Women's Long and Winding Road to Equality

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Women in Africa receive less than 10 percent of all investment credit going to small farmers and only 1 percent of the total credit for the agricultural sector, said Helen Clark, the U.N. Development Project Administrator in prepared remarks to the 2011 U.N. forum for Investing in Women and Entrepreneurship.

"Culturally in most countries people are not willing to accept that women deserve equal right to men," said Janet Walsh, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Women's Rights Division. "Women are systematically excluded from power and especially from political representation and the ability to make autonomous decisions for themselves."

According to a McKinsey and Company report, women account for 60 percent of the working poor earning less than US $1 a day. Women are also more likely to than men to work in the lowest paid informal or non-standard wage employment.

Rosario Perez, CEO of Pro Mujer, says that investing in women "has a huge impact not only in the country but also when women make money, they tend to invest 70 percent into their families, which goes in terms of health, education, and of course food, whereas men it's only 30 percent." Pro Mujer is an international women's development and microfinance organization which seeks to give small loans specifically to women.

"Women tend to be better at managing money and investing in the next generation. It's a multiplier effect for the greater country. Women think longer term," said Perez referring to reports by the World Bank and United Nations.

"When women have their own way of making money, economic empowerment, that actually raises self confidence and their self esteem. Women and political stability really has to do with social stability," Perez said. "When women work, it raises the income of the overall country. The more women in the workforce you have, the more income per capita the country raises."

"Women's economic empowerment is central to gender equality. Supporting women to start their own businesses, or expand existing ones, empowers them, reduces inequality, and stimulates economic growth," said Helen Clark administrator of UN Development Programme.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton celebrated the centennial of International Women's Day in Washington, D.C. by honoring women from ten countries who have worked to combat gender-based violence and discrimination.

"While we've made some important strides, all of you in this room know better than anyone else that this work is far from finished," she said. "We have so, so much more to do."

Despite huge advances in the past 50 years, American women's wages are still significantly lower than men's. For every dollar a man makes, a woman earns only 77 cents. An Institute for Women's Policy Research study shows it will take 45 more years to close the gender wage gap.

"Women's lower earnings relative to men mean that their families have lower incomes than if there were no wage gap," said Jeffrey Hayes, a senior research associate at the Institute for Women's Policy Research. "Women have less money to save for the future, and their Social Security will reflect their lower earnings after they retire."

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