By Melanne Verveer
As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we must renew the call for action, investment, and commitment to women’s equality. We are at a moment of historic opportunity. Secretary Clinton has referred to this era as “the Participation Age”. This is a time where every individual, regardless of gender or other characteristics, is poised to be a contributing and valued member of their society.
Around the world, we are witnessing examples of the Participation Age. Tunisian women stood for election in last October’s elections and now make up approximately 26% of the Constituent Assembly. These delegates are working hard to negotiate a new Tunisian constitution and shape the new, democratic, and free Tunisia. Female civil society activists are busy pressing for women’s rights, mobilizing youth, and informing and empowering communities nationwide. Businesswomen are starting and running their own businesses, creating jobs, and working hard to advocate for policies that foster private sector-led growth.
Such full societal participating is vital to our future. Secretary Clinton has observed that “What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations will flourish.”
Businesses are also starting to understand what development experts have long known: investing in women pays dividends. Women are more likely than men to put their income back into their communities, driving illiteracy and mortality rates down and gross domestic product up. Now a corporate revolution is at hand, making women partners in business at all levels.
Bringing women into businesses helps companies while helping communities, too. Consumer-product businesses have quickly understood the benefits of bypassing retail outlets and hiring women to build person-to-person distribution channels for everything from cosmetics to beverages. Women can also be the best innovators of the products they use and sell, sometimes transforming their communities in the process. Increasing number of women in the economy has helped fuel significant growth everywhere. And economies that are making the shift more effectively and rapidly are dramatically outperforming those that have not.
No country can hope to move ahead if it is leaving half of its people behind. Women and girls drive our economies. They build peace and prosperity. Investing in women means investing in global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for everyone – the world over. As we honor them today, let us renew our resolve to work for the cause of equality each and every day of the year.
Melanne Verveer is U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. Ambassador Verveer coordinates foreign policy issues and activities relating to the political, economic and social advancement of women around the world, and expects to visit Tunisia next month.