Posted by Orlando Ayala, Chairman of Emerging Markets, Microsoft

Orlando Ayala, Chairman of Emerging Markets, MicrosoftIn celebration of International Women’s Day, Microsoft is proud to join United Nations Women (UN Women) and artists from around the world to launch a moving and inspiring song and music video, “One Woman.” It celebrates what we all know: to enable the future we want, we must recognize the enormous potential of half of the world’s population – women. To truly unleash that potential, women must be free from discrimination, including the gender-based violence which is the focus of this year’s International Women’s Day. Up to seven in 10 women will experience some form of violence in their lifetimes. This violence causes more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined in women ages 15 to 44. Violence against women also comes at a high economic cost, ranging from an estimated US $11.28 billion annually in Australia, to US $32.9 billion annually in England and Wales.

The “One Woman” song aims to galvanize support and raise awareness for this issue. We encourage you to take action and share the song because together we can make a difference by saying no to violence and yes to gender equality.

As a company, Microsoft fully embraces and supports the notion of unleashing the power of women. We know we must level the playing field and open opportunities for all – these are concepts deeply rooted in our core corporate philosophy. When women are fully engaged in our workforce and society at large, they bring great ideas and drive great innovation. This is why Microsoft very much values its partnership with UN Women, a global champion for women and girls. UN Women is a vital force for advancing gender equality, tackling key issues such as ending violence against women and promoting women’s political, social and economic empowerment. By combining efforts, we are able to harness the power of technology to both empower and protect women.

Technology can be a real catalyst for improving the lives of women. This is why we jointly launched the Women’s Empowerment Award to encourage and reward students of any gender to create  technology solutions that address the world’s most pressing gender challenges. The team from Uganda who won the Imagine Cup Grant in 2012 is a great example of what’s possible. The team created WinSenga, a mobile application that allows caregivers to monitor pregnancies and save lives for less than 2 percent of the cost of an ultrasound.

Together, we are also working to make cities safer through mobile technology and to increase the number of women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Microsoft’s YouthSpark through the DigiGirlz program and its partnership with the Global Give Back Circle have demonstrated that technology training and mentoring are an effective way to help transform the lives of young women (meet Mary Mwende), and Microsoft is soon expanding this model with the launch of a new site as part of our 4Afrika Initiative.

Empowering women is not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. It has been shown that nations with greater gender equality and higher proportions of educated females have more robust economies. In 2012, the World Bank found that eliminating all forms of discrimination against women in employment could increase productivity per worker by up to 40 percent. The under-utilization of female talent and perspectives not only dampens productivity and IT innovation, it slows economic development. If womens’ paid employment rates rose to those of men, gross domestic product would increase by up to 14 percent by 2020.

And studies show that women invest an average of 90 percent of their income back into their families and communities, which reduces poverty and improves health and education. There is a positive ripple effect of this investment as their children receive improved nutrition, education, and their communities are healthier and safer – saving money on government services and fueling economic growth.

It is undeniable that after the economic crisis of the last decade, the world is desperately searching for a more sustainable and inclusive economic model that enables broader and lasting opportunity. We are convinced that women are and need to be an essential element to chart this critical path forward. Everyone is watching the emerging markets of the world like China, India, Brazil and others, but we believe the most exciting new emerging market for the world will be women and their capability to add tremendous economic value and social growth.

Knowing that women are key to our future, it is critical that we work together to improve their lives and demolish the restrictions they face – whether those are barriers to work or political leadership, more access to enabling technologies to foster entrepreneurship and economic independence, or the toll of gender-based violence. This is why it is so important that we’re here today to spread the message that progress for women is progress for every society. We hope you join us.