This morning started in Rio de Janeiro The Government Leaders Forum (GLF), an event organized by Microsoft and which celebrates its 16th edition. This event brings together government officials, opinion leaders and Microsoft experts from a number of areas to explore ways of increasing competitiveness, paving the way for social equality and strengthening the close and transparent cooperation with governments.

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The 2013 GLF for Latin America and the Caribbean is being held today and tomorrow in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Hernán Rincón, President for Microsoft Latin America, was in charge of the opening keynote, and stated that “We, as a company, take responsibility to help to create both social and economic opportunities wherever we work, live or have presence”; adding “One of the key areas we’ll be discussing over the next two days is the women’s role in our societies, given that, enabling and empowering women to join the workforce with quality jobs translates into a more efficient use of talent, better productivity and consequent economic growth".

Even though 51% of the population in Latin America is female, young women in the region face disproportionately greater barriers to economic advancement and access to opportunities than their male counterparts. Young women are affected by poverty at a rate 20% higher than men, and continue to be more likely to work as unpaid family laborers or in the informal sector.

This was the first of many challenges which were presented today during the following discussion panel:

Women and Social Inclusion

During the first three hours of the Forum, attendees had the opportunity to hear about the growing concern of government representatives , such as Eleonora Menicucci, Minister of Women’s Affairs of Brazil; Beatriz Paredes Rangel, Ambassador of Mexico in Brazil; and Lucía Topolansky, First Senator for the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, about the situation which Latin American women currently find themselves.

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The panel began with a brief introduction by Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of CEPAL, who explained the need for a new political pact for gender equality, which should involve the State, the family, the market and society. Then, the Minister Menicucci said that "No country can have social and economic sustainability if it doesn’t have balance between men and women. Society must live under a constant partnership with the public security system and zero tolerance towards violence against women".

Meanwhile, Beatriz Paredes stressed that "Widespread public policies that promote the spread of vaccines, and the pill, both important technological inventions, are an example of how innovation can benefit women. That kind of policies should be promoted by the political head of State of all instances that support the development and inclusion of women".

One of the most appealing solutions to help empower women to join the labor force is by offering them the technology training and skills today’s workers need for 21st century jobs. Microsoft stated that the company is driving these efforts through two YouthSpark programs: Imagine Cup which recently unveiled two new competition categories exclusively for women, and the DigiGirlz program, which gives high school girls the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees, and participate in hands-on computer and technology workshops, is available in 11 countries in Latin America.

Microsoft also works closely with nearly 20 leading national and international women’s organizations to coordinate efforts to encourage women to enter and advance in the field of computing. A few examples are a partnership with UN Women to develop uses of IT to help protect and empower women and girls around the world, and recent software grants to Pro Mujer that will benefit more than 328,000 women with access to technology. Microsoft also supports the Partnership for Opportunities in Employment through Technology in the Americas (POETA), through which at least 500 youth (400 of whom are girls) will receive IT training and job placement assistance to enter the technology workforce.

This panel concluded with the words of the Honorable President of Costa Rica, who participated via video conference, and affirmed that the basis of social inclusion of women in the world implies profound changes and requires long-term investments in diverse areas, such as human development and other rights within the society. She highlighted the pioneering efforts that Costa Rica has made for centuries and that these are cornerstones to create opportunities for women and men in a nation.

Other pressing challenges facing the region

Later, a second discussion panel on Innovation and Society, comprising experts from the fields of science, technology, communication and innovation, such as Renato Bustamante, Technology Officer, Presidency of Chile; Rubén Félix Hays, President for the Comission of Science and Technology, Mexico; and María Isabel Mejía, Vice_Minister of Information Technology and Communications of Colombia, met to lay the foundations, in terms of competitive advantages, which the combination of society and connectivity can offer.

Tomorrow, there will be three more discussion panels, which will focus on:

Economic Growth and Cities: Distinguished local and national leaders will discuss how to tackle economic and population growth in their regions, as well as sharing their experiences through dynamic dialog.

Youth Opportunities in Latin America: There will be a discussion about the economic inclusion of young people in the region, given the fact that they represent 40% of the population. Also, a panel comprised of distinguished youth leaders will discuss the economic opportunities and empowerment of young people.

Redesigning Education: This discussion panel will involve a number of important speakers who will talk about specific elements which need to be taken into consideration when promoting a comprehensive redesign of the region’s educational systems.