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Remarks at Senior Roundtable for Women's Justice

Andrea Jung, Chairman and CEO of Avon Products, Inc.
Washington, DC
March 12, 2008

Thank you, Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli for your introduction. I also want to thank you for the crucial work you are doing to advance human rights and women’s empowerment around the world, particularly in South Asia.

It is an incredible privilege to be here today in the company of so many distinguished leaders who are committed to promoting women’s justice and empowerment in every corner of the globe.

It is also tremendously humbling to follow remarks by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor – both are renowned leaders and trailblazers whose exceptional work has shaped public policy across the nation – and the globe. It is a rare privilege to be in the company of two such legendary role models whose advocacy is paving the way for generations of women to come.

I’d also like to thank the State Department for inviting Avon to this important roundtable and for their invaluable support of today’s discussion about women’s justice. We are deeply proud to lend a voice to this critical dialogue.

Avon has a long and very proud history of advocating on behalf of issues that are important to women. With 5.4 million Avon Representatives serving 300 million women in over 100 countries, Avon is by far the largest network of women in the world. We enjoy unprecedented personal relationships with women in communities large and small, and we are without doubt the largest provider of financial opportunities for women on this planet.

Avon’s commitment to the empowerment of women is something that is fundamental to our DNA. The company was founded in 1886 on the revolutionary concept that women could run their own entrepreneurial businesses and earn their own money. This was a time when women had virtually no role outside the home and were still 34 years away from winning the right to vote.

But the model of providing economic independence for women proved visionary. Today, Avon Representatives collectively earn almost $6 billion dollars a year. In fact, we are arguably the world’s largest micro-lender. We extend our Representatives credit to acquire the products they sell. They pay us back only when they get paid. This means that on any given day, Avon is extending hundreds of millions of dollars in credit.

This is very good news because studies show that the rise of micro-entrepreneurship –especially in developing countries – is a powerful tool for driving positive change.

Over the years, we have witnessed first hand what happens when women are given the support they need to lead empowered and secure lives. From Brazil to China….Russia, Turkey and India…. all across the globe the story is the same. When a woman’s income rises, her access to healthcare improves as do her educational opportunities and her personal safety. And these benefits flow beyond the family and into the community, building hope and spurring broader social progress.

So for us at Avon, it’s only natural that the empowerment of women is at the essence of our corporate mission. Simply put, we believe that when we empower women, we change the world.

It is against this backdrop of corporate commitment that we are honored to join today’s very important dialogue about women’s justice – a topic which is absolutely fundamental to a woman’s ability to lead an empowered and secure life.

It is also fitting that we convene for this important global forum the same week we celebrate International Women’s Day – the time each year when the world salutes women and the remarkable strides they have made over the course of history. There is certainly a lot to celebrate.

The dramatic economic growth in the world’s developing nations has coincided with greater economic participation by women. The percentage of women taking part in the global workforce now exceeds 40%. Where ever we look, we're seeing more women rising to the top of their professions whether they’re in business, politics or academia. Female life expectancy has increased by 15 to 20 years in developing countries over the past few decades and educational opportunities have increased as well.

But this progress notwithstanding, much work remains to be done. Women remain disproportionately affected by the world's most serious problems, with 600 million women still living on $1 or less a day. Women account for two-thirds of the population living in poverty and three-fifths of the chronically hungry. And despite great strides in developed countries, women in most of the world have little access to the mainstream economy.

But beyond the significant economic obstacles facing women, one of the most devastating and destructive impediments to their advancement is domestic violence. We all know the statistics.

One in three women around the world are victims of domestic or sexual violence. That’s nearly a billion women – a truly staggering number. In country after country, violence against women is embedded into society as an insidious reality – whether it is honor killings, acid violence, dowry-related deaths or domestic violence.

A year ago Avon conducted a survey of women in 16 countries – the first-ever global survey to talk directly to women themselves about their lives. Disturbingly, fully 40% of women in developing countries confirmed to us that they were concerned for their personal safety.

