Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues
Astana, DC, Kazakhstan
December 11, 2012

Good morning, and greetings from Washington, D.C.

Although I am unfortunately unable to join you in person today, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank you on behalf of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for your tireless efforts to advance the economic, social and political status of women and girls throughout Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Today’s launch of the new Central Asia and Afghanistan Regional Women’s Business Association represents a significant, and I must say exciting, step forward, the culmination of many years of hard work, and an excellent model of how governments, business, and civil society must work together to advance our shared goals.

It is also a great example of the many new and exciting efforts sparked by the Central Asia and Afghanistan Women’s Economic Symposium held in Bishkek in July, 2011, which I remember so well. This event catalyzed the creation of approximately 150 new women-owned businesses, the establishment of over 15 women’s entrepreneurship training centers across the region, and the creation of a new textile trade hub, and much more.

As we all know, women entrepreneurs are the engine of economic growth. We also know that no country can prosper if half of its population is left behind. Women’s economic participation promotes enterprise development at both the micro and SME levels, as well as better business management and returns on investment.

Yet all over the world, women still face obstacles when trying to establish new businesses or to expand existing ones beyond a certain revenue mark.

Among the biggest hurdles are training, technology, markets, access to finance, mentors and networks, as well as discriminatory laws, regulations and business conditions. Sometimes, it's the lack of property rights, or the need to obtain permission from husbands or fathers to open bank accounts, start a business, obtain a passport, or enforce a contract.

The creation of the Central Asia and Afghanistan regional women’s business association will go a long way towards tackling these barriers.

We know that women’s business associations are essential for building capacity in business skills, obtaining finance, and more. Associations can be effective advocates with governments on needed reforms and investments and they can link women across villages, towns, cities and countries in ways that multiply their success.

Next week, I will be in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where we will be hosting the South Asia Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium, a follow-up to the Bishkek Symposium. A few of your colleagues will be in attendance to highlight all of the wonderful efforts underway in Central Asia and to build additional bridges between women in Central and South Asia, which we hope will blossom.

Through the cross-border connections you make and through your continued efforts to overcome the obstacles to women’s full engagement in their economies, you will play a key role in driving forward progress and prosperity for your region and the world.

I wish you the best of luck and continued success in your endeavors, and I look forward to hearing about all of the wonderful outcomes that will be produced as a result of this effort.

Thank you again.