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'Women's Progress is Global Progress'

Alyse Nelson
Alyse Nelson is President and Chief Executive Officer of Vital Voices Global Partnership. A co-founder of Vital Voices, Alyse has worked with the organization for 12 years.

There's no mistaking a new consciousness is on the rise when it comes to women's empowerment.

Challenges once marginalized as 'women's issues' are moving into the global mainstream, especially with the world's attention focused on economic recovery and development.

The Economist estimates that over the past decade, women have contributed more to global GDP growth than new technology or emerging economic heavyweights, India and China. The United Nations finds that 60 percent of the world's work is done by women. And for the first time in U.S. history, women constitute a majority in the workforce. Businesses and governments alike are formulating strategies to channel women's energy into the generation of prosperity.

Yet, there's a lot more to consider than women's contributions to economic growth. Women's comparable capacity for social and political development must not be overlooked.

In societies where women have equal access to education and political representation, governments are more open and free; younger generations are healthier and better educated. The UN has found that women reinvest up to 90 percent of their income in their families and communities.

At Vital Voices, we've seen that when women gain access to economic, social and political opportunity, they carry whole societies forward with them. After Kakenya Ntaiya became the first girl in Enoosaen, Kenya to attend college, she returned to build the first primary school for girls in that village so that others could have the opportunity she had to fight for.

It's not that women need our help. We need theirs. The reality is simple, women's progress means global progress, and any advances being made on the economic front are tenuous if they're not reinforced by women's increased access to social and political opportunity.

A majority of the world's women do not legally own, control or inherit property, land or wealth. As a result, they are unable to start and grow small businesses. Yet, we know that in our own country, women-owned businesses have been enormous drivers of economic growth.

Similarly, only about one third of countries around the world have laws in place to combat violence against women, and in most of these countries those laws are not enforced, well resourced or taken seriously.

Violence against women and girls, in the form of human trafficking, harmful cultural practices, rape as a tactic of war and domestic violence, is one of the single greatest barriers holding women back. A staggering statistic: one out of every three women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime. And the problem is getting worse every year.

If we don't address the inequity of restricted access or the scourge of gender-based violence, women's potential goes unrealized and whole communities stand to lose.

Here's the good news. It's not a zero-sum game. Improving one group's access to opportunity doesn't mean denying possibility to another. In environments where women's equitable share is both possible and likely, opportunities and prosperity are increased for all.

Society, as a whole, must make unified movement towards this goal. We've got to engage businesses, governments, international organizations and individual citizens. If we're looking to foster shared progress, progress that's unqualified, sustainable and global, we've got to invest in women's economic, social and political presence with equal consideration.

(this title is borrowed from a speech made by Sec. Clinton in March 2010)

By Alyse Nelson

 |  August 17, 2010; 12:59 PM ET |  Category:  Women in leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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