By bringing them together in one place, we can share some of our thoughts and ideas with women from throughout the APEC region, learn new things from each other, and hopefully inspire women globally. Weili Dai, Co-founder of Marvell Technologies Group

Accounting for more than half of the world’s population, a significant portion – 70 percent – of the 1.3 billion people in the world living in poverty worldwide are women and two-thirds of those are not taught to read and write.

The upcoming APEC Women and the Economy Summit (WES) aims to look at how to further empower women to better themselves, their families and society. The Summit, held in conjunction with the third Senior Officials Meeting (SOM3) in San Francisco in mid-September, will host senior-level representatives from the private and public sectors, non-governmental organizations, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Gender equality has been the subject of many international efforts, starting as early as 1946 with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Prompted by the need to take stock of the progress in involving women in APEC's agenda, APEC held its first-ever Ministerial Meeting on Women in the Philippines in 1998. Ministers provided policy direction encouraging members to integrate gender considerations and promote gender equality throughout the forum, and especially in APEC’s capacity building projects. Since then, APEC’s gender integration initiatives have had significant influence on the gender policies of member economies,

Then in 2000, at the Millennium Summit, world leaders adopted the UN Millennium Declaration, which also included promoting gender equality and empowering women as one of the Millennium Development Goals.

According to UNDP, women are responsible for 66 percent of the world's work but earn only 10 percent of the income and own just 1 percent of the world’s land. Most women throughout the world are relegated to low-skilled, low-wage jobs. For many of these women, their long history of marginalization is a cycle that is hard to break – an issue that policymakers will address at the upcoming summit.

There is rising awareness across the world that women are becoming an undeniable economic force. Women are increasingly at the center of the global economy. According to a survey of women by Boston Consulting Group, women are the world’s largest and fastest growing market, controlling or influencing three-quarters of the $18 trillion in global consumer spending. A country's competitiveness correlates positively to those who possess a greater gender parity, resulting in better economic performance, competitiveness, and greater prosperity.

In the Asia-Pacific region, women’s potential remains largely underutilized. In an interview with World Affairs Commentary, Ambassador Melanne Verveer noted that “collectively, the 21 countries of the Asia Pacific region lose between $42 to $46 billion of GDP annually by not tapping into women’s economic potential1.” 

There is a growing body of research and data that correlates high yield outcomes to women who run small and medium-sized businesses and there is a strong correlation to increased GDP. Globally, there are more than 200 million women entrepreneurs including those in rural areas, townships and villages who open small businesses or cooperatives to generate income. Based on this evidence, adding more women to the labor force could provide a substantial boost to GDP growth and per capita income.

Yet, women entrepreneurs face obstacles due to poor access to business opportunities, credit, financial markets, and the knowledge of running a business. Research and anecdotal evidence also show that women lag far behind men in access to credit, despite the fact that they are better at paying back loans.

Indeed, women in emerging economies are likely to be given special attention at the upcoming summit as their roadblocks to economic development remain daunting. By empowering women, the whole family, and the world’s economy wins.

The World Bank has documented that women tend to invest a higher portion of their earnings in their families and communities than men do.

“Narrowing the gap in employment between men and women in emerging economies could raise incomes as much as 14 percent by 2020, and 20 percent by 2030,” remarked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Second Annual Women in the World Stories and Solutions in March.

In an interview with Ms. Weili Dai, co-founder of Marvell Technologies Group, who is one of the confirmed speakers for the summit, she said that while opportunity is still out of reach for many women, especially in developing economies, technology can be leveraged to close this gap.

She recognizes that “technology is not a silver bullet” and went on to describe the possibility of how a woman in developing world can connect to the global economy without leaving her village or hometown. For example, Marvell has been working for several years with China Mobile and its more than 600 million subscribers to bring affordable smart phones and tablets to women entrepreneurs throughout China. Furthermore, this connectivity delivers information to create a more enlightened and open society better exposed to the idea of women in nontraditional roles.

Studies have shown that women’s involvement fields like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics remains significantly lower than their male counterparts. Dai is hopeful that more women will be attracted to these sectors.

“Fortunately, technology is not as ‘boring’ as it used to be and is now an incredible tool for creativity,” Dai explained.

The female mind can bring a unique perspective to problem-solving in traditionally male-dominated industries such as business, engineering, or government, she added. Dai firmly believes that APEC economies can and must develop environments that engage women and leverage their natural talents.

The significance of hosting WES in the U.S. is monumental, “We already have many examples of great women leaders in all walks of life in America,” Dai continued. “By bringing them together in one place, we can share some of our thoughts and ideas with women from throughout the APEC region, learn new things from each other, and hopefully inspire women globally,”

Dai will discuss the role women in the new innovation economy. Other panelists include: Deborah Forte, President of Scholastic Entertainment Inc.; Kathy Hill, Senior Vice President of Cisco; Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren; Professor Claire Tomlin, Ph.D, U. C. Berkeley College of Engineering and Computer Sciences; and Dr. Telle Whitney, President and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. Madame Meng, Vice President of the All-China Women’s Federation will give opening remarks.

The summit follows the establishment of the Policy Partnership on Women in the Economy in May 2011. It combined the former APEC Gender Focal Point Network (GFPN) and the private sector-oriented Women’s Leadership Network (WLN) – creating a single public-private entity to streamline and elevate the influence of women’s issues within APEC.