Women’s history month is an important opportunity to reflect on the many contributions of women – past, present, and future – to strengthen communities, build opportunities, and improve our world. Pioneers from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Malala Yousafzai have led the way in showing us that gender equality is not only a moral imperative, but strategic imperative as well.
We know that when women are empowered, families thrive, communities are safer, and economies grow. Investing in women is one of the most effective development tools of our time. We simply can’t move forward in our complex world without addressing the needs of half the world’s population and without tapping half the world’s talent.
The Clinton Foundation has worked to empower women and girls throughout our programs from the very beginning. Whether working to fight the HIV/AIDS crisis in the developing world or address the effects of climate change, we make a concerted effort to include women as decision-makers and beneficiaries. Particularly in developing countries, women were previously an untapped source of growth. And finding ways to empower women and increase their participation yields tremendous social and economic benefits.
For example, we know that women tend to invest more into their families than men do, so by helping women access greater economic opportunities, we’re also increasing a family’s resources for food, health care, and education. Our Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership provides women entrepreneurs in developing countries with skills training and supply and distribution support to help them increase their earning potential. Through this program, nearly 3,000 women entrepreneurs are expected to at least double their current incomes within one year of joining the program. Similarly, in Haiti we are working to promote economic development and job creation by helping to scale-up businesses and support entrepreneurs, many of which are women-led. Last week when I visited Haiti, I had the opportunity to visit Papillon Enterprise and meet the Founder and CEO, Shelley Clay. Papillon Enterprise is one of the Foundation’s partners that is working to revitalize Haiti’s culture of artisan crafts and is providing stable and well-paid jobs and training to women, as well as important benefits including access to bank accounts, health insurance, and child care services. The business began as a small jewelry makers guild with only five young mothers in training and has grown to approximately 300 employees today, many of whom are the sole supporter of their families. In 2013 Papillon exceeded $1 million in sales for the first time.
Another one of our programs in Malawi and Tanzania is working to economically empower women through the Anchor Farm Project. The Anchor Farm Project helps smallholder farmers increase their yields and income by improving their access to better inputs and stronger markets. And fifty-five percent of the farmers we work with are women – many of whom have increased their incomes by 150 percent last year and lead farmer clubs, which train farmers with new agronomic techniques. The program, which is empowering more than 56,000 smallholder farmers*, has proven so successful that we recently announced our plans of scaling it to Rwanda so we can empower even more farmers.
When we economically uplift women, we’re also increasing the well-being of entire families and communities. Beyond spurring economic opportunity and growth, gender equality is a powerful tool to advance goals across issue areas. Beginning in 2012, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) asked its commitment makers to begin indicating if they were incorporating the girls & women lens in to the design and implantation of their commitment. Since 2012, more than 50 percent of commitments made my members of the CGI community have included a girls & women component.
We’re proud of our long-standing commitment to empowering women and girls and what we’ve achieved together with our partners. We’ve been able to make a measurable impact in each of these communities and countries, and to celebrate the successes we’ve worked towards, this month we will be sharing inspiring stories of women and girls who are “ceiling breakers” in their own right on the Foundation’s blog. But for each story of progress and success, there is still a gap that needs to be addressed and a girl who needs support to reach her full potential.
To further help identify these gaps and gains, our No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project team has been working with the Gates Foundation to collect and analyze data on the progress women and girls in reaching gender equality around the world. Next week, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, we’ll be sharing our data and findings so that when we know how far we have come, we can all work together to close the gaps that remain. I hope you’ll stay tuned and join us as we seek to help women achieve full participation in all aspects of society once and for all. Not only is this something our next generation deserves, but it’s the growth and talent we need for a stable and prosperous future.
*Update: An earlier version of this post underrepresented the number of farmers that the Clinton Development Initiative is working with in Malawi as 37,000. This post has been updated to reflect the correct number.