Mills College hosted East Bay’s only live simulcast of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech on Women and the Economy.
The speech, made on Friday, Sept. 16, covered a wide range of topics including energy, transportation, trade and — for the first time in history — women’s economic empowerment. Members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a co-op of 21 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, gathered in San Francisco for the week to discuss these topics.
Clinton initiated the forum dedicated to unlocking the potential of women in the economy, which included a series of meetings throughout the week based around the adoption of a declaration stating APEC’s commitment to improving women’s access to capital and market. This commitment, Clinton said, is not just about creating gender equality, but about advancing the state of our economic growth by tapping the “vital source” that
“When it comes to the enormous challenge of our time—to systematically and relentlessly pursue more economic opportunity in our lands—we don’t have a person to waste…and we certainly don’t have a gender to waste,”
Clinton then went on to discuss the reasons why women are vital to the economy and its growth.
“By increasing women’s participation in the economy…we can bring about a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies,” Clinton said. “Narrowing the gender gap could lead to a 14 percent rise in per capita income by the year 2020.”
Following the live simulcast at Mills, there was a brief panel discussion led by Neha Dave, a lecturer in the economic department at Mills, and Zohreh Niknia, a visiting assistant professor of economics. Both panelists took interest in the topic of women in the economy. The discussion focused on how women go about supporting the changes to the laws, customs and the values that, according to Clinton, act as roadblocks to
“This change cannot come from the top down,” Dave said during the discussion. “It has to be grassroots. Each one of us has to say, ‘This bothers me,’ and shift it from our own position. And, as Hillary said, this is not just a good thing to do; this is a necessary thing to do.”
In her speech, Clinton named various corporations that are adopting initiatives to support growth of women in the economy. Wal-Mart, as one example, recently announced a proposed multi-billion dollar initiative to support women in the economy.
But students at the Mills panel discussion brought up that economic investments like Wal-Mart’s cannot single-handedly foster the growth of women’s roles in the economy.
“Women must feel it in themselves,” Dave said. “It has to be a combination of (a grassroots shift) and an economic shift, because that is the blood running through the system.”
Clinton said that, even though in the last 40 years women went from being 37 percent of the workforce to 48 percent, there is still much disparity, including different laws for women regarding inheritance rights, land ownership and smaller wages.
“Evidence of progress is not evidence of success,” Clinton said.
In other words, it is not simply the institutions or the set ways of thinking of the men in charge that keep women from full economic parity, according to Dave.
“We discriminate against ourselves,” one student in the audience offered.
In response to this, Niknia brought up a long-held belief by women that they must act as individuals.
“We think the solution for all our problems must come from within us, but we can’t (create solutions) with institutions set against us,” Niknia said.
Another student Sophie Ferreira, a PLEA major and a mother, said her concern was about women having to choose between family and career.
“I like the idea of honoring every part about being a woman,” Ferreira said, “and my concern is that women entering the economy…have to give up that part of being a woman (motherhood).”
Ferreira said better childcare situations are necessary for women who are students and women who are in the work force.
“Things need to be changed, not just to include women in the workplace, not to just conform to what men are doing, but actually re-evaluate our institutions” and how they function to support women, Niknia said in response.
Clinton’s speech made it clear that this is one of the goals of the APEC declaration.
“If we are serious about this undertaking, if we really want to achieve parity for women in the workforce, then we must remove structural and social impediments that stack the deck against them,” Clinton said.
According to Dave, Mills College is one example of an institution that is working towards achieving this parity.
“There are social, political and business boundaries that women are not supposed to cross,” Dave said. “And as women, we nurture and maintain these impediments. At Mills, we can reflexively learn to identify and…destroy them.”
Mills, Dave said, creates a safe place for women to find themselves and their voice and overcome the boundaries that are placed before them.
“A safe place like this helps women succeed when they leave these walls,” Dave said.