Echoing her 1995 address in Beijing in which she famously said “women’s rights are human’s rights,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s declaration at the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit’s Women and the Economy Summit in San Francisco on Friday underscored the necessity of women’s powerful presence in the global economy.
Clinton called on policymakers from the APEC nations—including the United States, Russia Japan, and China—to develop concrete tactics that will break down structural and social barriers preventing women’s economic and political participation in these countries and around the world. She heralded women’s progress over the years, but said “evidence of progress is not evidence of success, and the rate of progress in our economies varies widely.”
In the agriculture industry, for example, women farmers have less access to resources and training than men. “When resources are allocated equally and efficiently, women and men are equally productive in agriculture,” she said. “Unlocking the potential of women by narrowing the gender gap could lead to a 14-percent rise in per capita incomes by the year 2020 in several APEC economies including Russia and Korea,” Clinton explained, citing studies on women’s investing and consumer productivity. Data show that women are stronger savers than men, she said. Clinton’s declaration concluded that the beginning of the 21st century marks the Participation Age when “we don’t have a person to waste… and we certainly don’t have a gender to waste” if we want to make full potential of the world’s economic opportunities. “In pursuing the promise of the Participation Age, let us remember that by harnessing the economic potential of all women, we boost opportunity for all people.”
Kathleen Sebelius Addresses Chronic Disease
Indicating a shift away from a past emphasis on infectious diseases, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stressed the human and economic importance for APEC nations to address chronic diseases this afternoon in San Francisco.
In the U.S., she said, chronic disease accounts for 75 percent of health care costs.
Sebelius said that doubling down on the fights against smoking and childhood obesity by shifting resources into preventive care could yield significant economic benefits.
By lowering smoking rates dramatically, she said, "We know that we will have fewer people showing up with chronic diseases in hospitals."
She also described First Lady Michelle Obama as "a huge champion of childhood health and wellness efforts."
Still, Sebelius warned that in 2030, chronic disease deaths are projected to rise to 52 million people throughout the world.
"Unfortunately, I think we're going to have to spread resources," she said.
But she said that today there is an "unprecedented partnership among pacific nations" in addressing health care problems. Multinational corporations, she said, provide one of the best means of spreading innovations across country lines.
APEC says that the health sector is the largest of its 21-nation Pacific Rim economy.
This morning, Sebelius narrowed her focus, meeting with local health care leaders to discuss how to provide patients better care at lower costs.
The New Wave: Women and Innovation
Women innovators from four APEC member nations spoke about the importance of business creativity at a panel hosted today by author Sheryl WuDunn, wife of New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof.
"I think it's terrible that there is this myth … that a lot of labor-intensive industries have no innovation," said Hong Kong-born Marjorie Yang, who chairs the textile manufacturer Esquel Group.
Yang said that myth was a big contributor to the gap between rich and poor. She told the story of two Tibetan girls who, with no prior textiles knowledge, launched the successful yak-down company Shokay after getting the idea while shopping at a local market.
The vice dean of the University of Alberta's science diversity program, engineer Margaret-Ann Amour said more young women should be encouraged to enter the physical sciences.
In their absence, she said, "That’s a pretty explicit message: perhaps you don’t belong here."
Edita-Aguinaldo Dacuycuy, who produces dragonfruit in the Philippines, challenged the familiar notion that a woman is always behind a man's success.
"I would rather believe that what a man can conceive a woman can also conceive," she said.
A Malaysian entreprenuer behind a Sharia-compliant natural wellness company that primarily employs women, Shahnaz Oli Mohamed credited her success to growing up in a female-dominated home with unconventional parents in a conservative society.
Women at the Top: How Diverse Leadership Benefits Everyone
At APEC's San Francisco conference today, Daily Beast editor-in-chief Tina Brown moderated a panel titled "Women at the Top: How Diverse Leadership Benefits Everyone."
“Women everywhere in the world are becoming very well educated,” said Ilene Lang, CEO of Catalyst, a leading research group focused on advancing businesswomen into leadership roles. "The challenge is not the women … the challenge is the culture.”
That culture, said Blanca Treviño, CEO of the Mexican IT firm Softtek, has led to assumptions about traditional gender roles, not present in more gender-equitable companies, that have made "husbands feel threatened by having a wife who may be more successful than they are."
Romi Haan, who became one of South Korea's few self-made wealthy female businesswomen by founding a steam-cleaning business, said men need to be more flexible not only by providing women more opportunities but by focusing more on their family lives.
“I have days where I have to ban people working" after certain hours, Haan said. "I see performance gets better when we have these policies.”
Sue Fleishman, executive vice president of corporate communications at Warner Bros. Entertainment, said her company won a Cataylst award by challenging Hollywood's male-dominated culture, in part through new methods of virtual communication.
"It's often a boy’s club, and they make sure you know it," she said.
Cherie Blair, the wife of former Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair who runs a foundation for women, related the struggle of women in the developing world to seeing her father, actor Tony Booth, left her mother when Blair was eight years old.
"Everyone knew he was an irresponsible drunkard and womanizer," she said, relating her experience to a story of a trip to Kenya where she learned the importance of providing women more control over family finances.
"The waste of human capital is a terrible thing," Lang said.