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Women's equality is key to global prosperity: Clinton

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(MADRID) - Ensuring that women have equal status and opportunities is the key to global prosperity, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday, in a message to a conference in Spain.

"When women are afforded their rights and afforded equal opportunities in education, health care, employment and political participation, they help drive social and economic progress," she said in the video message broadcast at the Spain-Africa Women for a Better World conference in Valencia in eastern Spain.

"But when they are marginalised and mistreated as is still the case in too many places in Africa and around the world, broad and lasting progress is impossible. Empowering women is a key to global progress and prosperity."

Clinton said much work to promote gender equality around the world remained to be done since the 1995 United Nations women's conference in Beijing, where she, as US first lady, declared that "Women's rights are human rights."

"The message from that conference rang loudly and clearly and still echoes across cultures and continents. Now we have made great progress in the years since but we all know that there is a long way to go," she said.

More than 500 women, including Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet and over 50 ministers, from around the world were scheduled to take part in the two-day gathering which got underway Saturday in the Mediterranean port city.

Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work on environmentally sustainable development, urged participants to help protect the tropical forest of Congo, the second largest in the world after the Amazon forest.

"Help protest the forests of Congo, they are important not only to help regulate the climate on a global level, but they also drain carbon from the rest of the world and are important for biodiversity," she said.

She also warned that if Europe does not do more to prevent desertification in Africa, it will see a surge in the arrival of migrants from the continent.

Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman, a goodwill ambassador for the UN Development Fund for Women, also sent a message to the meeting in which she said inequality "prevents women from realising their full human rights, prevents girls from attending school and fuels violence against women."

Four main issues -- education, health care, female representation in positions of power and economic development -- will be discussed at the event, which was preceded on Friday by an informal meeting European Union equality ministers.

It is the second time that Spain, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, has hosted a Women for a Better World meeting after Madrid in 2007.

The first such gathering was held in Mozambique in 2006. Others were held in Niger in 2008 and Liberia in 2009.

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