Hello, everyone. Welcome to the U.S. Mission and our Salon Series, which we’re proud to host in partnership with Women@TheTable’s Caitlin Kraft-Buchman. Most of you know well that the Salon Series is part of our Future She Deserves initiative on protecting and empowering women and girls. Its core objective is as simple as it is important: to bring all of us here in International Geneva together to identify innovative solutions and take concrete steps to resolve gender issues.
Today we have invited you all here to address a key issue under our Future She Deserves Economic Empowerment pillar: How to break down the legal and regulatory barriers that prohibit or restrict women’s entrepreneurship and employment. We want to use the international visibility that Geneva provides to make a difference in two critical areas: help remove the obstacles many women face, such as discriminatory laws and lack of access to property rights; and, at the same time, help enhance the conditions that allow women to flourish as entrepreneurs.
This is an issue of global consequence. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has stated: “Equality for women and girls is not only a basic human right, it is a social and economic imperative. Where women are educated and empowered, economies are more productive and strong.” Today’s installment of our Salon series is designed to help make a real difference in these areas, and I’m confident that your contributions will do exactly that.
We have partnered with the World Bank for this Salon, as we will be anchoring our discussion today with the World Bank’s report entitled Women, Business and the Law, which was just released this month. I want to offer my special thanks to both Selina Jackson and Augusto Lopez-Claros from the World Bank who made this event possible.
The report contains both good news and bad news:
The good news is that more and more countries are making their legal systems more equitable for women. The report that Mr. Lopez-Claros will present today shows that “Over the past two years, 65 economies carried out 94 reforms increasing women’s economic opportunities.” The bad news is that in most economies, women still face gender-based job restrictions. And even where laws do exist on paper, they don’t necessarily reflect the legal realities in the lives of women and girls.
Before turning it over to our guest, I’d like to mention two women — the first two women to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court – who fought against gender discrimination their entire careers. Both Sandra O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg began their careers at a time when in the United States women could legally be denied jobs, credit, even a place on a jury.
Ginsburg, one of nine women in a Harvard Law School class of nearly 600, found herself being told by the law school dean that she was “taking the place of a man.” To her lifelong astonishment, she replied, “It is important for a wife to understand her husband’s work.” Clearly a sign of the times that underscores the unfair hurdles many talented women faced as they sought to enter the workforce in the 60s.
Despite graduating at the top of their classes, getting a job was monumentally hard for both women. O’Connor got a job by initially offering to work for free, and Ginsburg — though recommended for a Supreme Court clerkship — was rejected explicitly because she was a woman. Instead, she went into academia, and later was forced to hide her pregnancy to get tenure.
I’m sure glad they persevered, and rose to serve on my country’s highest court, since women judges can make a clear difference in cases where gender is an issue.
And it’s of course not just in the legal world. Many women executives and entrepreneurs have had to overcome similar obstacles as they climbed the corporate ladder.
World Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu said, “We cannot forever remain victims of the idea that the agenda of inclusion and equality has to be justified as a means towards the end of higher economic growth. Even if we had to sacrifice some economic growth in order to achieve inclusion and greater equality, the trade-off would be well worth it.”
I completely agree. No more justifications.
This weekend we were reminded of how much work remains. As President Obama himself stated yesterday, “women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace.”
It’s time to break down the remaining barriers and level the playing field for women around the world. So I would like to turn it over to Caitlin to kickoff the discussion as to how we’re going to do just that.