|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Speech at the California Women's Conference
October 5, 1999, Los Angeles, California
(As Prepared for Delivery)
Thank you Governor, very much, for that introduction. Mrs. Sharon Davis, distinguished sponsors, women and friends of women of California, good afternoon. This conference is billed as a call to action and I see before me thousands of people who are ready to answer that call.
California is the place for those who refuse to spend their lives waiting for others to act. This is the state of doers, of Gray Davis, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and no less than thirteen women Members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
It is a state that fuels much of the vast network of nongovernmental organizations that drives social progress in our nation and world today.
And it is the state whose very name has become a synonym for the future, for the cutting edge, as evidenced by the scholarship winners you honor today. Their achievements and promise show again that, with opportunity, there is no field in which women cannot excel and no limit to what women can achieve.
I, myself, am extremely grateful for the chance President Clinton has given me to serve as Secretary of State. It has been, and remains, an extraordinary experience which I recommend highly to anyone who is willing to wait until I am through.
When I first took office, I was asked what it was like to be the first women in the job. I said that, "well, I have been a woman for 60 years, and Secretary of State for about six hours; we'll just have to wait and see how the two go together."
In the time since, I have not pleased everyone, but I have made an impression on a few. For example, Time magazine named me one of their 25 most intriguing people, along with a cloned sheep. The Serb press referred to me as "elderly, but dangerous."
And a fourth grade class in Minnesota elected me to their new wax museum. This is true. A girl in the class wrote me a very charming letter and sent me a copy of her essay; which highlighted a dinner I allegedly served to Jordan's Queen Noor consisting of "hamburger helper and Pringles."
At any rate, my intention today is to discuss women and foreign policy, but before I do, I want to highlight an especially timely question that should be on any woman's agenda, and any man's. And that is whether the United States Senate should approve the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty when it comes to a vote during the next week.
That Treaty has a very simple purpose, to ban nuclear explosive tests by anyone, anywhere, anytime--for all time.
The Treaty has been a goal of U.S. Presidents since Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy. If approved and enforced, it would arrest both the development and the spread of new and more dangerous weapons. It has been widely endorsed by our military and scientific leaders. And it would make our nation and our world safer.
The United States today has no plans and no need to conduct nuclear explosive tests. It is in our interests to establish the principle that such tests are not smart, not safe, not right and not legal. And to make it harder for countries to cheat by creating--as the Treaty would--an improved detection and monitoring regime.
Essentially the choice is this. We can approve the Treatry and strike an historic blow against the spread of nuclear weapons and technology. Or we can defeat the Treaty and fuel the ambitions and fears that could drive more and more countries to say "yes" to the nuclear option.
It just so happens that I have a new grandchild, two weeks old, named Madeleine. And I want nothing more than for her to be able to grow up--as I did not--free from the fear of nuclear war.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will not ensure that, but it will move us in the right direction. I hope you agree that, for the sake of all our grandchildren, that is the direction the Senate should choose.
Again, the choice is between a safer world and a more dangerous one. I felt it important that I come to Washington to discuss this choice with you here in California. Now it is important that California's voice be heard in Washington. Ensuring that essential voices be heard is also part of the larger theme that I want to discuss with you today.
I am proud to be the first Secretary of State to address this California Women's Conference. Which is another of way of saying I am proud to be one of you.
Because we are part of a movement to advance the status of women and girls that is one of the great success stories of the twentieth century. One hundred years ago, except in a handful of states, we could not vote. We had virtually no voice in government, the professions and academia. And our clothes were designed by structural engineers.
That is why we look back with such gratitude to the pioneers, such as Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth, who devoted their lives to making the pledge of liberty and justice for all a reality.
Your theme today is "celebrate the past", which we do; and "create the future", which we must. For our movement is still young, still blossoming, still spreading the good news of equality and empowerment. And it is far more than an American movement. The cause of women's rights has long since gone global.
In 1995, I have had the privilege of seeing this first-hand at the Fourth World Conference on Women. Its Platform for Action is perhaps the most significant affirmation ever made of the global importance of economic, political and social opportunities for women.
For the past three years, I have had the honor of serving as chair of the President's Interagency Council on Women, with a mandate direct from the White House to implement the Platform for Action in the United States. This has been an extraordinarily exciting part of my job.
And working with women and men throughout our government, and in partnership with organizations in California and other states, we have made enormous progress. If you go down the list, from curbing violence against women to fostering participation in the global economy, the Council has pushed and America's women and their families have benefited.
