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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

Capacity Building in the Information Age

April W. Palmerlee, Senior Coordinator for International Womens Issues
Remarks to the APEC Women Leaders' Network Conference on Sustainable Economic Development with a Gender Perspective
Acapulco, Mexico
August 21, 2002

Thank you. I would like to thank President Fox, her Excellency Patricia Torres Espinosa, and members of the Women Leaders’ Network for inviting me to join the U.S. Delegation participating in this important range of meetings.

Ensuring that half the world’s population—women—have access to education, technology, employment and financial and business development services, builds productive capacity for sustained growth. Today, this development requires that women around the world be able to take full advantage of the new opportunities arising from the era of information technology. As President Bush said at the APEC meeting in Shanghai last October, "The greatest resource of any nation is the creative energies of its people. They must gain the skills demanded by a new economic world. Only when literacy and learning are widespread, will the benefits of the global economy be widely shared."

Although the rapid changes in the high-technology global economy over the last few years present opportunities to both women and men, women may not always be poised to benefit from them because they may not have the skills required to compete. Gender inequality is reflected in women’s lack of access to schooling, jobs, credit and public roles, and it results in greater poverty. According to the World Bank, in 1998, 2.8 billion people lived on $2 a day, and 1.2 billion on $1 a day; 70 percent of them were women. Together with APEC, the United States will work to ensure that women and men around the world have ample opportunity to advance free markets and freedom in this information age.

Respect for women is among the key imperatives shaping U.S. foreign policy. My office, for example, the Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues, is responsible for promoting women’s economic opportunities and political participation and the observance and protection of women’s human rights as part of our 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 of Sate and with USAID’s senior staff and its Office of Women in 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.

One of the President’s priorities is using information and communications technology to support teacher training and to promote higher educational standards. The United States is a strong supporter of APEC activities aimed at strengthening basic and secondary education, particularly through the innovative use of the Internet. The Bush administration, in close partnership with other APEC economies and the private sector, is launching three important new APEC education projects: The APEC Cyber Education Cooperation consortium, the Asia-Pacific e-Learning Alliance, and the e-Language Learning Project.

The APEC Cyber Education Cooperation Project enjoins the Department of Education, along with other departments and private sector organizations, to develop a knowledge bank of best practices in education. Poverty and illiteracy are some of the key factors that keep women from attaining economic freedom and wielding decision-making power. As Mrs. Bush said on International Women’s Day, "Prosperity cannot follow peace without educated women and children. When people are educated, all the indices of society improve." The Department of Education hosts a web portal it designed to connect online communities of educators. The Department also provides training for teachers to improve the use of information and communications technology in the classroom. When teachers, for example, want to better understand the reasons students in Singapore have achieved the best math scores in the world, they can access the curriculum materials and lesson plans of Singaporean teachers via the Internet.

Given the importance of effective communication skills in today’s global economy, the United States ha launched the e-Language Learning Project. This initiative uses the Internet to help students around the world learn a second language. The initial focus will be on English, Chinese, and Spanish, which are expected to be the dominant languages on the Internet. The United States has also launched the Asia-Pacific e-Learning Alliance linking American and Asian companies such as Cisco Systems, Fujitsu, and YTL e-solutions in order to identify and promote the policies and practices that encourage information technology development and training. This year they are conducting studies of ways in which e-learning can improve education and boost productivity.

APEC members Peru, Chile, and Mexico were participants in the 2001 pilot of the Inter-American Fellowship Program. The Program builds on the President’s commitment to expanding education exchanges that help develop human capital in the hemisphere, creating prosperity and realizing human potential, and expanding the benefits of electronic commerce to the region. Under the program, Fellows receive hands-on training in the use of information technologies to improve efficiency and productivity, emphasizing supply-chain management and the integration of information technologies into "back office" operations.

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 those owned by men, and between 1997 and 2002, sales generated by women-owned firms increased by 40 percent nationwide, nearing $1.15 trillion. In 2002, these firms employed nearly 9.2 million workers. Today, women in advanced market economies own more than 25 percent of all businesses; 20 percent-25 percent 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 build on these trends and 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.
  • Works with communities to improve health care and reduce domestic violence.

Next month, the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki is sponsoring a Women Business Leaders’ Summit. This first of its kind meeting will bring together women CEOs from the United States with female business leaders from Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Northwest Russia. They will share best practices, discuss challenges and opportunities and create long-lasting partnerships and mentoring relationships. And then in November, the Baltic women will travel to the United States to spend time with their American counterparts, both in their hometowns and in Washington, D.C. Significant portions of this long-distance collaboration have been facilitated through technological advances, including the Internet, tele- and video-conferencing, special websites and listserves, and other means.

The United States Government will continue in its quest to increase women’s economic involvement, through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) International Visitors Program. ECA intends to sponsor a multi-regional program on women and economic development in November and December. The "Women in Economic Development" program will be open to international leaders in business, finance, trade and development in addition to academics, entrepreneurs and journalists. The participants will come to the United States to learn about the U.S. government’s efforts to overcome gender biases in the workplace, to develop strategies to ensure equal access to education and career opportunities, as well as to discuss the overall contribution of women to the global economy and the essential role of NGOs and grassroots non-profit organizations in supporting women’s development. While in the United States, the IVs will meet with officials from USAID, the World Bank, State Department, in addition to other government officials and NGOs to gain knowledge of U.S. economic and political systems. Finally, the IVs will have the opportunity to travel throughout the United States to meet with many diverse women who have achieved success in the economic sphere and to learn from their experiences.

In the Western Hemisphere, the United States has established several programs to build human capacity with a keen gender perspective. The U.S. Embassies in Mexico and in Canada sent women leaders from business, labor, politics, civil society, education and technology to attend a workshop in Toronto in 2000, "Women’s Leadership Initiative" sponsored by the International Foundation for Election Systems and the women’s Mercosur forum. The goal was to identify priority areas of concern for women in NAFTA countries and to maximize the benefit to women of regional economic integration.

The Small Business Administration also works to improve the welfare of women worldwide. They do this be 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 World Wide Web 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 Internet, 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 website that features specific resources, 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 are 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 a capacity building program this fall for the benefit of Afghan women, their families and the country as a whole.

I am proud to say that in the United Stats we 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 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.

Promoting mechanisms that allow women to avail themselves of the full range of economic opportunities 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 well being of society as a whole. Vibrant economies with fair and open markets benefit not only the United States, but also the entire free world. Access to these resources and opportunities significantly expands the population that can contribute to the economy and to the community. This is a sustainable approach to growth and development.

As U.S. Secretary of Sate Colin Powell has said, "Women’s issues affect not only women; they have profound implications for all humankind. Women’s issues are human rights issues…. We, as a world community cannot even begin to tackle the array of problems and challenges confronting us without the full and equal participation of women in all aspects of life." By continuing to focus our efforts on the economic advancement of women and taking advantage of new opportunities afforded by information technology, the United States and APEC can transform this goal into a reality.

Released on August 30, 2002

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