreneurs around the world still lack the business skills, technology, networks and access to finance they need to be successful in the long term.
We can't afford to ignore half the population. We will all gain through the input of able women helping their communities reach better decisions, not replacing men but working alongside them. We have to continue to develop opportunities. We have to lift unfair barriers which stop people from making the most of their potential. Giving women the chance to become financially independent and make the most of their talents is vital if we want to achieve equal opportunities for men and women.
President Obama addressed the UN General Assembly on Tuesday (25 September). I was struck by the strong emphasis he put on empowering women and girls. He announced the Equal Futures Partnership with countries from Peru to Tunisia, Finland to Jordan, Australia to Bangladesh joining the US and the EU in pledging to do more to achieve equal opportunities for women and girls across business, education and politics. It is time that we all work together across the world to bring the female half of the population onto an equal level playing field not just for their benefit, but for everyone's.