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Our future depends on women

The U.S., like Denmark, understands that women are a critical element of our foreign policy.

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We approach the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in both of our countries while recognizing that we must inspire and help engage women and girls around the world to be full participants.

Our countries’ histories of women’s suffrage are in near parallel. Women achieved the right to vote in parliamentary elections in Denmark in 1915 and in federal elections in the United States in 1920, with passage of the 19th Amendment. Prior to that, more than a dozen of the States, mostly in the Western U.S., had granted women the right to vote. Wyoming was the first in 1869. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin, a highly educated Republican suffragette and pacifist from Montana, became the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress. She entered Congress in 1917, before women’s suffrage was granted nationally.

In 1918, the first parliamentary elections after Danish women obtained the right to vote, nine women were elected to Parliament. Four women entered Folketinget (then the lower house) and five entered Landstinget (then the upper body). Coincidentally, my great grandfather Mads Jensen-Aale also was elected to Landstinget at this time. The parliament elected in 1918 also was the first to serve in Christiansborg as it exists today.

Among the Danish women elected in 1918 was Nina Bang. In 1924, after being appointed by Prime Minister Stauning to serve as Minister of Education, she became the world’s first female senior minister. Among the first thirteen women elected to the U.S. Congress in the 1920s was Ruth Bryan Owen. The daughter of Democratic presidential candidate and populist William Jennings Bryan, Ruth Owen won election to the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida in 1928. She was the first woman to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress.

These women were pioneers, paving the way for others of us. After an unsuccessful run for the U.S. senate, Ms. Owen was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve as Minister to Denmark. She was the first woman of the U.S. to head a diplomatic legation and served in Copenhagen from 1933 to 1936. She was the first, and I am the fourth female chief of U.S. mission in Denmark.

In Denmark and the U.S., we take for granted that women serve in top positions in parliament and government. Today we have reached the point where people no longer wonder whether a woman can be head of an international monetary fund or president of the United States. Women are heads of government in over 20 countries. Women such as Hillary Clinton, Lady Catherine Ashton, Christine Laguarde, Angela Merkel, and Helle Thorning–Schmidt lead global agendas without anyone challenging whether it is appropriate for women to be in these leadership roles. Three out of the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are women. The Nordic countries lead the way in the percentage of women serving in parliament, at slightly over 40%. In the public sector, women are respected as qualified and important leaders.

As we observe the 101st International Women’s Day on March 8th, we focus on efforts to help afford women opportunities to advance in the private sector as well. The United States and Denmark share a common commitment to improving the status of women and girls around the world, including as entrepreneurs and business leaders. It may be a surprise to some that one of the largest emerging markets is not a country, but a gender: women.

Investing in women is a sound strategy for job creation, economic growth and stability. Today there are more than 200 million women entrepreneurs worldwide. That number will grow. Women earn over USD $10 trillion each year, and this number is expected to grow by $5 trillion during the next few years. In some developing countries, women’s incomes are growing faster than men’s.

The U.S., like Denmark, understands that women are a critical element of our foreign policy. Women’s entrepreneurship is a key aspect of our international economic agenda. We are proud to partner with Goldman Sachs, the World Bank, and Denmark, among others, in the “10,000 Women Initiative” to open doors for women to business education. We congratulate Denmark for its pilot program in Tanzania to help women who graduate from business school and otherwise qualify for loans to receive them through local banks with Denmark guaranteeing 75% of the loan value.

A century after achieving our political rights, we must inspire the future of women and girls across the globe to become active participants in governance and economies. We see all too clearly the poverty and strife in societies where women are denied or hampered in access to education and business. This International Women’s Day, let us strengthen our commitment to provide economic and political opportunities for women. Our future depends on it.

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