By Lee Tae-hoon
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her support for the inclusion of women’s issues on the agenda of the G20 Seoul Summit slated for Thursday and Friday in a video message to a parliamentary seminar, Tuesday.
“Two thirds of the adults in developing countries, that’s 2.7 billion people, don’t have access to a saving’s or checking’s account,” Clinton said, noting that cultural and economic barriers still limit women’s access to finance.
Women’s lack of economic participation is due largely to obstacles that impede their potential, which has been estimated by a U.N. agency to cost the Asia-Pacific region between $42 and $46 billion in lost gross domestic product, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Numerous studies found that investment in women not only yields higher growth outcomes and better returns, but their economic participation promotes enterprise development at both the micro and small- and medium-enterprise levels.
Asked why his firm launched an initiative called “10,000 Women” in 2008 and decided to invest $100 million in it, the CEO of Goldman Sachs said, “When you want to invest and create GDP, there is no better or more effective investment - no lower-hanging fruit to pick -than investing in women.”
Clinton stressed that, for many women, the financial tools to lift themselves and their families out of poverty, or to take small businesses to the next level are still out of reach.
She said that, through the success of micro-finance programs, the world has witnessed that small investment in female entrepreneurs can yield significant economic benefits.
“We know that when women are accorded equal rights and afforded equal opportunities, they drive social and economic progress,” she added, saying that fixing the gender imbalance will help spur sustainable growth and equality.
The State Department claims that women’s economic participation is critical both to economic prosperity and social progress as they are known to invest some 90 percent of their incomes in their families and communities.
In the words of World Bank President Robert Zoellick, “gender equality means smart economics,” which is a reason why Clinton and various women’s groups are calling for leaders of the world’s major economies to discuss gender inequality at the G20 summit.
According to Rep. Shin Nakyun of the main opposition Democratic Party, who hosted the forum, gender issues will not be adopted as a separate agenda item, but likely be discussed at the G20 summit for the first time as part of the “development issues,” a major agenda item that Korea has proposed.
The two-term lawmaker single-handedly spearheaded a campaign to place gender issues at the top of the summit’s agenda.
“Women have been the hardest hit by poverty and economic crisis,” she said at the parliamentary forum.
She claims that many of the world’s leaders have overlooked the sufferings the financial crisis have wrought on women.
Shannon Atkeson, senior official of the International Finance Corporation, an agency of the World Bank, also concurred with Clinton and Rep. Shim, saying her agency supports the inclusion of women’s issues on the G20 Agenda in her speech at the seminar.
“Our work with the G20 has led us to discover that about 85 percent of the approximately 450 million smaller businesses around the world face difficulties accessing financial services,” she said, noting that a large portion of these businesses are owned by women.
Citing a recent report from McKinsey earlier this year, she claimed that women who earn income are especially powerful catalysts for development because they invest more of their money into health, education, and the well-being of their families.
Atkeson argued that economically empowered women tend to have more control over their income, reproductive health, and improvements in their children’s lives and “every paycheck to a woman is thus, in essence, also an investment in the human capital of the next generation.”