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Launching the Equal Futures Partnership to Expand Women’s Political and Economic Participation

Closing the gender gap in women’s political and economic participation will help secure greater prosperity for everyone

It is no secret that the world has yet to achieve the simple yet profound goal of ensuring equal futures for our daughters and our sons. Today, less than five percent of the world’s heads of state are women, and women make up just nineteen percent of representatives in parliaments worldwide. Despite producing more than forty percent of the world’s food, women own less than one percent of the world’s farmland. 

Recognizing these disparities, one year ago in a speech before the UN General Assembly, President Obama challenged heads of state to break down political and economic barriers to women’s equality.  Last week, Secretary Clinton launched a groundbreaking response to the President’s challenge: the Equal Futures Partnership. The United States was joined by twelve other founding members (Australia, Bangladesh, Benin, Denmark, Finland, Indonesia, Jordan, the Netherlands, Peru, Senegal and Tunisia, along with the EU) each of whom made national commitments to policy, legal, and regulatory reforms that would promote two mutually reinforcing goals: expanded economic opportunity for women; and, increased political and civic participation by women at local, state and national levels. Around 250 guests -- including Senator Patrick Leahy, President Jahjaga of Kosovo, Prime Minister Simpson-Miller of Jamaica, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, academic leaders, CEOs of major companies, and representatives from civil society organizations -- attended the standing-room only event.

President Obama has made clear across our foreign policy that we are most effective when we lead by example. And Valerie Jarrett, Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, announced a number of U.S. commitments in response to the Equal Futures challenge — efforts to promote four key objectives: advancing women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields; expanding economic security for survivors of domestic violence; promoting civic education and public leadership for girls; and enhancing opportunities for women entrepreneurs. The United States recognizes that while some countries have narrowed the gender gap in women’s political and economic participation, all of us have more work to do to close that gap, and this in turn will help secure greater prosperity for everyone.  

All the founding members of Equal Futures have now announced their own commitments. At the launch event, Australian Prime Minister Gillard shared her country’s pledge to increase Australian women’s participation in male-dominated industries— and also praised Secretary Clinton’s leadership to promote women and girls, saying “we stand taller and walk freer” because of it. President Yayi of Benin committed to undertake a review of laws and policies impeding women’s economic opportunity and public leadership. Foreign Minister Rafik Abdesselam of Tunisia proudly reaffirmed Tunisia’s commitment to advance women’s equal rights and reinvigorate implementation of their national strategy on gender-based violence. And these are only a few of the important new commitments made through Equal Futures.

This is just the beginning. From Croatia to Thailand, other countries have already committed to join the partnership. And all Equal Future partners will work with national stakeholders inside and outside of government—including civil society and the private sector—to strengthen our commitments and hold ourselves accountable; UN Women has also pledged their support to help countries translate their commitments into action. And in April 2013, the World Bank will host the next Equal Futures meeting. 

In his UN General Assembly address the day after the Equal Futures launch, President Obama welcomed the “new commitments [that] have been made through the Equal Futures Partnership to ensure that women and girls can fully participate in politics and pursue opportunity.” And he generated loud applause when he declared, “The future must not belong to those who bully women -- it must be shaped by girls who go to school, and those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our sons…”

As we build this movement, we welcome feedback and collaboration from all those who share our goals.

Liz Drew is the Director for Human Rights and Gender on the National Security Staff