Sex discrimination hampers progress in alleviating world poverty, says United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
"Gender discrimination blocks progress. Equality makes it possible to achieve huge breakthroughs," Ban told an international meeting for young female leaders during a visit to his native South Korea.
Women make up a fraction of all chief executives of the world's biggest companies, fewer than one in ten national leaders are female and fewer than one in five parliamentarians are women, he said in a speech.
"The lack of women's representation -- of women's empowerment -- affects individual women's rights -- and it holds back whole countries," Ban said.
One recent UN study, he said, showed that limits on women's economic participation cost the Asia-Pacific region nearly $90 billion a year in lost productivity.
Helping women was crucial to achieving the Millennium Development Goals on poverty reduction by 2015, the UN chief said.
Women did more work for less pay than men and far more girls were shut out of primary school than boys. Two-thirds of the 780 million people in the world who cannot read were women.
A woman still died every 90 seconds from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, Ban said, adding he was heading a global movement to end these needless deaths.
"We are moving on all fronts to invest in women so they can reach their full potential, drive development and lead us to a better future," he said.