Later this month, in partnership with NGOs, the Council will kick off a series of regional outreach meetings to prepare for the fifth anniversary of the Beijing Conference. I am delighted that the California Women's Action Agenda will be a leader in this effort, and I invite the participation of you all. This process will culminate with a special session of the UN General Assembly next June.
For the United States, helping women to advance is the right thing to do at home, and the smart thing. That is also true around the world.
As we approach the new century, we know that American prosperity, security and freedom depend on whether others have those blessings as well. And there can be no doubt that the contributions of women are needed to achieve these goals.
We are encouraging such contributions through our Vital Voices Global Democracy Initiative, which is bringing women leaders from everywhere together to compare notes and learn practical skills, such as how to run an office, grow a business, enact laws and advocate effectively for change.
Our goal is to help ensure that from the smallest village to the largest city, women's voices are heard at the ballot box, in legislatures and on the airwaves; and in classrooms, courtrooms and boardrooms.
This is critical because, as we scan the horizon today, we see that despite the great strides made in recent decades, women remain an undervalued and underdeveloped human resource. This is not to say that women have trouble finding work.
In many societies, in addition to bearing and nurturing the children, women do most of the non-child related work. But often, women are barred from owning land and permitted little if any say in government, while girls are often excluded from schools and provided less nourishment than boys.
In our diplomacy, we are working with others to change that because we know from experience that when women's voices are heard and choices heeded, societies are better able to break the chains of poverty. Birth rates stabilize. Environmental awareness increases. The spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted disease slows. And socially constructive values are more likely to be passed on to the young.
We are fortunate that our government is led by someone who does understand, as President Clinton has said, "If women can live and work as equal partners in any society, then families will flourish. And when they do, communities and nations will thrive." Vice-President Gore has also been an outstanding leader in advancing the status of women, and I was delighted to learn that Tipper Gore will be addressing your conference this afternoon.
As a result of their support, our overseas programs today include many projects designed to help women gain redress, achieve access, and make progress.
For example, we recently gave $17 million in American wheat to Yemen, which sold it and used the proceeds for rural health and girls' education.
In Uruguay, we used interest payments on the government's debt to build a hospital for children with severe health problems.
USAID programs in Peru have helped to integrate women into the free market economy, reduce illiteracy and promote political participation.
In Ethiopia, we are helping to increase the number of female teachers, who then provide positive role models for girls.
In Morocco, over the past five years, USAID has helped cut infant mortality in half, while doubling the school participation of girls from rural areas.
At our initiative, women were integrated into the peacebuilding effort in Bosnia earlier this decade. Now, we are making an even stronger effort in Kosovo, where NGOs are helping women and girls to recover from war, resume their educations and generate income.
These initiatives make sense, and they are making a difference. Economists will tell you that, especially in the developing world, income controlled by the mother is far more likely to be used to promote the health and education of children than income controlled by the father.
We also support international family planning programs, because we believe that women have a right to control their own bodies and because we want to reduce the number of abortions and make it more likely that when children are born, they grow up healthy and strong.
Similarly, we are speaking up on behalf of the women and girls of Afghanistan, who have been victimized by all factions in their country's bitter civil war. The most powerful of those factions, the Taliban, seems determined to drag Afghan women back from the dawn of the 21st century to somewhere closer to the 13th. The only female rights they appear to recognize are the rights to remain silent and uneducated, unheard and unemployed.
Afghan women and girls have asked for our help. I know because, not long ago, I sat in a tent in the mountains of Central Asia and listened to their stories. I will tell you what I told them.
The United States can not and will not abandon you. We are increasing our support for education and training. And we have made it clear that if the leaders of the Taliban or any other Afghan faction want international acceptance, they must treat women not as chattel, but as people; and they must respect human rights.
Fifty years ago, a great American First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, was the driving force behind the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
Four years ago, at the Women's Conference in Beijing, another great First Lady--Hillary Rodham Clinton--eloquently reaffirmed America's commitment to that Declaration and to its application to all people--stating specifically that there can be no distinction drawn between human rights and women's rights, for each includes the other and both must be observed.
The Universal Declaration embodies values that are central to all cultures, reflecting both the wondrous diversity that defines us and the common humanity that binds us.
Unfortunately, today, despite the progress that has been made, in many countries appalling abuses are still committed against women. These include coerced abortions and sterilizations, children sold into prostitution, ritual mutilations, dowry murders and domestic violence.
