Remarks by Ambassador Rice at the 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

February 29, 2012

Growing evidence shows that investing in women is not only the right thing to do—it is the smart thing to do.

As Secretary Clinton has said, "To achieve the economic expansion we all seek, we need to unlock a vital source of growth that can power our economies in the decades to come. And that vital source of growth is women."  In rural economies—on which 70 percent of the world's poor depend—women have a unique potential not only to help drive economic growth but also to help solve the crucial development challenges of our time, from food security to sustainable energy to global health. It is for this reason that the United States champions the advancement of rural women across a wide range of policies in key areas.

Take food security. Women are a sizable part of the world's agricultural workforce, and are the outright majority in dozens of countries. They manage this in addition to caring for children and families, preparing meals and managing households, procuring water and firewood, and often also laboring in small-scale trading and enterprise.

Yet many rural women lack access to the capital, property, education and physical security that are essential to unlocking their potential. Women receive fewer and smaller loans than men do, and lack equal access to seeds, tools, and fertilizer. Closing the gender gap in agriculture would generate significant gains. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, providing women equal access to productive resources could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent and reduce the number of hungry by 100 to 150 million people worldwide.

That is why women are central to the U.S. global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. In Kenya, we are tailoring agriculture extension services to fit women's schedules and training women in leadership and business development. In Uganda, we are working with partners to implement a women-led "community connector" program that addresses nutrition, sanitation, and agriculture in an integrated way. And we are piloting new tools to measure gender-specific results, including an innovative "Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index" that was launched yesterday here at the CSW.