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I Know the Secret to Economic Growth: Hillary Rodham Clinton

One of the biggest growth markets in the world may surprise you.

You’ve heard about the opportunities opening up in countries like China, regions like Asia and industries like green technology. But one major emerging market hasn’t received the attention it deserves: women.

Today, there are more than 200 million women entrepreneurs worldwide. Women earn more than $10 trillion every year, which is expected to grow by $5 trillion over the next several years. In many developing countries, women’s incomes are growing faster than men’s.

Facts such as these should persuade governments and business leaders worldwide to see investing in women as a strategy for job creation and economic growth. Many are doing so. Yet the pool of talented women is underutilized, underpaid and underrepresented in business and society.

Throughout the world, women do two-thirds of the work, yet they earn just one-third of the income and own less than 2 percent of the land. Three billion people don’t have access to basic financial services we take for granted, like bank accounts and lines of credit; the majority of them are women.

Certainly we are seeing the impact of excluding women in the Middle East, where the lack of their access to education and business has hampered economic development and helped lead to social unrest.

Ripple Effect

If we invest in women’s education and give them the opportunity to access credit or start a small business, we add fuel to a powerful engine for progress for women, their families, their communities and their countries. Women invest up to 90 percent of their incomes on their families and in their communities.

When women have equal access to education and health care and the freedom to start businesses, the economic, political and social benefits ripple out far beyond their own home.

At the State Department, we are supporting women worldwide as a critical element of U.S. foreign policy. We are incorporating women’s entrepreneurship into our international economic agenda and promoting women’s access to markets through the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the Pathways to Prosperity Initiative and women’s entrepreneurship conferences.

The U.S. is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum 2011 to help foster growth and increase opportunities for women throughout the region. We are working with the private sector to provide grants to local non-governmental organizations around the world that are dedicated to women and girls.

Closing the Gap

We are encouraging governments and the private sector to use the tools at their disposal to provide credit, banking and insurance services to more women. Through our mWomen initiative, we will begin to close the gender gap in access to mobile technology, which will improve health care, literacy, education and economic potential.

This is a central focus of my diplomatic outreach. Wherever I go around the world, I meet with governments, international organizations and civic groups to talk about economic policies that will help their countries grow by expanding women’s access to jobs and finance.

Many powerful U.S. businesses have embraced this mission as their own. ExxonMobil Corp. is training women entrepreneurs to help them advocate for policies to create more opportunities. Coca-Cola Co. has issued an ambitious challenge in its “5 by 20” program to empower and train 5 million new women entrepreneurs across the globe by 2020.

Improving Access

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. started the “10,000 Women” initiative to open the door for women who would not otherwise have access to a business education. Ernst & Young is tapping into the productive potential of women with its “Winning Women” program to help female entrepreneurs learn growth strategies from some of the most successful leaders in the U.S. Companies all over the world are committed to increasing productivity, driving economic growth and harnessing the power of emerging markets through greater diversity.

As Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank said, gender equality is smart economics.”

Governments are passing laws that support women’s economic empowerment and building awareness of women’s rights. Botswana lifted restrictions on the industries in which women can work, for example. Morocco now allows women to start businesses and get jobs without their husbands’ approval. Bolivia began a land titling effort to recognize that women and men have equal rights to own property.

Astonishing Achievements

This week, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. It’s an occasion for honoring the achievements of women. Without question, the past century has brought astonishing progress, by just about every measure, in women’s health, their economic opportunities, political power and more. Today, women are leaders in every field.

Never in history have there been so many forces working together for gender equity.

But International Women’s Day is also an occasion for recognizing how much more needs to be done to support women and girls worldwide. I encourage everyone reading this to reflect on what you and your friends can do to support women -- to put words and ideas into action.

If we decide -- as societies, governments and businesses -- to invest in women and girls, we will strengthen our efforts to fight poverty, drive development and spread stability. When women thrive, families, communities and countries thrive -- and the world becomes more peaceful and prosperous.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is U.S. Secretary of State in the administration of President Barack Obama. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Hillary Rodham Clinton at

To contact the editor responsible for this column: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

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