By
Now With Alex
updated 4/4/2013 4:50:04 PM ET 2013-04-04T20:50:04

American women are doing better economically and educationally than many of their sisters around the globe. But even in the U.S., women lag behind in areas like STEM, which are rapidly growing fields.

While affluent American women debate the merits of “leaning in” or “having it all,” U.S. women still earn 77-cents for every dollar earned by men, and the U.S. ranks 77th in the world for participation of women in government. And the economic stress is far greater for women worldwide. Today, 70% of the world’s poor and two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women.

On Thursday, Chelsea Clinton, Jada Pinkett Smith and Zainab Salbi joined the NOW with Alex Wagner panel to discuss both the plight and the progress of women in America and across the globe.

One of most glaring gender disparities in the U.S. is the lack of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Women currently hold fewer than 25% of STEM jobs.

The U.S. Department of Commerce predicts  the number of STEM jobs will grow 17% between 2008 and 2018–three times the growth rate for non-STEM jobs. “If we’re really going to own our own future,” Clinton said, “we can’t leave a gender behind. We all need to be a part of that.”

When it comes to investing in women, Zainab Salbi says, “it’s the one investment that will help everyone.”

Video: Tackling the obstacles faced by women and girls around the world

  1. Closed captioning of: Tackling the obstacles faced by women and girls around the world

    >>> by the looks of it, america may seem like the land of equal opportunity for men and women . and there is some truth to that. women have made incredible strides over the past few decades, shattering gender norms and traditional roles. women are now the majority of the workforce for the first time in u.s. history . for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will be doing the same. and women are now allowed to serve on the front lines of the u.s. military . that said, real barriers still exist. women are still paid less than men, earning 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns. the u.s. ranks 77th in terms of women in government and only 4% of fortune 500 ceos are female. around the world , the struggle is even more pronounced. today, girls and women perform 66% of the work, but they only earn 10% of the world 's income and 1% of its property. 70% of the world 's poor and two-thirds of the world 's illiterate are women . over 60 million girls do not have access to primary education , and 10 million women die every year due to nonexistent or low-quality health care . to those who say the battle is over, it is actually just beginning. with much left to be done, organizations like the clinton global initiative are at the forefront of efforts to strengthen opportunities for girls and women around the world in 2007 president clinton launched the clinton initiative global university. programs supported by cgiu are working to address issues like women 's education, access to health care , gender discrimination and human trafficking , through their efforts, the three women on our panel are doing their part to tackle obstacles faced by girls and women around the world . joining us are actress, jada pinkett smith , chelsea clinton and founder of women international, zayna selabe. i sometimes feel like i'm at the top of my game and a moment like this happens and i just got to take a bow. we were talking before the segment began i feel like it's aen incredibly important and underdiscussed subject, which is that of the struggle of women around the world and even here in the united states . there's still an uneven, a see-saw effect if you will. and chelsea, i want to quote something to you that something writ innocent daily best. hee said women are a bellweather of society as a whole. do you feel like that's true.

    >> i completely agree with that. i can't imagine anything that zana would say that i wouldn't agree with. truly, i couldn't agree with that more and we see that even here in the united states . something that we were talking about earlier. around stem education i think is such a classic example. the u.s. department of commerce protects that stem jobs will grow twice as much as nom stem jobs in the next decade alone. and yet fewer and fewer women have graduating with stem degrees. women now graduate with the majority of college degrees, we are losing ground in fields like engineering and computer science degrees. so that means that we're losing ground in those fields and the mid 1980s , about 36% of computer science jobs were held by women . and in 2006 , it was about 20% and last year it was less than 15%. and we know that if we're really going to kind of own our own future, we can't leave a gender behind. we all need to be part of that. we need to be doing a better job of encouraging girls to take math and computer science classes. encouraging women in college to major in those fields . and encouraging companies to hire and mentor those women .

    >> jada, you know as someone who a very prominent cultural figure, what do you think we need to do to strengthsen women 's and girls ' perceptions of themselves, right?

