Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Michele J. Sison at the Women’s Economic Empowerment Event

Good evening.

Dear guests, thank you for joining us today to discuss this important topic – the economic empowerment of Haitian female entrepreneurs.  A special thank you to the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Madame Évelyn Sainvil, to Ms. Phelicia Dell for moderating, and for our four panelists, Ms. Isabelle Mevs, Ms. Daniella Jacques, Ms. Magalie Dresse, and Ms. Christelle Chignard Paul, for sharing your wealth of knowledge with these eager entrepreneurs.

These types of dialogues are pathways for women to strengthen their own businesses and share best practices in order to create prosperity in their communities, which will ultimately support economic growth in Haiti.  We admire the great work that Haitian women entrepreneurs have done and are doing to promote partnerships and alliances to create employment, and encourage public and private sector collaboration.  Women’s empowerment and economic integration is a core U.S. government development objective that is key to countries becoming self-reliant.  As I always say, women must be involved in every facet of Haiti’s economic growth strategy.

But far too often and in far too many places around the world, women’s voices and experiences go unheard or unheeded.  They are underrepresented in the halls of political and economic power and overrepresented in poverty.  Barriers like gender-based violence, laws or customs that hold women to a different standard, and entrenched discrimination can discourage and prevent women from improving their lives. The unappreciated status of women and girls has vast political, economic, and social implications.

Yet when women participate in the economy, we witness amazing returns. In emerging economies, women are likely to reinvest 90% of their take-home income back into their families and their communities through the purchase of health and education services, as well as nutrition.  Men in the same economies generally return only 30%-40% of their income into these types of human resource investments.

We are honored to host today’s seminar as part of the international campaign of 16 Days against Gender-Based Violence. Violence against women, tragically, occurs in the United States, in Haiti, and all around the world.  Studies conducted in the United States have shown that as a woman’s income rises and comes closer to parity with her husband’s or domestic partner’s, the likelihood of domestic violence against her declines.

Gender-based violence is a pervasive barrier to women’s empowerment and economic growth.  Domestic or intimate partner violence, street harassment, violence in public spaces, and sexual harassment in the workplace are all forms of gender-based violence that have a direct negative impact on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.

So, today as part of the 16 Days Campaign, we have chosen to highlight economic empowerment for women.  We aim to provide a platform of communication between new female entrepreneurs and their successful, established counterparts to discuss the unique obstacles Haitian women face in the business sector as well as brainstorm on solutions to overcome these challenges.  Obviously, as women help other women to identify and navigate obstacles in the business and entrepreneurial realm, we must also include men in the conversation to create an inclusive environment for a variety of ideas and viewpoints.

Yet despite the challenges that women frequently face in society in general and in business in particular, women often prove to be better business risks.  For example, a review of data from hundreds of micro lending organizations in 70 countries found that women were more likely than men to repay their loans and presented a lower risk to the lending institutions.

In the United States, in Haiti, and elsewhere in the world, women entrepreneurs are creating new businesses and developing innovative products at a record pace.  Haiti’s long-term economic future may depend on how engaged women are in the workforce.  In other words, women’s empowerment is part of the solution to address Haiti’s economic challenges.

The U.S. government works with the Haitian government, civil society organizations, and the international community to provide a platform to increase economic opportunities for women as well as provide them with access to credit necessary to open a business.  For example, through the Local Enterprise Enhancement (LEVE) program, USAID has created approximately 10,000 full time jobs of which 70 percent are filled by women.  As a friend and neighbor, the United States is pleased to facilitate these types of programs.  We are fully aware, of course, that only Haitians can truly shape the future of Haiti.

So, we are going to discuss issues such as: What are the obstacles?  How do you obtain business loans?  How do you get the necessary permits?  How do you nurture and grow your business?  These and dozens of other questions that you’ve faced in your entrepreneurial journeys require answers and guidance from insiders, such as yourselves.

There is no substitute for one generation helping and guiding the next, for building a network, and mentoring the next generation to reach even greater heights. You – as the existing and budding entrepreneurs – hold the keys to Haiti’s economic prosperity. Businesses need your perspective and your leadership. The U.S. Embassy stands alongside you in partnership to promote gender equality.

We do this because we all understand that Haiti’s long-term economic and democratic development relies on prioritizing the protection and empowerment of women. Together, you are a strong force that can serve as the heart of the Haitian economy for years to come.

I thank you for participating today and for allowing me the opportunity to open today’s event.

It is now my pleasure to turn to our moderator, Ms. Phelicia Dell, to commence the panel discussion.