Michelle Bachelet’s Remarks at the APEC Women and the Economy Summit Reception


Speech delivered by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women and the Economy Summit Reception, San Francisco, 15 September 2011.

[Check against delivery.]

Good evening and thank you, Tina, for that kind introduction. It is wonderful to be here with all of you at the APEC Women and the Economy Summit.

I've always said that there is no limit to what women can accomplish when we set our minds to it. And I would like to congratulate the 42 women innovators being honoured here tonight for all that you are doing and all that you have accomplished.

I've been the head of UN Women for nine months now, and I can tell you that everywhere I go there is much excitement about women and the contribution that we make to the economy and also to peace and democracy.

My friends, this is the century for women's empowerment and gender equality.

Women's full participation and engagement is not only the right thing to do; it is also smart economics.

This is confirmed by the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report. The report shows that across 134 countries, greater gender equality correlates positively with higher GNP per capita.

This is confirmed by the World Bank. Studies show that women's increased labour force participation and earnings generate greater economic growth and have a multiplier effect on society as a whole, improving health and education.

This is confirmed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Providing women equal access to land and other agricultural inputs would boost agricultural productivity by 20 to 30 percent, and reduce the number of people living in hunger by more than 100 million.

And this is confirmed by the management consultants McKinsey & Company. They found that companies with three or more women on their boards or in top management outperformed those with no women by 53 percent.

So the case is strong and getting stronger that it pays to invest in girls and women. We also know that huge losses occur when we fail to make these critical investments.

According to the United Nations, the Asia and Pacific region is losing between USD 42 billion and USD 47 billion each year because of women's limited access to employment opportunities. And that is not all.

The region is losing another USD 16 billion to USD 30 billion each year as a result of gender gaps in education. So clearly there is a need to address these gaps and unleash the full potential of girls and women.

And this is the main point that I want to make today.

It is time to remove the disadvantages and inequalities faced by girls and women and unleash their energy, creativity and talent. I am pleased that APEC economies and all of you are taking concrete actions to realize women's full potential. This means improving women's access to finance, education, training, employment, technology and health. It means improving access to capital and markets. And it means expanding the leadership of women in the public and private sectors.

Because women are disproportionately represented in informal and vulnerable work, there is a need for social protection. This is especially important for migrant women, women who work in export processing zones, and women farmers.

In Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, the female share of the agricultural labour force is nearly 50 percent, but this is where equality ends. Women need equal access to land rights and titles, credit, loans and other resources. This is vital for both food security and economic growth.

In this time of crises, we can no longer afford to waste the potential of half the world's population. Providing universal access to social services and equal opportunity is vital for addressing the financial and food crises and for restoring public confidence.

And let me say this. As every woman here can testify, it is very difficult to reconcile work and family responsibilities. So there is a need to institute family-friendly policies and measures in institutions and workplaces to ensure that men as well as women can participate fully in work and family life and share caregiving responsibilities more equally.

And the last point that I want to make is that we need to pay increased attention to women's unpaid care work. The care economy is huge, and we have to make the care economy more visible and accounted for.

In closing, I thank you for your recognition that the marginalization and exclusion of women from economic activities must be remedied by bold and deliberate actions. All of us in UN Women look forward to working with you to advance women's economic empowerment, women's leadership and the Women's Empowerment Principles for the private sector. So far, nearly 250 companies have signed on and I encourage more CEOs to do so.

Together we can unleash the full potential of women to contribute to the Asia-Pacific economy.

I thank you.

Introduction of Melanne Verveer

It is my pleasure now to introduce the United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues.

Ambassador Verveer coordinates foreign policy issues and activities relating to the advancement of women around the world. She mobilizes concrete support for women's rights and political and economic empowerment through initiatives to increase women's and girls' access to education and health care, to combat violence against women and girls, and to ensure that women's rights are fully integrated with human rights in the development of U.S. foreign policy.

Prior to this position, Ambassador Verveer served as Chair and Co-CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international nonprofit she co-founded to invest in emerging women leaders and expand women's roles in generating economic opportunity, promoting political participation, and safeguarding human rights.

Prior to her work with Vital Voices, Ambassador Verveer served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady in the Clinton Administration and was chief assistant to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton in all her wide-ranging international activities to advance women's rights and further social development, democracy and peacebuilding. She also led the effort to establish the President's Interagency Council on Women.

Ambassador Verveer has a B.A. and M.A. from Georgetown University. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Women's Foreign Policy Group, and numerous other organizations.