    >> i think the messaging has to start at home. i really think that there has to be a change in the messaging that we teach our young girls from the beginning. you know, a lot of people think that a young woman should not have a sense of individuality or even a sense of power until she's out of the house, you know, 18 years old. and you know, even with my daughter, you know, a lot of controversy about me allowing her, me allowing her, to cut her hair. it is her hair. and hair grows. but that just goes to show you how culturally and socially, we identify, you know with women , little girls in regards to their, to our beauty. and power.

    >> and how much pressure is on them to look a certain way and conform to a certain stereotype.

    >> absolutely. and i really think that these attitudes and this messaging has to change as well and i think really starts at home. from the beginning.

    >> on a practical level as a mother, do you talk to her about --

    >> absolutely.

    >> how she sees herself. you must, you must. and the thing about it is that we as women can't be afraid to grow with our daughters as well. we cannot be afraid to talk about our mistakes. share our mistakes and share our victories. you know, we're learning as we go most of us are being parents for the first time, you know what i mean . with my daughter i have to be very open and very frank. i see a lot of benefits from having done that. and just my connection with her and also her confidence and her confidence in her relationship with her father. and that's a whole 'nother discussion.

    >> zainab, i want to talk about women sort of globally because of the work that you're doing at women international. you, i want to focus on iraq specifically because that's where you are from. and the legacy for the women in iraq . because there was this notion and i often quote people to themselves, which is sort of weird, but interesting interaction we have on this show. but in the same " daily beast " article, you wrote iraqi women expected much when america and its allies invait vaded iraq ten years ago. ten years later, women find themselves combatting religious zeg ottry. increasing child marriage and absence from the workforce to name a few challenges. we talk about the legacy of that war in terms of those killed. but in terms of the society that's been left in the wake of the war, it's not in any way better.

    >> not for women . they have gained political rights much more than we had ever before. they're 33% of iraqi parliament , which is actually more than the u.s. and other, many other countries, which is really wonderful. i think the lessons from iraq is that political right is not the only rights we have to focus on, economic and socially, are equally important. while they are more in the parliament, there's only one cabinet position that is women leading women 's affairs ministry which has a very small budget. women are totally disappearing from the workforce because of the insecurity in the country. women are withdrawing from schooling. you have more illiteracy rates right now among girls than we had in the '80s. child marriage , i personally interviewed 13 and 15-year-old girls and boy who is are getting married at that young age. so the lessons for me is that we focus so much on political rights and we forgot that we actually need to get more women in jobs, 70% as you stated earlier of the poor with recommend. and so we have to focus, if we want to grow economies, we actually have to focus on growing women 's roles in the economy. according to the economists intelligence unit for example, one of the primary reasons for western economic growth , both the u.s. and the western market , is the inclusion of women .

    >> in from 1970 to 2009 , just the growing share of women in the work fofrs added $3.5 trillion to the american gdp , that's larger than the gdp today of germany. so this is an imperative, not only for women 's rights, but the smart thing to do economically.

    >> if there were more women involved in stem careers, it would add 5% to the gdp . it's not just about feeling good about gender equality , it's good business to get women involved in science, engineering and math.

    >> if we want to combat fundamentalism, as a young woman , malala, a 13-year-old girl stood up against the taliban as no one else has been able to stand up to them and to mobilize the public to support her. just for her demand to go to school. it is the young women who are actually carrying the hope and optimism in a lot of parts of the world , whether it is afghanistan or the arab spring, who are the youth who are the ones who sort of triggered that change. so if we want, for me if we want to improve health conditions in the world , invest in women . if we want to reduce poverty, invest in women . if we want to increase education in the world , invest in women and girls if you want to stabilize world peace , invest in women and girls , it's the one investment that will impact everyone.

    >> the answer is out there, you just have to invest in women , global community .

    >>> when we come back, it's an issue that flies under the public radar, but every year, tens of thousands of women are trafficked into the united states . we'll discuss the very global crisis of human trafficking , coming up next.

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