|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at Marie Claire Reception for Women Foreign Ministers
September 11, 2000, New York, New York
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you so very, very much for that introduction. You were so fantastic when you came to the State Department, I just told you that -- (inaudible) -- this one. It's really great, and I'm very grateful to you. Distinguished colleagues, guests and friends, it's a pleasure to be here this evening and it's wonderful to see so many familiar faces and a special pleasure to be here with my fellow women foreign ministers. I think the "fellow" doesn't quite work but -- (laughter) -- quite what the right term is.
And let me tell you their names. We have Maria Soledad Alvear Valenzuela, the Foreign Minister of Chile; and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the Foreign Minister of Austria; and Nadezhda Mikhaylova, the Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, and Maria Eugenia Brizuela de Avila, the Foreign Minister of El Salvador; and Lydie Polfer of Luxembourg -- I don't know if Lydie has arrived yet; and Andrea Willi, the Foreign Minister of Liechtenstein; and a new member for me, Lila Ratsifandrihamanana, the Foreign Minister from Madagascar. And moving right along, Lilian Patel, the Foreign Minister of Malawi is also new to our group. And Rosario Green, Foreign Secretary of Mexico. We have a great time because she's a foreign secretary also. When we do press conferences together and somebody says, "Madame Secretary," the first time -- (inaudible) -- say, "Who are you addressing?" (Laughter.) And then Maria Levens, the Foreign Minister of Suriname, who is also new to us; and Anna Lindh, Foreign Minister of Sweden.
We are a growing group, and it is very, very exciting. And considering that there are something like 190 countries in the world, ours is not a very large group. But as you see from my colleagues, there is plenty of quality. (Applause.) So our male friends will have no cause to regret when, in years to come, we actually take over completely. (Laughter.)
I have to say how this all got started. When I was Permanent Representative at the United Nations, I asked then my assistant to please set up a lunch for me with the women Permanent Representatives. And it was a new experience in my life. I could actually tell somebody else to do lunch. And I thought I would come to my residence and find a lot of people there. Well, I get there and there is seven of them out of 183 countries. And it was a little bit of shock that that was all there were -- and we called ourselves the G-7 and we got very, very powerful. (Laughter.) We managed, thanks to the work that we did, to scare everybody -- (laughter) -- but to get two women judges on the International War Crimes Tribunal, because most of the crimes were committed against women. And we kind of stuck together.
And then when I became Foreign Minister, I thought why not move the group up. And so I gathered the women foreign ministers, and our numbers have increased from seven to fourteen now. And it's very exciting and we are going to have dinner, and we do a little serious work and then we really talk about what we have in common -- and we have so much in common. And that part is very exciting. And we have all pledged something else, which is that we will always take each other's telephone calls, which is why the Principality of Liechtenstein actually gets a meeting with the Secretary of State of the United States. Right? (Laughter.)
This evening, I would like to thank Katherine Rizzuto and Glenda Bailey and Marie Claire, this wonderful magazine, for hosting this reception. Marie Claire has been a tremendous partner in our efforts to expand the network of women working on behalf of women and girls around the globe.
And an example is its support of the Vital Voices, which Glenda talked about, this whole democracy network. The initiative was really our First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and she went around and helped to design to design this program to assist women everywhere to win elections and start businesses and lead communities and make our values and views known.
All too often, women set the table and clear the table, but have neither a seat nor a say at the table when key decisions are reached. Vital Voices is helping to change all that, and I am very pleased that a new organization, the Vital Voices Global Partnership, is being launched to engage the private sector in this important work.
This week, there are a lot of social gatherings in New York, but none with a more serious or urgent theme than this reception here tonight.
Last year, we, the women foreign ministers, highlighted the problem of trafficking in human beings. And this year, our goal is to lend momentum to the international campaign to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Today, thirty-four million people live with this virus. And annually, almost three million die. Each day, more than 10,000 people are newly infected, and it is a staggering litany of loss. And each time we look, we find that more and more of the victims are women.
This reflects the fact that preventing HIV/AIDS depends not only on unlocking the secrets of medical science, but also on empowering women so that we can make our own choices, and on changing the way that people think and act to deal with this terrible disease.
