In just a few weeks, the leaders of the world will gather at the UN to assess the progress that has been made on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and to chart the way forward. In advance of that meeting, I spoke to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. on Tuesday to discuss how women and girls are at the center of our foreign policy and international development agenda, and how gender equality is the key to progress and sustainable development.
The United States fully embraces the MDGs. As President Obama has said, “the Millennium Development Goals are America's goals.” We are firmly committed to working with our many partners in this common cause towards meeting the Goals by 2015, and helping to ensure that the gains are sustained long into the future.
The ten-year anniversary of the adoption of the MDGs coincides with the 15 years since the Fourth UN Conference on Women took place in Beijing. Not so coincidentally, the two sets of goals intersect: MDG 3 -- the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women -- is the prerequisite for achieving all the other MDGs. If we are to realize the MDGs, women and girls must be at the core of our development strategies. For that reason, we are pursuing a number of initiatives and programs that focus on women and girls and that will help the world reach its MDG targets.
The first is the Global Health Initiative, a $63 billion program to improve health and strengthen health systems worldwide. We are scaling up our work in maternal and child health, family planning and nutrition. We are committed to promoting sustainability, by focusing on strengthening existing health systems and by building on them to help countries develop their own capacity to improve the health of their people. We are also developing innovative strategies to improve health through mobile technology to deliver health information -- for example -- to pregnant women and new mothers. Further, we are linking our health programs with successful efforts to remove the economic, cultural, social, and legal barriers that create obstacles to obtaining care for women and girls, including gender-based violence, harmful traditional practices -- such as early marriage and female genital mutilation -- a lack of education, and a lack of economic opportunity.
Another commitment to women and girls is the President's Feed the Future Initiative, which was developed under Secretary Clinton's leadership. It is a $3.5 billion promise to strengthen the world's food supply, focusing on sustainably reducing hunger through greater agriculture productivity. It also recognizes that most of the world's food is grown, harvested, stored, and prepared by women, and that women farmers have specific needs for training, access to financial services, markets and decision-making if they are to become more agriculturally productive. In some regions, women produce 70 percent of the food, earn 10 percent of the income, and own only 1 percent of the land. The reform of land tenure and property rights, as well as inheritance laws, can help advance women in farming and help to secure the world's food supply.
A third area for action is women's role in addressing climate change. As the majority of the world's farmers, women in developing nations are the hardest hit by ecological fluctuation and disaster, whether by tsunamis or droughts. They are also key problem-solvers who can play a significant role in safeguarding their families and communities from environmental hazards and promoting sustainable solutions to climate change. To this end, Secretary Clinton will soon announce a major new initiative: a public-private partnership that will, among other things, promote women's role in safeguarding the environment.
Fourth, to alleviate poverty, economic growth is essential. Today there is an abundance of research that demonstrates that investments in women and girls correlate positively with poverty alleviation and a country's general prosperity. Small and medium-size businesses run by women are proven drivers of GDP. Women are a reliable investment because the money they borrow is not only likely to be repaid; women also have a multiplier effect because their resources are used to benefit their families and communities.
In conjunction with the recent AGOA Ministerial (African Growth and Opportunity Act), we created the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program to provide women with the tools and skills they need to more successfully access AGOA and its benefits for building businesses and markets.
We are working with APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) countries to put a first-ever focus on women as drivers of economic growth. Half the APEC countries have developing economies. 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.
Fifth, another key indicator for MDG 3 -- gender equality -- is women's political participation. Women are still significantly outnumbered in the parliaments, provincial councils and peace processes of the world, even though we know that they are far more likely to invest in the public good than their male counterparts and that higher rates of female participation in government are associated with lower levels of corruption. Women's influence on the village and city councils in India -- the panchayats -- is a well-documented example of the difference they're making in investing in safe drinking water, education and other community needs.
Where women are oppressed and marginalized, societies are more dangerous and extremism is more likely to take hold. As Secretary Clinton has stressed, the subjugation of women is a threat to our national security and the common security of the world because the suffering and denial of the rights of women and the instability of nations go hand in hand. The United States has been working within our own government, bilaterally and multilaterally to accelerate implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions that link women to peace and security.
The only way we can hope to meet the fundamental challenges of our time is to incorporate the needs, and draw upon the talents and potential, of women and girls around the world. It is with this message and in this spirit, that we join hands with our partners to accelerate progress towards meeting the MDGs, and to create a better world for us all.