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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Office of International Women's Issues > Remarks > 2001-2005 International Women's Issues Remarks

Creating a Level Playing Field for Women

April W. Palmerlee, Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues
Remarks to the Global Womens Summit
Barcelona, Spain
July 11, 2002

The United States is a champion of human rights and the well being of women and minorities worldwide. As President Bush has said, "We have a great opportunity during this time of war against terrorism to lead the world toward the values that will bring lasting peace. …. We have no intention of imposing our culture. But America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity, [including] respect for women."

Having just recently returned from Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Afghanistan, I had the opportunity to consult first hand with women in those countries about how their interests can be best advanced – within the context of their own societies. Poverty and illiteracy keep women from attaining economic freedom and wielding decision-making power. But disadvantaged women are banding together to overcome these obstacles. In Yemen, for example, the U.S. Government funded the Women’s Integration in Development Association through a Democracy Small Grant. This group’s programs include training, awareness raising, advocacy work, and the alleviation of poverty and illiteracy. In Egypt, the U.S. Government also supports a local version of Sesame Street. The televised educational program has a 99% audience rate in the cities and an 84% audience rate in rural areas. As Mrs. Bush said on International Women’s Day, "Prosperity cannot follow peace without educated women and children. When people are educated, all the indexes of society improve."

The United States recognizes the importance women play in economic development around the world and their increasingly significant role as leaders in government and business. In the United States, women-owned businesses are opening at twice the rate of male-owned businesses, and between 1997 and 2002 sales generated by women-owned firms increased by 40% nationwide, nearing $1.15 trillion. These firms employ nearly 9.2 million workers in 2002. Today, women in advanced market economies own more than 25% of all businesses. 20%-25% of entrepreneurs in transition countries are women. In almost every region of the world, the proportion of women in the labor force has grown substantially. To increase women’s economic opportunities, the United States:

· Supports access to education and educational exchanges, especially for girls;

· Supports micro-finance, small grants, and trade initiatives that expand economic growth to traditionally under-represented sectors of society;

· Works with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and multi-lateral institutions to expand the role of women in the private sector;

· Encourages U.S. corporations operating abroad to emphasize best-practice norms, such as non-discrimination and fair compensation for women; and

· Works with communities to improve health care and reduce domestic violence.

These efforts are carried out by many agencies and offices. My office, for example, the Office of International Women’s Issues, is responsible for promoting women’s political participation and the observance and protection of women’s human rights as part of U.S. foreign policy. As Senior Coordinator, I serve as primary point person in support of the work carried out by other high-level representatives from across the U.S. Government who are involved with international women’s issues. Working closely with regional and functional bureaus in the Department and with the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID’s) senior staff and its Office of Women and Development to coordinate policies and programs, the Senior Coordinator and the Office Staff are expected to:

· Advance the concepts of women’s human rights and empowerment as important elements of U.S. foreign policy;

· Incorporate and institutionalize this agenda into policy through public diplomacy, domestic and international exchange programs and Foreign Service training;

· Promote programs and linkages between the empowerment of women and strong democracies and market economies; and

· Establish partnerships and alliances with other governments, international institutions, domestic and foreign non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

The Small Business Administration also works to improve the welfare of women worldwide. They do this by leading or participating in conferences, trade missions and other efforts that help women better their lives and improve their communities. The Department of Commerce organizes several hundred trade events each year, including activities specifically focused on women business owners to ensure they will become competitive players in the world economy.

The U.S. Government also uses the Internet and technology to inform women about opportunities and resources available to them. Many U.S. Government agencies provide information on the Internet to help women entrepreneurs. In addition, the State Department also provides information via the World Wide Web, digital videoconferences, and satellite hookups to women around the world. It also coordinates a public-private sector initiative called "Women in Economics and Business." The Department of Defense maintains the Air Force Small Business Online that features specific resources for women-owned small businesses, including online assistance and reports on women-owned small businesses.

Computers and the Internet are even part of our program to support women’s participation in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The interim Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs and current Human Rights Commissioner, Dr. Sima Samar, has identified computer technology as a key area where U.S. resources could help Afghan women get the training and education they have been denied for so long. The U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council is undertaking such an education program this fall for the benefit of Afghan women, their families, and the country as a whole.

Another concrete example of the way America supports women’s leadership is the public-private sector outreach program called the Helsinki Women Business Leaders Summit. This series of meetings and conferences aim to facilitate connections between American, Finnish, and Baltic region business communities to strengthen economies and increase opportunities for women. The U.S. Department of State initiated the program to promote private enterprise in countries that share a commitment to freedom and free enterprise. Fifty leading U.S. businesswomen have been matched with participants from Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia to develop long-term relationships, present "best practices" for women-owned or -directed enterprises, and share information about successful strategies in developing and managing businesses.

I am proud to say that in the United States, the Bush Administration will not allow – in any form, at any level, or in any industry – the existence of workplace barriers that operate to exclude on the basis of gender or any other impermissible personal characteristic. We are fully committed to the task of ensuring that all Americans have the freedom to compete – the freedom to compete in the workplace on a level playing field. To make that notion a reality, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will be taking a long, hard look at barriers that continue to obstruct fair and free competition in the workplace with regard to women and others. With its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and through the operations of 51 field offices nationwide, the EEOC coordinates all federal equal employment opportunity regulations, practices, and policies. The Commission interprets employment discrimination laws, monitors the federal sector employment discrimination program, provides funding and support to state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies, and sponsors outreach and technical assistance programs.

The Chair of the Commission, Cari M. Dominguez, has launched the "Freedom to Compete" initiative to complement the EEOC’s ongoing enforcement activities with a vigorous communication and outreach effort. Freedom to Compete is designed to engage the Commission in partnerships, strategic alliances and other collaborative efforts with stakeholders that can influence opinion and drive change in the workplace. The message is simple. Having free and fair competition in the workplace makes good business sense because it enables employers to attract, retain and realize the full potential of their human capital, maximize their organizational performance, and enhance the overall strength of our nation’s economy. It is also the law, so the EEOC is reinforcing these efforts with equally strong enforcement activities. Effective use of the media, peer pressure, reward and recognition programs, best practices bench marking, the "bully pulpit," anecdotal evidence, research and analysis, and roundtable discussions are some the means through which this initiative is being carried out.

This Freedom to Compete Initiative furthers the EEOC’s mission by ensuring America’s workers freedom to compete on a fair and level playing field. We know, however, there are segments of the population that face workplace discrimination, but don’t know where to turn, or will not turn to the government for help. Data show, for instance, that women and people of color have not made significant advancement at all levels and in all areas of employment. Data show that gender and race-related pay inequity continues to be an issue. Therefore, we need to strengthen our outreach capabilities, by casting a broader net to include and support the needs of all employee segments.

Promoting mechanisms that allow women to avail themselves of the full-range of economic opportunities that their societies offer is a major component of U.S. foreign policy. Increasing women’s economic engagement not only benefits the individuals directly involved, but also improves the material wellbeing of society as a whole. Vibrant economies with fair and open markets benefit not only the United States, but also the entire free world.

As U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said, "It is not just popular opinion, but plain fact: Countries that treat women with dignity, that afford women a choice in how they live their lives, that give them equal access to essential services, give them an equal opportunity to contribute to public life – these are the countries that are the most stable, viable, and capable of meeting the challenges of the new centuries, and these are the countries we will be supporting."

Released on July 17, 2002

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