Empowering women is good for the economy

Last month, the Gujarat state government in India instituted a two-week celebration on the empowerment of women. The celebration quickly subsided when the police took actions more reminiscent of female oppression than empowerment, putting up posters with women dressed in jeans and shorts that read "Do not step out of the house in inappropriate clothing" and urging girls to refrain from using cell phones for no reason whatsoever.

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Across the world's economies, women face all kinds of barriers to their empowerment. Two decades after Hillary Clinton's 1995 speech in Beijing where she so famously declared that "women's rights are human rights," the fight continues.

But empowering women is not just the right thing to do. It's the smart thing to do.

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This week, powerhouse leaders including Hillary Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will come together at a Center for American Progress roundtable to continue the dialogue on women's economic security and empowerment.

Women are an extremely powerful resource for global entrepreneurship and economic development — one that is not currently tapped to its potential. Research has shown that where women are economically empowered, communities and nations thrive.

That is why over the past few years, the conversation has developed into empowering women economically. In 2011, for example, the State Department held the first Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women and the Economy Summit, a breakthrough forum in San Francisco on the economic empowerment of women where we hosted 21 of the world's economies — including China, Russia, and Indonesia — that represented 55 percent of the world's GDP.

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At the forum, Secretary Clinton persuaded the countries to agree to the "San Francisco Declaration" — an agenda to integrate female economic empowerment and entrepreneurship into their economic policies. It declared that the countries "will take concrete actions to realize the full potential of women, integrate them more fully into APEC economies, harness their talents, remove barriers that restrict women's full economic participation, and maximize their contributions towards economic growth."

This was a monumental breakthrough for many of the economies and for the United States, and is just one example of the enormous strides that have been made. But there is more to be done to continue to increase opportunities for women entrepreneurs and to raise their profile to the highest levels.

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Each of us can also do our part by:

  • Purchasing goods or services from women-owned businesses locally and around the world;
  • Supporting organizations that assist women entrepreneurs; and
  • Joining angel investment groups like Golden Seeds that invest in women-founded and led enterprises.

The United States recently celebrated Women's Equality Day — let's do more to make every day equal for women everywhere. As Hillary Clinton says, "it is the great unfinished business of the 21st century."

Commentary by Shelly Porges, the national finance co-chair for Ready for Hillary PAC. She was also the former senior advisor to the Global Entrepreneurship Program at the U.S. State Department, and launched the State Department's Global Women's Business Initiative. Follow her on Twitter @shellyporges.