Bennet: We Must Work to Expand Economic Opportunity for Women Everywhere

Washington, DC – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet released the following statement in celebration of International Women’s Day and the 100-year anniversary of the first International Women’s Day.  The statement was submitted into the Congressional Record.

“M. President, I rise today, March 8th, to celebrate International Women’s Day, on which we honor the economic, political, and social achievements of women in Colorado and across the world.  It also happens to be the 100-year anniversary of International Women’s Day.  For 100 years, diverse nations have spoken as one to honor the achievements of women and look forward hopefully to a future with greater economic opportunities for all women, including my three daughters, Caroline, Halina, and Anne.

“I would like to celebrate today by discussing ways that we can build toward that future and create better economic opportunities for women in all countries – from Afghanistan to Zambia, two countries which, incidentally, celebrate International Women’s Day as an official holiday. 

“All too often, in many developing countries, women represent a disproportionate number of the poor.  According to the United Nations Development Program, women represent 60 percent of the 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day.  They also lack access to the same educational and health services as men.  For example, two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people are women.

“These disparities are stark, and their causes are the product of historical second-class citizenship for women.  Such historical disadvantages are pervasive and systemic.  Only with the determined effort of the international community can we begin to break down these barriers and foster true economic opportunities for women.

“Many women and girls are trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty because of their limited access to basic financial services.  Women often manage the household and produce food for the entire family, but they are unable to save money, protect against calamity, or obtain a small loan – simple banking tools you and I take for granted.

“For example, 75 percent of the world’s women cannot obtain formal bank loans, partly because they lack permanent employment, capital, and assets, such as land.  In some countries, like Burkina Faso, laws do not specifically discriminate against women, but they do establish landowner criteria that effectively exclude women.

“One way to bridge this gap is to connect women with access to financial services and microfinance. Very small loans can help some women start and expand small businesses.  Others need a safe place to store money as they save for school fees and health care services for their children.  Some small businesswomen and female heads of households wish to purchase simple forms of insurance to protect against unexpected illnesses, which can often wipe a family out.  By increasing women’s access to such basic financial services, we can help countless women weather unexpected storms and gain agency over their economic well-being.

“Creating economic and financial opportunities for women worldwide is the right thing to do, and it is also the smart thing to do.  In countries like Pakistan and Yemen, supporting women can lead to measurable progress in the economic success of families and the direction of tomorrow’s youth.  In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, these efforts can help small-scale, subsistence farmers, most of whom are women, prevent future food crises and help stabilize struggling democracies.

“M. President and all other members here today, please join me in celebrating International Women’s Day by supporting efforts to expand economic opportunities for women around the world.  I yield the Floor.”