Girls and women’s empowerment was high on the agenda today at the Clinton Global Initiative, with the morning’s plenary session  – “Equality for Girls & Women: 2034 instead of 2134?” – bringing together dozens of CGI commitment makers, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Melinda Gates, and a wide range of panelists who discussed how opportunities for girls and women can be amplified, in order to close the social, economic and political global gender gap.

Lots to celebrate, but a long way to go

Introducing the morning’s discussion, Hillary Clinton explained how the progress already made on girls and female empowerment should be celebrated, particularly as we approach the 2015 horizon, but also how it is equally – if not more critical – to “redouble our efforts” on the unfinished business that remains. According to CGI, based on current projections, women will not comprise half of the world’s elected representatives until 2065 or half the world’s leaders until 2134. Hillary Clinton reminded us that the wage gap between American men and women went from 77 cents on the dollar to 78 cents on the dollar. And while, over the course of the last 15 years, the MDG target of closing the gender gap in primary education has almost been achieved, there is still much more to be done in order to genuinely close this gap at a societal level. During this morning’s session, Julia Gillard – Australia’s first female prime minister – mentioned that, at the current pace, it would take 100 years for all girls in sub-Saharan Africa to complete secondary school, which, she declared, “is unacceptable.”

Data Data Data!

The centerpiece of this morning’s session was the conversation between Hillary Clinton and Melinda Gates. Both leaders emphasized how important it is to accurately, comprehensively capture the data points around the current situation of women and girls, in order to adequately and effectively design, implement and scale interventions that work. “Data, data, data! We cannot live in an evidence-free zone,” said Melinda Gates, recalling how leveraging data and analysis were central to Microsoft’s success. Hillary Clinton spoke of how we must re-examine our assumptions in the 21st century – how we think about work and employment, how we analyze issues, how we understand and appreciate the economy. “How do we take the old GDP and imbue it with other data or qualities that will help us evaluate the quality of life – not just of women – but of the whole society?” Clinton asked.

A massive commitment to match the gravity of the challenge

The morning session was also the opportunity for Clinton and Gillard to announce the launch of an “ambitious but achievable” girls’ education initiative, CHARGE, the Collaborative for Harnessing Ambition and Resources for Girls Education, which aims to reach over 14 million girls worldwide over 5 years, involves 30 partners and a $600 million commitment from a variety of cross-sectoral partners, including governments, NGOs and private sector actors. The concept behind CHARGE is to support and enhance interventions that support improvements in girls access to education, as well as the quality of education.

Full and equal participation for girls in the 21st century

The annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative is always an exciting and invigorating event, and the far-reaching, wide-ranging plenary sessions such as the one on women and girls is one of those events that reflects the essence of the CGI approach – thought-provoking talks with heavyweight leaders, from a variety of sectors, with concrete financial commitments with quantifiable goals. Importantly, though, as we ponder these massively complex questions – such as the empowerment of women and girls globally – it is critical that we remember that behind the data points, the large dollar figures and the rhetoric, there are human beings with real issues. “Behind data there are real people with day in and day out struggles,” said Melinda Gates, adding, “how do we care for all human beings in a way that gives everybody dignity?”

Photo credit: Clinton Foundation

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