From the first, AIDS has produced denial--the illusion that if we averted our eyes long enough, closed our minds completely enough and hardened our hearts until they were barely worthy of the name, we would not be touched and one morning could wake up and find that the virus was gone.
But denial does not prevent disease, nor cure it, nor care for those afflicted. And silence is even worse, because it is when the infected don't know or will not tell that further infections occur.
Today, despite the efforts of so many, we are not winning the war against AIDS; we are losing it.
In Africa, experts predict that in years to come tens of millions of children will be orphaned; infant mortality will double; and in many countries, the average life expectancy will decline by two decades or more. And we are seeing disturbing signs of increased infection rates in several other parts of the world.
So it is no wonder that Vice-President Gore has described AIDS not just as a public health crisis, or a humanitarian challenge, but as a threat to world security, which is why we thought that it was totally appropriate to discuss it within the Security Council along with other security threats.
Because we cannot be secure as long as this disease is depriving whole societies of twenty or even thirty percent of their people--in what should be the most productive period of their lives.
And we can't be secure when so many women, who provide the thread that holds the social fabric together, are in pain and at risk.
And we can't be secure when so many children are deprived of the mothers and fathers they need to have a fair start in life.
So I am very, very proud that the Clinton Administration has made the fight against AIDS one of our highest foreign policy priorities. And to symbolize this, the President has asked White House AIDS Policy Director Sandy Thurman -- who is here tonight -- to help coordinate our strategy worldwide. Good luck, Sandy. We're all with you. (Applause.)
And we are backing our commitment with an investment of $225 million this year, and a proposed increase of more than fifty percent for Fiscal Year 2001. These funds are necessary and I ask all of you Americans here to help us and support that number. It's going to take a lot more money to turn the tide.
As President Clinton said in Nigeria last month, "We can only beat AIDS by preventing it, by changing behavior and attitudes."
And we know that with national leadership and international assistance and local interventions, progress can be made.
For example, Uganda was the first nation to be devastated by AIDS; but it has fought back. President Museveni has urged every cabinet minister, every school, every church, and every business to promote AIDS awareness, prevention and treatment. Ugandans call this campaign "the big noise," and it has cut infection rates by 50 percent.
And so this evening, I am very pleased to join with the other foreign ministers, all our women foreign ministers, in making some noise of our own.
And I am very glad that one more has arrived, Foreign Minister Zuma of South Africa, who is very good to making a loud noise with the rest of us.
In a few minutes, we will sign a joint letter to Secretary General Annan urging that every nation make the fight against AIDS a permanent part of its domestic and international agenda.
The letter will be circulated to all UN Member states. And we hope it will serve as a rallying point, especially for women and girls, to encourage more and bolder action to reverse current trends and to safeguard our people from the AIDS pandemic.
In unity and solidarity there is always hope.
And I have been privileged in my job to travel to many places and to meet with a rich diversity of people. But I have never been more impressed or moved than by the women I have met in Africa and elsewhere who are afflicted by HIV/AIDS, and who have dedicated themselves to helping others avoid a similar fate. And it is really their courage and compassion that is both an inspiration and a challenge to all of us.
So tonight, I pledge my own best efforts, and respectfully solicit all of yours, to support these women, and to join the health care community and educators and public servants, Marie Claire and other public-spirited organizations in supporting the campaign for AIDS awareness and prevention in every way we can, in every community and country, every day.
There couldn't be a greater contribution to our security, our economy, our families, or to humanity, itself.
And I would like to invite my friends, the women foreign ministers, to help me sign this letter. Before I do that, though, I would like to make one more plea. One of our very, very important sisters, Aung San Suu Kyi, has yet again been locked in her house. I left the Women's Conference in Beijing five-plus years ago now to go visit her, to bring her the poster from the Women's Conference. And she is a brave and wonderful woman. We are all working also in signing a plea to do something about her unjust lock-up and the work of the military authorities of Burma to silence her and to decapitate her democratic movement. I hope you all will support that and talk about loud and clear for Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the truly great women of our time.
And now if I could ask the foreign ministers to join me in sending a letter to the Secretary General and a wake-up call to the world. (Applause.)
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