World leaders gathered this week in Busan, South Korea, for the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4). More than just a triennial meeting of the minds, HLF-4 is a chance to have an impact the way international development dollars are spent, the way governments work with the private sector and civil society, and ultimately, the way development donors, partners, and citizens contribute to national and global economic growth for the next several years.
As the first U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, I am particularly pleased that the Forum specifically includes gender equality as a top development priority. While women worldwide have made remarkable progress toward gender equality in nearly every sector in recent decades, with progress in developing countries sometimes occurring at faster rates than in developed countries, gender equality has not been achieved overall, in any country. Women still lag behind men in childhood mortality, earnings, productivity, and political participation in many parts of the world. This shortchanges women and robs our world of potential that could be unleashed for betterment of society.
Sometimes traditions hold people back; sometimes laws hold them back. Often, the two go hand in hand. Supporting change to empower and engage women is critical for prosperity. No country, economy, society, or community can thrive when half of its population is marginalized. And a growing body of evidence shows that empowering women and reducing gender gaps in health, education, labor markets and other areas is associated with lower poverty, higher economic growth, greater agricultural productivity, better nutrition and education of children, and a variety of other outcomes. Ensuring half the population can participate and contribute, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton often says, is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.
At HLF-4, leaders from all sectors recognized the contributions women can and will make to economic growth when political and social barriers to their participation are removed. While this recognition in itself is an achievement, to move beyond platitudes and make gender equality a reality requires more than just political will. To incorporate women into economic growth strategies in a meaningful way, we first must identify what is preventing them. Only then we can tackle the thorny issues of how to remove those barriers, and then how to incorporate women effectively into business, agriculture, government, and every other sector.
Secretary Clinton has led the charge to identify these barriers. In May this year, she called on the UN, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the World Bank to improve data collection on women. Specifically looking at their access to education, employment, and entrepreneurship, she announced the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality, or EDGE, initiative in Busan. This international initiative will work to collect sex-disaggregated data that is more thorough and comparable across countries, to identify what resources women and men both have access to and what remains to be addressed. Better data leads to better results.
This is not just a women's issue but one that benefits all of society. To that end, we will actively track progress on the commitments to women that the international community has made in Busan.