By DCM Kurt Tong
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony in Washington on March 8, 2012. [More]
May 8 - I recently had the honor of joining Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi to address APEC representatives at a forum in Yokohama on women's leadership. At that meeting, I explained the program on women's economic advancement that we agreed upon in the San Francisco Declaration issued at the September 2011 APEC Women and the Economy Summit, convened by Secretary Clinton.
Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi with Ambassador John V. Roos on Sept. 7, 2009
That summit was one of the most memorable moments from my tenure as APEC Ambassador. During the Summit, Secretary Clinton described the remarkable progress women have made in recent decades and the enormous benefits this advancement has provided to the world. She described a path toward an Age of Participation - the coming era when every individual, regardless of gender, will be a contributing and valued member of society.
Did you know that some economists think that closing the gap between male and female employment rates in Japan could make the Japanese economy grow by 16%? That estimate comes from Goldman Sachs. And 16% is a lot of growth, equal to the entire amount that the Japanese economy grew from 1991 to 2009! The potential for "using" women more effectively is something that a lot of businesses are starting to realize. The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan has set up a Women in Business Committee to help get the word out.
I attended the APEC Leadership Forum on Women: Powerhouse for Economic Growth, March 6-7 in Yokohama.
Secretary Clinton has been a champion on these issues for years. During her famous speech to the United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, she said: "If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations will flourish."
But the Secretary is not alone. And the issue extends beyond economics. In December 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three extraordinary women who have led the fight for human rights and democracy in their home countries - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. Their achievements on the world stage show the essential role that women play in building peaceful and sustainable communities in the 21st century.
In December, President Obama released the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, charting a roadmap for how the United States will advance women's participation in preventing conflict and keeping peace.
Women are a cornerstone of America's foreign policy because the simple fact is that no country can hope to move ahead if it is leaving half of its people behind.