CFR.org has just posted a video interview I had the pleasure of doing yesterday with Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director General of UN Women. Ms. Bachelet was president of Chile from 2006 to 2010. We talked about what UN Women is seeking to accomplish and how she navigates the political and diplomatic sensitivities surrounding the issue.
Here are five things about women’s empowerment worth noting:
- The number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. is growing rapidly—the total figure is up 50 percent since 1997—and women-owned businesses are outperforming counterparts owned by men across the board.
- Each additional year of schooling a girl has improves her chance to earn more; one additional year in primary school increases her eventual earnings by up to 20 percent. Another year? Add 15 to 25 percent onto her eventual earnings. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 17 percent of girls make it through primary school and into secondary school.
- Women and girls who have an income reinvest 50 to 60 percent more of their income into their family than a man does. This connection between female education and development may have been what Larry Summers had in mind back in the 1990s when as chief economist at the World Bank he wrote: “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world.”
- Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn point out that the benefits of empowering women extend beyond the economic sphere: “Another reason to educate and empower women is that greater female involvement in society and the economy appears to undermine extremism and terrorism…some scholars say they believe the reason Muslim countries have been disproportionately afflicted by terrorism is not Islamic teachings about infidels or violence but rather the low levels of female education and participation in the labor force.”
- Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein says that his company’s research shows that investing in women’s education spurs higher productivity, labor-force participation, and better returns on investment. Goldman is putting money behind Blankfein’s words; the bank has invested $100 million in its 10,000 Women initiative, which seeks to provide women living in rising economies such as India and Nigeria with business educations.
My colleague Isobel Coleman, the author of the terrific book, Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East, has done a lot of work on women’s empowerment. As founder and director of CFR’s Women and Foreign Policy Program, she has tackled problems such as maternal health in Afghanistan, international reproductive health and family planning efforts, and the role that technology and private sector resources in empowering women economically. Isobel has just launched a new CFR blog, "Democracy and Development," that will tackle these and other issues. Check it out.