CGI Latin America will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, December 8-10. Watch the live webcast of the meeting in English, Portuguese or Spanish at http://live.clintonglobalinitiative.org and join the global conversation online by using the official meeting hashtag #CGI.
I am pleased that as I join President Bill Clinton for CGI Latin America this week—the Clinton Global Initiative’s first meeting outside of the U.S. since 2008—international leaders from every sector will explore a topic important to me, and to the future success of this region: how to increase Latin American women’s social and economic empowerment.
Women are already an important force behind economic growth; first, as massive consumers, and then as part of the growing labor force and excellent decision-makers, all of which has helped them grow in number and influence. Economic growth seen in the last decade in Latin America and the Caribbean has been sustained, among other factors, by women's influence. In the last decade, according to the World Bank report published on 2012, The Effect of Women’s Economic Power in Latin America and the Caribbean, women have played a crucial role contributing with their work to a 30 percent decrease in the rates of extreme poverty throughout the region.
Women’s participation in the labor force became a key component to help households face the economic crisis, and the results were evident. Nevertheless, despite the push provided by women to help manage the economic crisis and despite all the progress they have made in recent years, obstacles remain in Latin America, mostly because there is not a solid platform granting women equal conditions that will allow them to grow and expand their horizon.
Nations do recognize the need to include women in the economic streaming if they want to create a sustainable future. But this has not yet translated into more -or better- opportunities to those women searching for alternatives similar to those offered to men. Thus, women's development as businesswomen or business owners requires innovative programs that breed the ideal conditions to foster equality and sustainable growth. Female power should be a priority in the development of public policies throughout the region.
The private sector is also encouraged to join the movement towards female empowerment, and we must be aware of the several causes that have prevented women from growing at a faster rate, pondering all those external -and personal- factors that women face and which prevent her from reaching their full potential.
Today, women in the region need support, along with training and education opportunities inside and outside the corporations, mentoring programs that take them into consideration as capable and successful leaders. The lack of support is accentuated mostly among the indigenous groups in our region, where there is not even training or information about their human rights, which in their eyes are less important than those granted to men in their communities.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to women's entrepreneurial growth is the lack of access to viable financing; that would enable them to conceive a broader vision of their businesses and allow them to grow from small-business owners to business owners.
As I mentioned earlier, there are personal aspects that cannot be ignored and that pertain to acknowledging women's role within their family, both as a mother and as educator. Women face complex challenges to strike a balance between work and family, and she is looking for flexible proposals to be able to comply with both those roles.
We should also prioritize the need to grant equal wages for men and women alike. According to the aforementioned report by the World Bank, a fair increase in women's wages will result in the reduction of poverty and a better education level for the next generations.
Indeed, those households with the highest rates dependence on women are also those showing high rates of school enrollment. That is, those households where women contribute to over 75 percent of the household’s total income show higher rates of school enrollment among their children.
Latin America has worked a great deal in improving the economic conditions of women, but there is still a lot of work to be done, as we are still far from our goal, which is a world of equal opportunities for women.