Remarks by U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Stephanie Bowers – International Women’s Day Luncheon
Hosted by the National Women’s Advisory Council in partnership with The Bahamas Maritime Authority
We all recognize that global prosperity, security, and stability cannot be achieved without the full participation of women and girls in the economic, social, and political spheres. To transform the status quo, we need to embolden girls at a young age to believe they can be leaders and change makers.
We also need to raise young men who not only recognize the equality of their sisters, but also see women and girls as leaders and change makers. Governments, businesses, and communities must work together to invest in women. All too often men lead these organizations, but are not part of this conversation. We need to change that.
Empowering women is necessary not only to spur economic growth, but also to advance women’s human rights and to eliminate inequalities. Although we can pool our resources and collective strength to address these issues, we cannot continue to view gender equality as a women’s issue. It is an economic issue, a national security issue, and a social issue.
I would like to thank the First Lady of The Bahamas, Mrs. Patricia Minnis, and the Office of the Spouse for their work on gender issues. I am keenly aware that the First Lady is a force to be reckoned with in her own right. Her inspiring message at the GirlCon Conference last November that “very soon we will see a female prime minister in this country” resonated around the country.
I would also like to recognize Ms. Davinia Blair, Director of the Small Business Development Center, or SBDC, for her support of the Women’s Investment Group. The Women’s Investment Group was established in November 2017 during a U.S. Embassy-sponsored event. Since that meeting, membership has grown to over 40 women who own businesses of all sizes and engage in diverse sectors.
One aim of the group is to provide women with necessary skills for successful businesses that would enable them to qualify for SBDC loans. We are pleased Ms. Blair will be taking part in a State Department exchange program focused on small business development and “Entrepreneurship as the Engine of Prosperity and Stability.”
To further reaffirm the U.S. commitment to gender equality, the U.S. Department of State announced yesterday the launch of the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs, a new initiative supporting women entrepreneurs around the world. The inaugural cohort of participants will come from 26 countries. I’m pleased to announce today that The Bahamas has been selected to be part of this first group.
The Academy of Women Entrepreneurs stemmed from the White House-led Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, which is designed to empower at least 50 million women worldwide by 2025 to fulfill their economic potential, and in doing so, create conditions for increased stability, security, and prosperity for all. The Academy of Women Entrepreneurs will empower women by providing online education resources, fostering networks that support access to mentorships, and connecting women through existing exchange programs.
Through an inclusive learning community, women from around the world will explore the fundamentals of business, including how to create business plans and raise capital. Participants will access online courses on entrepreneurship and engage in facilitated lessons on business management. Perhaps most importantly, participants will network with like-minded entrepreneurs and mentors both in their region and in the United States. Through the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs initiative, we will more deeply engage some of the members of the Women’s Investment Group.
But ultimately, it does not take an initiative or a group to empower women. We can, as individuals, play our own role as well. Each of us can contribute to the empowerment of women by taking a stand on issues that impact women. We can provide leadership development and networking opportunities.
And we can encourage women – for example, studies show that women tend to wait until they are overqualified to apply for a new position or a promotion. Let’s each encourage them to apply as soon as they are qualified; let’s set them on the path to gain more experience and qualifications. And let’s encourage women to lead.
And when leading, that means leading oneself. Each of us has to decide whether we will define the boundaries of our life or whether we will let others dictate them for us. There is no wrong course so long as you played a role in charting it.
In closing, I am issuing a challenge for all of us — we need to bring this issue to the forefront of what we do — we need to push for greater economic empowerment for women, and we need to expand this conversation to the forefront of conversations on the economy, national security, and our countries’ futures.
We are all agents of change — so be that change.