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Women: Remarks at the 2015 U.S.-China Women's Leadership Exchange and Dialogue

As prepared

Good morning, everyone. I’m delighted to welcome you to the U.S.-China Women’s Leadership Exchange and Dialogue.

This is the seventh time the United States and China have come together in this forum to exchange ideas and best practices around women’s leadership and gender equality. The fact that this has become a tradition of our two countries speaks to the important efforts of our partner, the All-China Women’s Federation.

To the representatives of ACWF, and to the entire Chinese delegation here today, thank you for your commitment and for coming such a long way to be with us. I’m particularly grateful for the leadership of Madame Meng, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with these past few years. She is a tremendous champion for women and we’re honored to host her this week. In addition to the delegation from China, we have representatives here from business, civil society, and media. With leaders from so many sectors, we’re sure to have a robust and informative conversation.

Before we jump in, I have just one housekeeping note. If you’re tweeting about today’s event—and we absolutely encourage you to do so—please use hashtag CPE2015.

We’re gathered at an important moment in our work to advance gender equality and to promote women’s economic empowerment. As we get closer to the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, we have an opportunity to pay tribute to the progress the global community has made since 1995. We have an opportunity to recommit to the principles set out in Beijing that women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights. And we have an opportunity to reinforce the vital role of civil society in both our countries, even if we may not always agree with them. We know their work is vital to the empowerment of women and girls. And it is incumbent on us to protect their rights to associate and their ability to do their work.

We’re also at a critical juncture when it comes to understanding that gender equality isn’t just good for humanity. It’s good for business.

This was clear at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum last year, when under President Xi’s chairmanship, President Obama and other leaders made historic commitments to advance and empower women. They agreed to encourage and support women’s entrepreneurship, and economies in the region have made real progress.

The United States is developing an online platform that will connect major public and private players with networks of entrepreneurs throughout the region. This will make it possible for women to share information, learn best practices, and access opportunities to grow their businesses and even reach export markets.

The 21 APEC economies also agreed to track and measure progress toward improving women’s economic participation through a new dashboard, which means we will soon have the first regional baseline on women’s economic participation. This initiative will help us make evidence-based decisions about how to better empower women in the economy. It’s one of many efforts to grow our global data set so we can better understand where we are, what’s working, and what more can be done.

As we talk about how to empower women—all women—to fully participate in the economy, let’s keep in mind not only the obvious barriers of laws and stereotypes, but factors like health, disability, ethnicity, religion, LBT status, and others that can compound gender-based discrimination. For example, one of the most difficult challenges we face in empowering women is gender-based violence. We see this problem in every country around the world, including the United States.

A report from the All-China Women’s Federation showed that 40 percent of women who are married or have a boyfriend have experienced physical or sexual violence in China. Here in the United States, nearly a third of women have been physically abused by an intimate partner, and the rates are even higher for certain groups, like women with disabilities. There’s also research that shows that domestic violence costs economies approximately 2 percent of GDP—that’s the same amount of money that most governments spend on education.

Healthy economies need healthy women. If we want to empower women in the economy, we have to acknowledge how gender-based violence stands in the way, holding back women and their families—and in turn countries and economies. As part of our work with China to address this issue, a group of American domestic violence experts traveled in April to exchange ideas with their counterparts in China. They visited Wuxi [Woo-She] City and met with judges, social workers, prosecutors, and others working in the field. Members of the delegation reported that it felt like the whole community came out to meet them and show their commitment to ending domestic violence.

A community effort is exactly the kind we need to make real, lasting progress. Because empowering women is a complex challenge that requires a collaborative solution—one in which we can all play a role. And that’s why you’re here today.

As a policy maker, you can pass laws for fair pay. As a government official, you can start programs that break down barriers for women entrepreneurs. As a business leader, you can change your company policies to make things easier for working families. As an entrepreneur, you can share your knowledge of where the barriers remain, and extend a hand to the women coming behind you. As an academic or researcher, you can help us better understand the challenges women and girls face around the world, and help to quantify the social and economic benefits of gender equality. As a member of civil society or the press, you can hold us accountable to our promises, press for new commitments, and shine a light on the everyday realities of women and girls.

Each of us here has something to contribute, something that will unify our efforts so they are strong, strategic, and sustained. This event is a part of that process. It’s an opportunity to learn what others are doing and reaffirm that we’re in this together. During today’s event, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to talk with old friends and colleagues, but also make new connections across borders and sectors. That’s what WE-LEAD is all about.

It’s now my pleasure to welcome to the podium my friend Madame Meng, who is the Vice President and member of the Secretariat of the all-China Women’s Federation. She is a strong advocate for women entrepreneurs, and a testament to the power of connections between international partners to improve both economies and the lives of individuals. Please join me in welcoming Madame Meng to the stage.