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Thomson Reuters Foundation

Inform - Connect - Empower

Finding and crunching the numbers to make the economic case for women's rights

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 14 Feb 2014 12:07 GMT
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Monowara holds her 22-day-old grandson Arafat, as she walks through a mustard field on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, January 22, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj
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If countries can't be convinced to invest in the welfare of women and girls because it's the right thing to do, they might be persuaded by numbers that prove that it's the smart thing to do for their societies and their economies. But, such numbers are in short supply globally.

The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aim to change that by forging a partnership to gather the data, then analyse and disseminate it as widely as possible.

The partnership was announced at a gathering Thursday at New York University that, despite a blizzard in Manhattan, drew some 500 people to hear Hillary Clinton and Melinda Gates explain the project during a discussion moderated by Chelsea Clinton.

The object is to measure the progress - and lack of progress - women have made in the 20 years since the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference in Beijing laid out a platform of action for the full and equal economic, political and social participation of women and girls.

It was at that conference that the then-First Lady Hillary Clinton famously said, “Women’s rights are human rights.” Nearly 20 years later, she said on Thursday, it's time to produce some concrete measurements of where women have gained ground and where they have either stood still or slipped behind.

The first report, to be released in digital and written forms, will be released before the 20th anniversary of the Beijing conference in September 2015.

"If we don’t have the data, we can't tell you what we've accomplished and what remains to be done," said former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who last November launched an initiative called No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project. Part of the Clinton foundation, it is designed to track progress and mobilise the private sector, governments and civil society to promote the full participation of women and girls globally.

Clinton said the partnership with the Gates Foundation is the “cornerstone” alliance but that many other partnerships will also be formed in the effort to gather and analyse data that will come from a number of sources including the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Economic Forum and others.

"We’ve made progress around the world but we haven’t made nearly enough," said Melinda Gates.  She noted that success in reducing child mortality has come "because we have real data on that…and where we see the gaps, we go after them. Data makes a huge difference."

Clinton noted that, even during her recent tenure as secretary of state, she found herself struggling to make persuasive arguments about the benefits of investing in women that would convince "skeptics and unbelievers". Data, particularly on the economic benefits of empowering half of the population, would have been helpful, she said.

Gates agreed. "I think you have to make that economic argument when you're talking to a prime minister or president or finance minister," she said, noting that they really don’t want to hear just the moral argument.

Even though many women work in the "informal" economy, outside of wage-paying jobs, Clinton said she was told by some leaders that those women were not part of a country’s economy. She recalled telling them: "If the women in the informal economy stopped working, your entire economy would collapse."

Attitudes like that one often hold women back, as do attitudes women themselves hold, both Clinton and Gates said.

Clinton noted that she has hired a lot of young men and women in her career. But when she offered a job or promotion to a young woman, she said, "inevitably" the woman would express doubts as to whether she could do the new job or if Clinton thought she could do it. "I have never heard that from a young man. Ever," said Clinton.

Gates said women still lack confidence in pursuing careers in science, engineering and mathematics and thus are in short supply. For that reason, she said, whenever a job in those areas comes up at her foundation she demands that the recruiters include female candidates in the applicant pool. Even if they don’t get the job, at least there were women to be seen as competitors, she said.

Asked for the most valuable piece of advice she would give to women who aspire to be changemakers, Clinton, who is a possible contender for the US presidency in 2016, said: "One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard was from Eleanor Roosevelt.  She said women in public roles should grow skin like a rhinoceros."

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