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Women's Participation Crucial To Lower Mekong

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, center, gives a speech during second Friends of Lower Mekong Foreign Ministers Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, July 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

The joint statement of the Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial Meeting pledged to advance gender equality and the status of women and girls.

The joint statement of the Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial Meeting pledged to advance gender equality and the status of women and girls, to ensure that women are given the opportunity to participate fully in every aspect of society. The joint statement also condemned gender-based violence and violence against women.

The Lower Mekong Initiative, or LMI, is a multinational effort, initiated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009 to foster cooperation and capacity building among Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and now also Burma, in the areas of education, public health, environment, and connectivity.

"I am delighted that the Lower Mekong Initiative is now also focusing on the rights and opportunities of women,” said Secretary Clinton at the first Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy Dialogue for the Lower Mekong in Siem Reap, Cambodia on July 13. ... “Because when women have the chance to participate in the economic and political lives of their communities, not only do their lives improve, but the lives of their families do as well. Commerce flourishes, instability declines, and you see a general uplifting of societies and nations.”

Still, too many barriers limit women’s participation in business and politics, and over a hundred countries have laws that restrict women’s economic activity. They can’t open a bank account, sign a contract, own land, or pursue the profession of their choice. In Southeast Asia, millions of women work in fields and factories for very low wages with little protections. And some have become victims of forced labor, forced prostitution, or other forms of modern day slavery, said Secretary Clinton.

But countries that change their laws so women can open bank accounts, access credit, start new businesses as easily as men, and are paid fair wages in the formal economy -- those countries will see their economies flourish.

“Talent is universal, but opportunity is not,” said Secretary Clinton. “So for every child who is not educated, we may be losing a scientist who would solve multi drug-resistant malaria. We may be losing a great activist. We may be losing a great academic. Who knows? But one way for sure to maximize the chance of every society to do even better is to be sure we give women the chance to compete and to demonstrate what they can contribute to us all.”