U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks as Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr. Marty Natalegawa and Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd look on during the APEC Women and the Economy Summit September 16, 2011 in San Francisco, California. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a keynote address at the first-ever Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women and the Economy Summit. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking Friday morning before a packed room of international delegates at a hotel on San Francisco's Union Square, addressed the need to improve global economic productivity by leveling the playing field for women.
Talking to the audience of hundreds attending the Women and the Economic Summit, Clinton stressed that "structural and social impediments that stack the deck against (women in the workforce)" must be removed to achieve global, shared prosperity.
"For the sake of our children and our nations, it is necessary. Because a rising tide of women in an economy raises the fortunes of families and nations," Clinton said.
Her remarks focused on how women represent a "vital source" of growth in powering global economies, because "when we liberate the economic potential of women, we elevate the economic performance of communities, nations and the world," she said.
What is needed to enable such leaps in productivity is sweeping reform in how governments enforce laws and policies, she said.
"Laws, customs and the values that fuel them all act as roadblocks to full inclusion," and those barriers can be formal or informal--from different laws for women regarding inheritance rights or conferring citizenship to children, to earning smaller wages for the same work, she said.
By narrowing the gender gap, Clinton said, beginning with sound economic policies that address the unique challenges limiting women, the potential increase in productivity could lead to a 14 percent rise in per capita incomes by 2020 in several countries, such as China, Russia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
"We must commit to giving women access to capital so women entrepreneurs can turn their ideas into the small and medium enterprises that are the source of so much growth and job creation," she said.
The effort, she said, represents a new era, from the information age to what she referred to as the "Participation Age," where all individuals are active in the global marketplace.
The summit Clinton attended is part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, conference that began on Monday and has drawn some 3,000 delegates from APEC's 21 member countries, which all have coastlines along the Pacific Ocean.
The conference marks the largest set of diplomatic meetings held in California since the signing of the United Nations charter in 1945, according to the Bay Area Council, which is hosting the event.
Although there have been discussions within APEC on the economic empowerment of women, the summit represents an unprecedented focus on the topic, according to the Bay Area Council.
Clinton is credited with prioritizing the topic, and the creation of the dedicated forum for women's economic empowerment was agreed upon at a meeting of APEC senior officials in May.
Today is the final day of the summit, which featured some 65 speakers addressing more than 600 delegates and touched on the themes of access to finance, access to markets, capacity and skills building, and women's leadership.
As the event draws to a close, APEC will adopt a declaration affirming the organization and each member economies' commitment to improving women's access to capital and markets, building their capacities and skills, and supporting the rise of women leaders in the public and private sectors, Clinton said this morning.
Realizing that goal of equal opportunity will require persistence and patience, for what is a "generation-long journey," she said.
"When it comes to the enormous challenge of our time--to systematically and relentlessly pursue more economic opportunity in our lands -- we don't have a person to waste, and we certainly don't have a gender to waste, either," she said.