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Progress Hinges on Gender Equality

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, center, poses with female participants of the "Dialogue on Gender Equality" in Rarotonga, Cook Islands,Aug. 31, 2012.

Women in the South Pacific have the world’s lowest participation rates in their countries’ legislative bodies.

No country can expect to reach its full potential as long as it limits the economic, educational, political and cultural participation of the female half of its population.

Progress Hinges on Gender Equality
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Speaking at the Rarotonga Dialogue on Gender Equality, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that although no country in the world, including the United States, can boast of having achieved gender equality just yet, “progress for gender equality in the Pacific has not kept pace with the rest of the world.”

According to the World Bank, women in the South Pacific have the world’s lowest participation rates in their countries’ legislative bodies, with women on average making up just five percent of the entire legislature. Only six of the world’s countries worldwide have no female lawmakers, and of those, four are in the Pacific. The region also has the world’s lowest rate of women in executive positions – less than 2 percent.

Secretary Clinton noted as well that “up to 60 percent of women in the Pacific report being the victim of gender-based violence or sexual abuse. Maternal health statistics are also poor, and women face greater barriers to starting businesses and participating in the economy,” she said.

“Supporting and promoting gender equality is a core part of the United States commitment to the Pacific,” said Secretary of State Clinton. For that reason, the United States will contribute 200,000 dollars to the United Nations’ Women’s Trust Fund to end violence against women. Also, in order to help develop strong female leaders in the Pacific region, we are partnering with the East-West Center based in Hawaii and the Governments of Australia and New Zealand to create the Rarotonga Partnership for the Advancement of Pacific Island Women.

Low participation of women in the legislature, and an unacceptably high rate of violence against women coupled with significant limitations on economic opportunities for women illustrate a problem that doesn’t just hurt women and girls, said Secretary Clinton. “It hurts everybody. It holds back entire societies. Because when women are unequal participants, economic growth is undermined. Development is stymied. Communities and countries are robbed of the contributions that women could make.”

Achieving gender equality is not just the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do.