In this era of slow growth, high unemployment, and fiscal woes, investing in women is an economic imperative. Fortunately, this recognition has taken hold in several quarters.

Caren Grown is a Senior Gender Advisor at USAID. Photo credit: Caren Grown/USAID

At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit on Women and the Economy last week, Secretary Clinton argued that “by increasing women’s participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity, we can bring about a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies. Because when everyone has a chance to participate in the economic life of a nation, we can all be richer.” APEC adopted a Declaration that, for the first time, affirmed each member economy’s commitment to improving women’s access to capital and markets, building their capacities and skills, and supporting the rise of women leaders in the public and private sectors.

At the United Nations General Assembly this week, the U.S. Government is hosting an event that recognizes women’s paid and unpaid roles in food security – from planting crops, to caring for livestock, to processing and storing food, to preparing meals for family consumption. Women farmers are up to 30 percent less productive than male farmers, not because they work less, but because they have less access to fertilizer, tools, training, and especially land. And they have much less time to farm because they do most of the household work. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization calculates that closing the resource gap could increase the yields of female farmers by 20 to 30 percent, which could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5–4 percent and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 150 million.

This week the World Bank is releasing its first ever World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development. The report concludes that productivity will be raised if the skills and talents of women and girls are used more fully; for instance, eliminating barriers that prevent women from working in certain occupations or sectors could reduce the productivity gap between male and female workers by one-third to one-half and increase output per worker by 3 to 25 percent across a range of countries.

The imperative to invest in women and girls is being embraced by the U.S. Government. President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative seeks to reduce gender barriers in agriculture and scale up interventions that empower women farmers, harness new technologies, and measure progress. USAID is promoting women’s entrepreneurship and access to finance, working with partners to reform legal and regulatory systems that are roadblocks to women’s success, and supporting women leaders in the public and private sectors. Together with other donors, we are working to turn the recognition of women’s contributions into genuine commitments to action.