There are those who suggest that all this is cultural and there's nothing we can do about it. I say it's criminal and we each have a responsibility to stop it.
That is why we will never cease in our effort to gain Senate approval of what has been called the international Bill of Rights for Women. I know there are some in this auditorium, such as Billie Heller, who have devoted countless hours to this cause and I salute you. And I hope we would all agree that, after 18 years, it is long past time for America to become party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
We are also backing strongly the international war crimes tribunals, because we believe that the authors of ethnic cleansing should be held accountable, and those who see rape as just another tactic of war must pay for their crimes.
In addition, we are supporting the efforts of women in some countries to reform laws governing so-called honor crimes. These are laws that set a double standard, saying in some situations if a woman injures her husband, it's a felony; while if a man injures his wife, it's understandable. I don't know about you, but it seems to me that the job of upholding honor should be a joint responsibility.
Finally, we have launched a major diplomatic and law enforcement initiative to halt trafficking in women and girls. This is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world, preying on the economic desperation of a million or more women every year, robbing them of health and hope.
Our strategy is to educate the public, assist the victims, protect the vulnerable and apprehend the perpetrators. Our approach is to develop and implement specific plans in key countries, including our own.
For example, as a result of talks I had in Israel, the government has set up special police units to combat trafficking. We have established a joint working group with Italy, and prepared a comprehensive strategy with Ukraine to protect victims and prosecute traffickers.
And two weeks ago, in New York, I had my annual dinner with the world's other women foreign ministers. We are not a large group. But neither are we shy, and this year we issued a letter urging people everywhere to mobilize because at the dawn of the new century, if anything is wrong, trafficking and slavery are wrong.
The women and girls who have been victimized deserve to have their voices heard. And if we apply a standard of zero tolerance to those who sell illegal drugs, we should be at least as tough in opposing those who buy and sell human beings.
Before closing, I must add that the work America does on behalf of its interest in advancing the status of women and girls costs money. When bureaus within the State Department present their budget proposals to me, they know I will ask "Where are the funds for women in development?" And "what are the projects to aid women's rights?"
Unfortunately, the resources we have available for foreign policy today have not kept pace with our responsibilities. For years, our workload has gone up, while our budget has gone down.
To make matters worse, this year, Congress is proposing a cut of more than $2 billion in what the President has requested for international affairs. This does not count another $2 billion in emergency needs that have arisen since our budget was prepared. We are facing a huge shortfall that is potentially very harmful to America, and that would make it impossible for me to do my job.
People often don't believe me when I tell them what is true, that only one penny out of every dollar the federal government spends goes for international affairs. But in many situations, diplomacy is our first line of defense, not only in helping women, but more broadly in preventing war, defusing crises, countering terror, safeguarding the environment and fighting disease.
So I hope we will have your support in giving us the resources we need to lead for women, for men, and for all Americans.
Today's Conference on Women is a Call to Action. In recent years, I have had the honor of seeing many who, like you, are answering that call. Usually not in fancy meeting rooms or the councils of state, but in villages constructed out of mud and tin. In urban health clinics where malnutrition and disease conspire against life. In arid wastelands where nothing grows but the appetites of small children.
It is in these places that I have most often stood in the presence of women who are acting despite great odds; women who have been beaten back, beaten down and beaten up, but never defeated because their pride is too strong, their love too fierce, their spirit unshatterable.
The women's movement has endured and prospered not because it is trendy, but because of the underlying power of its central premise, which is that every individual counts. This basic idea of valuing each human person fairly is what has united our movement across the boundaries of geography, status and culture, through the window of time, back to our great great grandmothers, and forward to embrace the youngest girls here in this auditorium today.
This philosophy is not based on any illusions. Advocates of social progress have seen far too much of hardship and frustration to indulge in sentimentalism. But we live in a nation and a world that has been enriched beyond measure by those who have overcome enormous obstacles to build platforms of knowledge and accomplishment from which others might advance.
It is said that all work that is worth anything is done in faith.
And so, on this day of celebrating the past and creating the future, let us all pledge to keep the faith; believing that every door opened by our striving, every life enriched by our giving, every soul inspired by our commitment and every barrier to justice brought down by our determination will ennoble our own lives, inspire others, and explode outward the boundaries of what is achievable in this Golden State and on this earth.
Thank you very much.
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