SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Well, first of all, good morning, everyone, and welcome to the State Department. A Happy New Year to everyone. This is actually the first event that I’ve had an opportunity to do in this new year, and I think that’s very fitting, and only underscores the importance that this department attaches to it, and that I attach to it personally.
Director Klein, Jen, thank you for the introduction, but also and especially for your leadership, for the Gender Policy Council’s leadership in developing the U.S. Global Women’s Economic Security Strategy that we are, in fact, launching today.
Jen and I have been colleagues, friends, going back a few years. I think we both started out together in the Clinton administration in grade school, right? (Laughter.) But I am just grateful for the collaboration that goes forward every day.
And Kat, I’m so grateful to you for your remarkable leadership of GWI in this very consequential time, and especially for the remarkable collaboration that we have between the White House, the State Department, and the other agencies in our government. That is a big difference-maker. This strategy would not be possible without the vital contributions of so many, starting with another dear friend and close colleague, Administrator Power. Her team at USAID has done remarkable work on this, and you’re going to hear more from Samantha in a short while. The GWI office here at State, besides Kat, an amazing team, doing great work. And again, across our entire government.
We’re also deeply fortunate to have the collaboration and leadership of the United States Congress. And I’m told that Sheila Jackson Lee may be in the house somewhere. Thank you. Thank you for being here. André Carson, in the house anywhere, I think was going to join us. But to you, to Barbara Lee who was going to be with us this morning but I think got tied up on the Hill, so grateful for this collaboration, for the leadership that you’ve demonstrated over so many years – and which is coming to fruition in this strategy.
I especially, though, want to say to our partners in civil society, the private sector, other governments, women from all walks of life – some of you are here in person, some of you are tuning in virtually – thank you. Thank you for your input; thank you for the collaboration; thank you for ensuring that this strategy reflects the breadth and the depth of our vision for women’s economic security.
President Biden came into office with a commitment to gender equality and equity because, as he put it, and I quote: “governments, economies, and communities are stronger when they include the full participation of women.” It’s as simple and as straightforward as that.
As you just heard from Jen, he has put that commitment into action, including through the first-ever National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, which brings a whole-of-government approach to supporting women and girls both here at home, but also around the world.
At the State Department, the idea that every woman and girl should be able to reach her full potential is central to our diplomacy. Whenever women’s rights and fundamental freedoms come under threat, we speak up, we mobilize others, we take action.
Promoting gender equality and equity is also an affirmative part of our approach, because we recognize that doing so is essential to addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges. We need women’s full economic participation to actually lead an inclusive recovery from the COVID pandemic. As you’ve heard, we need their leadership in resolving conflict. We need their ideas and their innovation to tackle the climate crisis.
The strategy that we’re putting forward has at its heart a simple vision: creating a world in which all women and girls everywhere can contribute to and benefit from economic growth and global prosperity. That’s a world in which we will all be better off. Closing the gender gap in the workforce by 2025, as you’ve heard, would add up to $28 trillion to the global economy. Especially at a time when we are working to recover from COVID, deal with the impact of climate, address the many conflicts that are also holding back the global economy, that contribution is more vital than ever.
The strategy focuses on breaking down some of the barriers that stand in the way of women to full economic participation. Jen and Kat alluded to some of them – discriminatory policies that perpetuate unequal pay or limit access to credit that women entrepreneurs and innovators need to start and grow businesses; laws that ban women from energy, manufacturing, and other industries in certain countries; attitudes and practices that drive women out of education and out of the labor market.
The strategy that we put in place is focused on supporting women and girls in all of their diversity, including the women who most often face the greatest and highest barriers, such as those from marginalized backgrounds, from religious minorities, those with disabilities, LGBTQI+ persons. And we’re committed to standing up for women wherever their rights are threatened, including in Afghanistan, as unfortunately we continue to see deepen and get worse.
Let me just spend a few minutes addressing in a little bit more detail the four key lines of effort that are at the heart of this strategy.
First, we will advance women’s economic competitiveness so that more women can fully participate and lead in all sectors, in all industries – including as CEOs and board members. One way we’re helping to do that is through programs like WE-Champs, which will provide technical assistance and training to women’s chambers of commerce and business associations in 18 countries across Europe to support women-owned small businesses. That’s one practical example of how we will bring that first pillar of the strategy to life.
Second, we will strengthen the foundational support – child care, elder care – that allows women to participate equitably in the economy. As you know, as you’ve heard again this morning, COVID-19 forced millions of women around the world to withdraw from the workforce to take on caregiving responsibilities for their families. So we will expand access to options so that caregivers, most of whom are women, can actually return to work. To do that, we’re supporting programs like the World Bank’s Invest in Childcare initiative, which will help improve access to quality, affordable child care in low- and middle-income countries around the world.
Third, we will promote women’s entrepreneurship by addressing some of the challenges that too often hold women back, including a lack of membership – of mentorship, excuse me, and training opportunities. We’re working to both create and also, as appropriate, replicate efforts like the U.S.-India Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment. That connects the private sector and civil society to provide Indian women with technical skills and networking opportunities to help them grow their businesses. At the alliance’s launch, Google India committed to mentoring 1 million Indian women entrepreneurs; we’re working with other partners to increase that number. That would have a remarkable impact.
Finally, we will work with partners to help dismantle some of the societal, legal, and regulatory barriers that stand in the way of having a level playing field, like laws that make it more challenging for women to work in certain roles, limiting their career progression.
Now, if you look at some of the work and studies that have been done – for example, the World Bank – women have equal legal economic standing with men in 12 countries around the world – 12 countries around the world – including through equal pay and legal protections in the workplace. So there is a huge amount of work to be done there, and, looking at the glass half-full as opposed to half-empty, a tremendous amount of opportunity as we grow the number of countries that offer genuinely equal opportunity. We’ll encourage countries to repeal discriminatory laws; we’ll advocate for reforms that promote gender equality, in part by showing the opportunity posed by closing these gender gaps.
Across each of these lines of effort, we will work in tandem with partners around the world. Indeed, we’ll be working with all of you. Because we need all hands on deck if we’re actually going to make a difference, if we’re going to build sustainable, long-lasting change.
That includes, for our part, working with counterparts from other governments to develop their own domestic and global strategies for women’s economic security. It includes applying the lessons from this work across the United States Government as we build out action plans for each agency and each department to advance women’s economic security.
At the end of the day, if you sort of cut all of this away and go to the heart of what we’re talking about, there’s also something very simple and straightforward: Promoting women’s economic security is the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart and necessary thing to do. When everyone can contribute to their full potential, our economies are more prosperous, our societies are more full of opportunity, our nations are more peaceful, and everyone is better off. There, too, it’s as simple and as straightforward as that.
There’s a huge amount of work to be done to make this real, to take the strategy that we’ve now put in place and to implement it. That’s going to take, as I said, all hands on deck. The work that so many of you have done to bring us to this moment when we have a strong strategy on paper has been absolutely essential. That’s the good news. The bad news is we now have to get to work to make it real, and we’re counting on all of you to help us do that.
Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)