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Ambassador Melanne Verveer Discusses the Global Roles of Women

By Emily Riemer

Welcome to the 21st-century reality: empowering women in the developing world alleviates poverty and grows economies. Gender equality equals smart economic progress.

On Tuesday, May 4, Ambassador Melanne Verveer addressed the Chicago Council on Global Affairs about the importance of women’s roles in global economic growth. In the discussion entitled “Investing in Women, Enriching the World,” she examined the Obama administration’s stance on women and girls as a critical U.S. foreign policy issue. Ambassador Verveer is the ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues and the director of the Office on Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. State Department. In 2009, when President Obama appointed her to this post under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it was a historic first in the U.S., demonstrating the administration’s commitment to empowering women and their roles in all aspects of economic, social and political development.

“Investing in women is one of the most powerful tools we have in alleviating poverty and improving global development,” Ambassador Verveer told the group. “To grow economies there is no lower hanging fruit than the practical decision of investing in women run businesses.” Evidence shows that investing in women is essential for economic growth, to ensure food security, to reduce child malnutrition, and to lower the risk of HIV/AIDS infection. “Microcredit has transformed the lives of millions of women around the globe,” Ambassador Verveer said. “And the microcredit and microfinance movement needs to continue to grow into savings, insurance, and mobile banking.”

Ruth-Anne Renaud knows this all too well. As Opportunity International’s VP of Women’s Philanthropy, she champions the work of the Women’s Opportunity Network (WON), a powerful network of women supporters and staff committed to helping Opportunity International end global poverty faster. With the contribution of WON supporters, Opportunity International is able to train and empower women as self-employed entrepreneurs working their way out of poverty through microloans and other banking solutions. “As I sat in the audience,” Renaud reflected, “I felt like Ambassador Verveer’s comments reflected our Opportunity story, and in sharing her point of view, she was echoing our business proposition. This makes me even more confident in the value of our work and our investment in women.”

In fact, 85% of Opportunity International’s 1.24 million active microloan clients are women. Women who receive small business loans from Opportunity use their business profits to provide food, medicine, housing and education for their children, as well as support extended families and neighbors. Opportunity estimates that its average loan impacts 7.5 people. In other words, donating to women can transform a community.

Ambassador Verveer concluded her discussion by asking the crowd if they had read the book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The ambassador explained that in this book, authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn write that the moral imperative of the 21st century is certain to be women and issues of equality.

“This is our time!” exclaimed Ambassador Verveer. “Only good can come to this world by empowering women and girls.”

Opportunity International is proud to be a member of the Chicago Council of Global Affairs. Join the Chicago Council on Friday, May 21 for a discussion and book-signing with Muhammad Yunus, founder and managing director of Grameen Bank and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Winner. For more information on this event, visit TheChicagoCouncil.org.

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