Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said his annual conference to link philanthropists with the fight against global poverty is focused on women because they’re not considered equal to men in many parts of the world.
There are still places where women are seen as “part human and part property,” Clinton said at the opening session of the Clinton Global Initiative’s meeting in Manhattan. “Is there a widespread belief, deep down inside, that men should have more rights than women? It’s worth thinking about.”
Clinton said that, by the end of this session, the global initiative will have collected over its five-year history 1,946 pledges worth more than $63 billion.
The former president announced a plan by the Stamford, Connecticut-based aid group AmeriCares to build a safe haven for 1,000 adolescent girls in earthquake-ravaged Haiti to protect them from sexual assault.
Clean drinking water, a leading cause of disease and death among mothers and small children, will be a major focus of this year’s meeting along with help for Haiti, Pakistan and the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Executive Officer Bob McDonald said the Cincinnati-based consumer-products company will distribute 2 billion packets of a water purification product called “Pur” free in developing countries. Clinton said the packets would save at least one life every hour.
Business and Philanthropy
“We think it’s good business as well as good philanthropy,” McDonald said. “Consumers around the world today want to know what they are buying into when they spend dollars to buy our products.”
Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, spoke on improving the status of women and girls in developing nations, seen as a key to reducing poverty and promoting economic growth. She also said the U.S. will contribute more than $50 million over five years in a program to provide cleaner-burning cookstoves to developing countries.
“It all comes down to women,” said Melinda Gates, who started the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband, Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates. “You have to put the power in their hands” to help break the cycle of maternal deaths, a key factor keeping women in poverty in the developing world.
The Gates foundation has been focusing on safer childbirth in countries including Nigeria, India and Ethiopia. About 350,000 women die in childbirth each year.
Eric Schmidt, Google Inc.’s CEO, pledged $1 million to help Pakistan recover from floods that devastated the country, including a Web-based computer application that helps rescuers find people missing in natural disasters.
NRG Energy Inc., of Princeton, New Jersey, pledged $1 million to install solar power for water pumps, schools and street lighting in the town of Boucan Carre in Haiti.
Joining Clinton onstage at a celebrity-studded meeting in a New York hotel ballroom, former Irish President Mary Robinson spoke about a program to help rag pickers, mostly women and children who scavenge the garbage dumps of the world’s poorest cities, become “waste entrepreneurs.”
“The closest thing to a silver bullet in the world in most countries is closing all the landfills in all the cities,” Clinton said. Until then, he said it’s important to help people learn how to earn a living from the landfills and help them become sources of environmentally clean income.
“Almost every landfill is a gold mine, which is why so many poor people scavenge in them,” he said.
Many of the initiatives are focused on Haiti, where Clinton was named a special envoy by the United Nations to head efforts to raise money for the country’s reconstruction.