UNITED NATIONS: Prominent female politicians including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff joined voices Monday to demand a greater global political role for women.
“Despite notable progress, gender inequality persists,” Rousseff, who became Brazil's first female president earlier this year, said at a high-level event held at the United Nations ahead of this week's UN General Assembly.
“Women are still the ones who suffer the most from extreme poverty, illiteracy, poor healthcare systems, conflicts and sexual violence.”
Rousseff noted that on Wednesday she would become the first woman in the history of the United Nations to open debate at the UN General Assembly.
“As someone who tried to be a president, it's very encouraging to see those who actually ended up as a president,” Clinton joked at Monday's event, in a reference to her unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2008.
Despite a hard-fought campaign, Clinton failed to secure the nomination to be the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, losing to Barack Obama, who is now her boss in the White House.
Monday's event was organized by UN Women, a UN body that was established last year to promote female empowerment around the world.
Women make up less than 10 percent of world leaders, and globally less than one in five members of parliament is a woman, according to UN Women.
Increasing gender equality and putting more women in leadership roles will promote economic development, said Michelle Bachelet, the head of UN Women and a former president of Chile.
“We now have data to show that countries with greater gender equality have higher gross national product per capita and that women's leadership in the corporate sector results in improved business performance,” she said.
The participation of women in this year's wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East demonstrated that women are “determined to fight for democracy”, Bachelet added.
“The message is loud and clear: There is no turning back,” she said.
Other participants in the event included the European Union's top foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton, and female officials and leaders from Africa, Asia and the Americas.
“Women's political participation is fundamental to democracy and essential to the achievement of sustainable development and peace,” the attendees said in a joint declaration.
“We call upon all States, including those emerging from conflict or undergoing political transitions, to eliminate all discriminatory barriers faced by women, particularly marginalized women.”
Earlier on Monday, Clinton told an audience of food and agriculture experts gathered in New York that empowering female farmers in developing countries would boost productivity and help solve food shortages.
“When we liberate the economic potential of women, we elevate the economic performance of communities, nations and the world,” Clinton said, speaking at a panel discussion on women's role in agriculture.
Female farmers in developing countries are often treated unfairly by a male-dominated society, and giving them more decision-making power would provide broad economic benefits, experts said during the discussion.
“Women make up the labor force for agriculture in Tanzania and the rest of Africa,” said Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.
“They do the work on the farms, till the farms, do the harvest. And the men take the crop to the market and take the money. And decide how to spend that money.”