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In his keynote address on the second day of our regional summit, Ambassador Richard Boucher focused on three themes: education, employment, and entrepreneurship. He urged that those gathered consider these three issues as vehicles for women’s advancement across all spheres.

“At a minimum, we know that educating women creates health and wealth that goes far beyond their communities.”

While acknowledging considerable progress made in closing the gender gap on primary school enrollment rates, Ambassador Boucher noted that women and girls are widely underrepresented at the tertiary level; a concerted effort is needed to support girls’ opportunity and access to higher education, said Boucher.

Women’s representation in the formal workforce as wage-earning employees stands at about 50 percent, according to an ILO report cited by Ambassador Boucher. Increasing women’s formal employment and earning power, he emphasized, leads to women’s increased decision-making influence in the household, which has a ripple effect:

“We know that women who work have more power within the household, and when money goes to the purse rather than the wallet, it is more likely to be used to support nutrition and education, ultimately having an impact on whole societies.”

Entrepreneurship, said Boucher, “offers personal fulfillment and flexible employment.” Acknowledging a broad need to widen women’s access to credit as emerging entrepreneurs, he called for investment in bringing successful microfinance schemes to scale. Microcredit institutions around the world report that women make up 5 out of 6 clients. Legal frameworks are also needed to ensure that women’s access to credit is supported and secure.

Ambassador Boucher closed his remarks with an appeal for data: “Let me appeal to you for data. We need comprehensive data, we need to collect it systematically – it’s crucial for us to work with you and others to evaluate better what works and what doesn’t.”

Calling on regional delegates and international partners to commit themselves to widening opportunity for women, Ambassador Boucher insisted that the returns garnered from empowering women are considerable:

“When women get access to education, employment and opportunity, the economic and social effects are profound.”