Women in both developed and developing countries also told us that they were concerned about their financial security. In fact, lack of financial resources and lack of personal safety are two mutually reinforcing, co-dependent crises. In the U.S. alone, up to half of domestic violence victims report having lost their jobs as a direct result of abuse. And without adequate economic resources, women can become imprisoned in a vicious downward cycle from which there is often no escape.

At the end of the day, all of us are accountable to take action to reverse these deeply troubling realities.

A philosopher once said, “It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.”

For those of us in business, working actively to make a difference in the communities we serve has never been more important than today.

Although corporate philanthropy increased by almost 5% last year, this figure actually represents a double-digit deceleration in growth rate compared to the previous year. And this decline comes just at the moment when the needs have never been greater.

At Avon, one way we do our part is through the Avon Foundation, which is the largest corporate foundation for women in the world. Since its inception, the Avon Foundation has raised and awarded more than $580 million in funds to causes that are important to women. Until recently, the Foundation’s primary focus has been on the fight against breast cancer. But as violence against women has escalated in both the developing and developed worlds, we have marshaled our resources to join this critical fight.

Three years ago, we launched our Speak Out Against Domestic Violence program, which has awarded over 6 million dollars in financial grants to support awareness, education and services to affected women and their families in more than 38 states and 10 countries. Last year, we introduced a program to assist the silent victims of this crisis: the ten million children who witness domestic violence in their homes every year in the U.S. alone.

We’re only at the very beginning of this major global effort, but we know we can’t go it alone. The problems are too great. The solutions too complex. That’s why I strongly believe that the answer lies not in any of our individual efforts, but in the collective resources and commitment we all bring to the table.

This includes forging strong partnerships between the public and private sectors. If we fuse our strengths -- the vast resources and commitment from the private sector, combined with the public sector’s regional expertise and grassroots networks, then working together, our voices will be that much louder….our impact that much greater….our solutions….that much closer.

As part of our commitment to work together for change, last week, Avon was very proud to announce a partnership with UNIFEM to support the important work of the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women. We are proudly making a $1 million donation to the Trust Fund, specifically to help expand its programs to strengthen judicial enforcement and accountability around the world. This is the largest corporate grant ever awarded to the Trust Fund in one year.

The first $500,000 of this commitment will come from the sale of our new global woman’s empowerment bracelet –and you’ll all be receiving a bracelet today. The money raised by the bracelet will be matched in equal part by the Avon Foundation.

The funds will be set aside in a special Avon Empowerment Fund within the United Nations Trust Fund and will be used to help institutionalize the protection of women’s legal rights and enforce laws where they exist.

The simple truth is, when a women is attacked without consequence to the perpetrator, the law is failing to protect her. The United Nations Trust Fund has already awarded millions of dollars to more than 230 initiatives in 100 countries to help provide legal support where it is needed the most.

In India, for example, the Trust Fund provided a grant to the Lawyers Collective, a group that helped enact the Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act. The grant helps the Indian legal system handle domestic abuse cases.

The Trust Fund’s reach has even extended deep into the Amazonian jungle. Near the border of Bolivia and Ecuador, indigenous communities had little knowledge about national laws. In fact, reporting a case of abuse to authorities required an arduous trip through untamed rivers and forests. So with financial resources from the Trust Fund, indigenous human rights advocates trained local communities, increased awareness about violence, and devised local protection mechanisms for women.

These are inspiring stories. And on behalf of Avon, we are proud to lend our support to help expand the UN Trust Fund’s programs around the world. But we know this commitment is just one small piece of a complex global mosaic consisting of all our combined efforts.

Everyone here today is playing an absolutely crucial role in the fight for women’s justice. And we want you to know that you have our full support and dedication for this important cause.

It is through forums like these, through sharing our collective ideas and seeking solutions, that, ultimately, we will make the world a safer place for women everywhere.

Mahatma Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Each and every one of us in our own way is an important agent of change.

And by working together, that change will only get bigger and bigger. Together, I truly believe that we can move mountains. Together, we can dramatically alter the landscape for women everywhere, with a lasting impact for generations to come.

Thank you.

Released on March 12, 2008

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