Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues
Washington, DC
July 19, 2012

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: I hope you’ll all agree that this has been an important discussion this morning and that the case that has been made is a powerful one that basically tells us that to make the best policy, we do need the best data, and that our data is incomplete if it excludes half of our global population. And if you weren’t convinced of this before you came in today, I hope you are at least a bit more persuaded as you leave.

My travels around the world have only reinforced my belief that the low status of women and girls is the moral challenge of this 21st century. But time and time again, I have seen that often what is convincing to those who hold the levers of power is not a matter of justice, is not an appeal to justice. Rather it is the data, the numbers, the cold, hard facts about how the advancement of women affects our collective prosperity and security.

When the powerful World Economic Forum puts out its annual gender gap report that shows that in countries where men and women are closer to being equal on four important metrics – health, education, economic participation, and political empowerment – those countries are far more economically competitive and far more prosperous. That data and its source speak more persuasively. And the World Bank has summed all of this up by saying that gender equality is indeed smart economics.

Now as you heard from Secretary Clinton, we at the State Department have put a real focus on greater collection of gender-sensitive data and, certainly, to make the case for women’s economic participation. And we have utilized various platforms across the government in which to do that, one being the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, known as APEC.

The United Nations published a statistic some years ago that in many ways was an attention grabber because it made the case to the region. It said in its analysis that the Asia Pacific region is being shortchanged between $42 and $46 billion annually in GDP because the potential of women is not being tapped. Now by all estimates, this is a very conservative calculation. Women and the economy made it to the APEC agenda. And as you heard from the Secretary, in San Francisco last year at the first ever Women and the Economy Summit that included high level ministers and private sector participants, she made a very strong evidence-based case for women’s economic participation.

Now what did that do? Well, first of all, it put attention on a subject that had not gotten the same kind of attention – perhaps only in the statistically – in the statistics gathering world. But just a month ago, as Russia hosted the next installment of APEC, as it does this year, we heard that each of the 21 economies had a list of achievements and initiatives to close the gender gap in women who run SMEs – small and medium sized enterprises – that great missing middle where economic growth and jobs creation takes place. Data, in this case, has inspired action. And so has the fact that all countries today are looking to grow their economies.

We have also seen in our domestic context in the United States on another issue how important to all of this is. After decades of work to elevate the need to combat violence against women on our national agenda, it was economists who published studies uncovering the economic costs of violence against women, what it imposes in productivity and how that relates negatively on our families, our communities, and our economies. Suddenly, this issue was no longer just a matter that women were concerned about. It was a matter that affected bottom lines for everybody, particularly the business community. And that data helped convince the business community to engage on this issue, and it contributed significantly to the passage in 1994 of the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark law that protects women and girls all across our country.

Now, violence against women and girls is a global epidemic; and yet there is much more we need to know. There is a deadly gap between what is happening and where and the consequences of this violence. We need to know more about effective interventions. And just last week in Cambodia, at a conference in the Lower Mekong that the United States helped co-host on women’s empowerment, a UN official raised the economic costs of violence against women in the region with a significant discussion of the data to buttress that statement. The data’s far from complete. But in making that link, all of sudden the political leaders gathered there were hearing something they had not realized heretofore, that there was indeed a link between violence against women and economic productivity, and it was the first time that many of them had heard this link made.

So once again, an issue that had been heretofore significantly marginalized as a women’s issue, all of sudden took on the focus of something that had economic and public health consequences. We know that violence against women and girls also contributes three times more to the HIV infection, but we have little data on ages and circumstances. And this is why the initiative Together For Girls, that we have undertaken with PEPFAR, is heavily based on data collection. And some at first said, “Why are we doing all of this data collection?” Well, we know from the first pilot project that took place in Swaziland, that it was the power of the data in terms of the magnitude of the violence that had a profound effect on that government to finally begin to tackle this problem. And per a query from the audience this morning, still largely missing from our data and programming are the needs of adolescent girls. We need to understand what challenges they confront and the barriers to services that exist.

Following the conference in Cambodia that I mentioned, I held a roundtable with a group of doctors who were working on healthcare issues and working also in tandem with many NGOs. Many were involved in maternal health and in HIV treatment and prevention. They were all talking about various innovative efforts, but not a single one of them noted the connection between violence against women and girls and HIV. They were treating these issues in isolation from each other. Now if we had better data demonstrating the link between violence and HIV, imagine how much more effective we might be in fighting these threats not only to women and their health, but to our collective health, well-being, and prosperity.

And let me just mention one more issue in closing, one that didn’t get any discussion except for a mention this morning. And that is corruption. It is a global plague that inhibits effective governance, undermines economies, and takes a very high toll on society. Women suffer disproportionately from corruption, particularly in sectors like health and education, where they come into contact with public services which are not delivered or delivered at a price, as the case may be. We need to better understand the types of information available to women and how it can be used to reduce their vulnerability. We also have preliminary, very convincing evidence from the World Bank and some other academic studies that show a positive correlation between women’s high-level political power and decision-making and reductions in corruption. A far greater contribution could be made in this important area if there were data that better enabled us to understand this connection and fully leverage women’s potential in combating corruption.

So as the Secretary said in her remarks, data not only measures progress, it inspires it. To achieve the progress we seek and to make the best decisions we can, we need to ensure that women are counted in all that we do. Nothing less than our collective prosperity and security is at stake.

So let me thank each and every one of you. Let me thank our speakers in a special way, and perhaps say that maybe we have succeeded a little bit to have had such a group of committed males willing to talk about gender data today. (Laughter and applause.) And let me thank you, too, for all that you will do in the months ahead to close the gender data gap, and in so doing, to make the world better for men and women and for boys and girls everywhere. Thank you very much. (Applause.)