Skip to main content

Lift up women to lift the world

By Melanne Verveer and Penny Abeywardena, Special to CNN
September 24, 2012 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Women wanting to get loans wait to speak with a representative from a microcredit entity in Sauri, eastern Kenya,
Women wanting to get loans wait to speak with a representative from a microcredit entity in Sauri, eastern Kenya,
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Melanne Verveer and Penny Abeywardena: Empowering women will help the world
  • They say research shows that women perform more of world's work but earn far less than men
  • They say Clinton Global Initiative promotes partnering with companies to lift up women
  • Writers: All sectors of society must work to integrate women for social and economic gains

Editor's note: Melanne Verveer is the United States ambassador-at-large for global women's issues and Penny Abeywardena is the head of the Girls and Women program and associate director at the Clinton Global Initiative.

(CNN) -- Women have finally arrived.

From Washington to Wall Street to Twitter, writers, academics, and business leaders are pointing to the empowerment of women as key to many of the world's greatest challenges. They're publicizing the research and amplifying hard facts, like the fact that when women have equal access to agricultural resources, 100 million to 150 million fewer people will go hungry.

Or that when women participate equally in the workforce, the GDP in the U.S. the eurozone, and Japan will experience a double-digit spike. And while there's no perfect metric for the popular perception of "girl power," a 2010 Pew study found widespread public support for women's equality in virtually every nation.

Melanne Verveer
Melanne Verveer
Penny Abeywardena
Penny Abeywardena

The excitement over women's potential and progress is warranted. But there's still a large and disappointing disconnect between research and reality. Girls and women do indeed perform 66% of the work and produce 50% of the world's food. But they earn only 10% of the world's income and own a dismal 1% of its property.

And women everywhere experience less access to credit, training, technology, markets, role models, and protection under the law. Girls and women may keep the world running, but someone else is still running the show.

So if women have indeed "arrived," despite key indicators showing continued widespread inequality, where exactly have they landed? All signs point to girls and women at a tipping point.

With leaders finally paying attention to their issues, women are miles ahead of where they once were. But they are also far from where they need to be. And women won't get past the tipping point and onto a level economic playing field until we all ensure that their economic empowerment is a sustainable path forward rather than a fad or figment of the global imagination.

Leaders across various sectors must approach girls and women as actors who drive solutions, not just as beneficiaries who receive their results. We need a shift in strategy and investment to help women around the world to mobilize themselves and their communities.

The moment is ripe for action. Mid-September is the geopolitical busy season, and leaders from around the globe have descended on Manhattan for the U.N. General Assembly, the Clinton Global Initiative, and other global meetings, where girls and women will undoubtedly be a hot topic. For the first time, this game of empowerment has all the cards stacked on the right side: The relevant players, from corporations to governments and nongovernmental organizations, are beginning to recognize that it's time to "invest in women."

Clinton: 5 ways world is getting better

Some already are. Members of the Clinton Global Initiative are promoting innovative solutions. Through its Personal Achievement and Career Enhancement program, retailer Gap Inc. helps female garment workers build both life and technical skills, offering managerial and financial literacy training so that they can advance in the workplace.

And that will help them make progress in their careers and lives. Through P.A.C.E.'s partnership with the Washington-based research institute the International Center for Research on Women and local NGOs, 7,600 women have completed the P.A.C.E. program in seven countries.

Unilever is putting women in the driver's seat as well, boldly pledging to make more than half of its senior management team female by 2015.

With women controlling nearly $12 trillion of the overall $18.4 trillion in global consumer spending, it's just good business sense for a global consumer goods company to guarantee itself a leadership that reflects its consumers.

Leaders can also look to the approach taken by the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues in the U.S. State Department, which is integrating initiatives for women's advancement into the United States' foreign policy and the duties of every U.S. diplomat abroad. And it has built partnerships with the private sector to mentor and train thousands of women who own small and medium-sized businesses in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere around the world, to combat gender-based violence, and to provide prenatal education to mothers in developing countries.

If the world is truly to mine the untapped potential of women, and bring greater social and economic progress to our societies, then all sectors of society -- government, business, civil -- must work together. Not just because women will reap the benefits, but because everyone stands to benefit. None of us will truly arrive until girls and women leap over the tipping point, too.

Follow CNN Opinion on Twitter.

Join the conversation on Facebook.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Melanne Verveer and Penny Abeywardena.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1842 GMT (0242 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1410 GMT (2210 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT