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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Remarks at special program in honor of International Women's Day
Dean Acheson Auditorium, Department of State
Washington, D.C., March 12, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Tim, for that exceptionally warm and friendly introduction. Mrs. Clinton, Dame Eugenia Charles, Geraldine Ferraro, Members of Congress, Excellencies, and Friends:
I am delighted to welcome the First Lady and all of you to the State Department's observance of International Women's Day.
I also want to thank that really great feminist, Tim Wirth, and Theresa Loar for the tremendous job they are doing. When the globe is your constituency, you tend to be pretty busy and no one burns energy more efficiently than our team at Global Affairs.
Let me begin this morning with one very simple statement. Advancing the status of women is not only a moral imperative; it is being actively integrated into the foreign policy of the United States. (Applause) It is our mission. It is the right thing to do, and, frankly, it is the smart thing to do.
The reason is that as we approach the new century, we know that we cannot build the kind of future we want without the contribution of women. And we know that, around the world, women will only be able to contribute to their full potential if they have equal access, equal rights, equal protection and a fair chance at the levers of economic and political power.
Towards these goals, we have made progress. I said once that if I had been born a generation or two earlier, and if I had wanted to make a definitive statement on American foreign policy, my only option would have been to enter society and then pour tea into an offending Ambassador's lap.
Today, women are engaged in every facet of international affairs, from policymaking to dealmaking, from arms control to trade, from a courtroom of the War Crimes Tribunal to the farflung operations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and to the top floor of the State Department.
So we have much to celebrate. We also have much further to go.
During my recent around-the-world trip, I met with six Presidents, four Prime Ministers, eight Foreign Ministers, three Defense Ministers, two Premiers, one Chancellor, one Secretary General and one Trade Minister. And if you put us all in one room, you would have 26 suits and my skirt.
This lack of representation at the top is mirrored throughout the political and economic structures of most nations. Whether one is bumping against a glass ceiling or standing on a dirt floor, equality remains--for most--more aspiration than reality.
It is in America's interest to change this. Advancing the status of women is directly related to our foreign policy goals. We want to build peace and expand the circle of democracy. We want to sustain a growing global economy that creates good jobs for Americans. And we want to see a future in which the values we cherish are more widely shared.
In each case, we can't get from where we are to where we want to go if women are left on the sidelines; women must be integrated at every step of the way.
Consider, for example, the pursuit of peace.
I am not among those who believe that if the world were run solely by women, war would disappear. The human capacity for folly and miscalculation is widely shared. But the history of this century tells us that democracy is a parent to peace. And common sense tells us that true democracy is not possible without the full participation of women.
The Beijing Conference has created new momentum for women to speak out, get involved, organize, vote and become candidates for office. The vast network of non-governmental organizations that women have built is focused on these tasks.
Greater participation translates into richer democracy and more representative policies. And in those regions where democracy makes the greatest difference for peace, women are hard at work creating and expanding the institutions for freedom.
I have seen in Bosnia the efforts of women's groups to heal the wounds of ethnic division. The women of that country are determined to build a society in which they--who have paid a fearful price for wrong decisions in the past--will have a role in making the right decisions in the future.
I have seen in Central Europe and the New Independent States the birth of movements designed to give women a real voice in the construction of new democracies. This is crucial, because women were hardest hit by the economic and social disruptions of recent years.
I have seen in Burundi hundreds of women from the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups working side by side to prevent in their country the genocidal violence that caused so much suffering in neighboring Rwanda.
During and since the Women's Conference, I have seen representatives of groups from around the world--African, Asian, Latin; Jewish, Islamic and Christian--joined in the common cause of sustaining the global momentum towards more open and representative political systems.
That is their goal, and as Americans, it is our goal.
So is economic growth.
Since 1993, under President Clinton's leadership, we have negotiated more than 200 trade agreements, given a tremendous boost to international commerce and created millions of new jobs.
But for the world's economy to keep growing, women everywhere must have increased access to the building blocks of economic opportunity and power.
A growing economy requires a modern economy. And as Turkey's Kemal Ataturk said seven decades ago, you cannot "catch up with the modern world by modernizing only half the population."
Despite recent gains, 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 the children, women do most of the non-child-related work. But often, women are barred from owning land, excluded from schools, provided less nourishment and permitted little or no voice in government.
It is no accident that most of those in the world who are abjectly poor are women. Frequently, they are left to care for children without the help of the children's father. Many are trapped at a young age in a web of ignorance and abuse.
Women are prepared to be full partners in sustainable development, but they need education, decent health care, access to credit, and protection from violence. They need the knowledge and the power to make their own choices.
We know from experience that, when that happens, the cycle of poverty can be broken and birth rates stabilized; environmental awareness increases, the spread of sexually transmitted disease slows, and socially constructive values are more likely to be passed on to the young. That is a priceless and lasting gift to the future.
We also serve the future when we stand up for basic values of law and respect for the dignity of every human being.
A half century ago, a great American First Lady was the driving force behind the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In Beijing, another great First Lady eloquently reaffirmed America's commitment to that Declaration and to its application to all people--specifically including women and girls.
Now, I don't know whether this resulted from a conversation between these two First Ladies.
But I do know that the Universal Declaration reflects spiritual and moral values that are central to all cultures, respecting both the wondrous diversity that defines us and the common humanity that binds us.
The Declaration obliges all governments to strive in law and practice to protect the rights of those under their jurisdiction. And by its very existence, it shows that whether a government fulfills that obligation is a matter not simply of domestic, but of universal, concern.
Unfortunately, today, around the world, appalling abuses are being committed against women. There are those who suggest that many of these abuses are cultural and there's nothing we can do about them. I say they're criminal and it's the responsibility of each and every one of us to stop them. (Applause)
It is encouraging that in the wake of Beijing, efforts to curb violence against women have surged. In country after country, we see projects designed to heighten awareness and gain for women greater protection under the law.
This matters because every time a special police unit is created to ensure a prompt response to sexual or domestic abuse; every time a cooperative effort is undertaken to end female genital mutilation; every time a program is launched to halt the exploitation of women and girls; every time strides are made towards the equal valuation of women as individuals, family members and citizens--our world is uplifted and we are all enriched.
In the effort to advance the status of women, the United States is a leader; but a leader cannot--and we are not--standing still. At President Clinton's initiative, we are incorporating concerns related to women into the mainstream of American foreign policy. What does that mean?
For one thing, it means that the President's Inter-agency Council on Women, created last year to implement the Beijing Platform for Action, will be chaired this year by the Department of State.
It means that our overseas aid programs will continue to emphasize projects that expand the ability of women to participate economically and politically; to gain access to education and health care, including reproductive health care; and to protect themselves against violence and disease.
It means that we will place special emphasis on the institutions of civil society that include women and refugee relief that is designed to meet women's needs.
It means that we will continue to report honestly and thoroughly on violations of human rights, and that we will denounce those violations whether they are sins of omission by those who refuse to investigate or prosecute domestic abuse, or sins of commission by dictators such as those in Burma or extremists in Afghanistan.
It means that we will continue to back 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 weapon of war should pay for their crimes. (Applause)
It means that we will take part in a global effort to crack down on illegal trafficking in women and girls. And let me say that if those who traffic in drugs should be punished severely--and they should--so should those who traffic in human beings. (Applause)
Finally, it means, because I said that I would tell it like it is, when I go to North Carolina in a couple of weeks to speak at the Jesse Helms Center, I will state explicitly that it is long past time for America to become party to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. (Applause)
As I think many people know now, I have a very good relationship with the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. We agree when we can and we disagree agreeably, when we don't agree on the subject.
The integration of women into our foreign policy is an active, ongoing, worldwide process. It requires working not only with other governments, but also with non-governmental organizations and other agents of progress. It affects everything from the design of AID programs, to policy decisions made by our bureaus here in Washington, to Embassy activities around the globe.
And it reflects our understanding that progress requires not simply opening doors, but a vigorous effort to reach out and spread the word that the old era of injustice and repression must end so that a new era of opportunity and full participation may dawn.
Before closing, I want to say a few words about our next speaker, for she is certainly one of the women we have incorporated into the mainstream of our foreign policy.
During the past four years, Hillary Rodham Clinton has become America's most respected and valued--albeit unofficial--Ambassador.
She has advocated America's agenda of peace, democracy, economic growth and law from India to Indonesia, from China to Copenhagen, and from Ukraine to a memorable diplomatic and culinary experience in Ulan Bator.
She brings to her assigned tasks enormous energy, brains, commitment and volumes of eloquence.
Those of you who have done public speaking know how hard it can be to excite an audience, at least without getting into trouble. Imagine how hard it is when that audience comes from 150 different countries and when most of them are sitting there with earphones on, wires going every way, listening to emotionless and not always accurate translation.
And yet, this woman, the honorary chair of our delegation, electrified precisely that kind of audience in Beijing.
Her message still echoes; her contributions to American leadership continue to build; her wisdom has become an international force for good. All this, and a Grammy Award, too. (Laughter)
As Secretary of State, I can think of no greater blessing than to have the First Lady at my side and on America's side.
This weekend, at my request, she will travel to Africa, a region of great importance to the United States and to the progress of women.
I look forward to hearing about her trip, and I know we all look forward to hearing from her now.
Please welcome our terrific First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Applause)
MRS. CLINTON: Thank you very much. Thank you so much, Secretary Albright. I still love to say that. We are gathered today to celebrate International Women's Day in the heart of the State Department, and we do as Americans have much to celebrate, starting with a Secretary of State who, yes, broke a barrier by virtue of her own gender; but who much more importantly is committed to defending the rights not just of Americans but of citizens around the world regardless of gender.
Not only has Madeleine Albright broken many a glass ceiling, she has brokered many a peace. Not only has she opened many doors, she has opened many minds. Since she mentioned it, I would say that in my last conversation with Mrs. Roosevelt - (laughter) - she told me how pleased she was that her husband had appointed the first woman to the Cabinet in United States' history, and how pleased she was that my husband had appointed the first woman Secretary of State. (Applause)
I thank Secretary Albright for her leadership, her courage, and on a personal note her friendship. I am delighted that she has agreed to serve as the new Chair for the President's Inter-Agency Council on Women, ably assisted by Theresa Loar and Tim Wirth and others of you here.
We all know that countless responsibilities face our new Secretary of State and all of us. Our foreign policy does not lack for challenges. We must continue to reduce weapons of mass destruction. We must realize the century's dream of a wholly united, democratic, and peaceful Europe. We must work to capture new opportunities in Asia, to seize opportunities for peace in the Middle East and other areas that are strategic not only to the United States but to the entire globe.
We must work with our partners in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere to build an inclusive and expanding global economy. We must safeguard our people from the threats of terrorism, extremism, international crime, drugs and environmental degradation.
While all of these require our attention and commitment, today I have come to advance a simple idea, that is: the seamless inclusion of girls and women's needs in American foreign policy. Despite the work they do, the families they raise, the communities they hold together, too many of the world's women, particularly in developing nations, live on the outskirts of opportunity and equality.
But let me be clear. This challenge is not confined to the developing world. We still have plenty of work to do here in the United States and in other advanced economies of the world to ensure that women have a full stake in democracy. One goal in every country should be to see that all citizens, regardless of race or gender or ethnicity or religion, have a full place at their society's table.
If you'll forgive just a slight diversion, yesterday I was in Arkansas. I visited people who had been hit by a terrible tornado in the morning. Even before that disaster struck, these were people already working overtime to build good lives to reach their aspirations. The full benefits of American society were still a long way away for them. After this tornado, all that they had worked for, all they had hoped for, seems lost.
Later that day, I spoke at an event that helped raise funds to send single parents, primarily women, to college or vocational school. I heard stories from five women who told us what it had meant that their society, in the form of those who had raised these funds, reached out and told them that they could make something of their own lives; they could go to college; they could support themselves and their children.
They had heard the message that is even still too often conveyed in America: that they weren't worth very much; that nobody really cared too much about them. As one young woman said, "Five years ago, I was in a battered woman's shelter in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I had nothing. I not only didn't have a car, I didn't have a driver's license, and my face looked as though it had been run over by a truck. All of a sudden there were people there who convinced me that I could make something of myself and care for my nine-month-old son. I thought to myself, how can these people believe in me, that I could go to college, that I could support myself. How could these people care about me when my own husband didn't care about me."
Those stories as I heard them reminded me of stories that I have heard around the world, as women in Bangladesh or India or Nicaragua or Chile stood up and told me what it meant to them to have someone believe that they, too, could make a living for their families; that the skills they had would be valued in the marketplace; that their children, especially their daughters, could have a better life.
The women last night were helped to return to school, and today they are citizens of the United States in the fullest sense of that word. Whatever disparities of wealth exist in our country and around the world means that people are left by the side of the road, detoured off the information highway, unable to take advantage of democracy's opportunities. What America must do for its own sake, as well as for the sake of its leadership in the world we are in today and that we are entering tomorrow, is to promote democracy and civil society in every nation, so that all citizens - every man, woman and child - can live up to their God-given potential.
But one may ask, "Well, it's fine for me to care about the women of Arkansas, but why should I or any American care about women in developing countries and around the world?" Why should women, as Secretary Albright just eloquently explained, be a concern of ours and our foreign policy here in the United States?
What the Secretary said and what this Administration believes is that if half of the world's citizens are undervalued, underpaid, under-educated, under-represented, fed less, fed worse, not heard, put down, we cannot sustain the democratic values and the way of life we have come to cherish. If as a nation Americans care about opening foreign markets for American goods and services, if we care about making our country secure in the face of new threats, if we care about widening the circle of peace and prosperity, then we must address the conditions and circumstances of the world's women.
You in this room know better than anyone else that our world is in a time of great transformation, heralding ever more democracy, leading, we hope, to ever more peace. But the great promise of this time is not without its challenges. Global competition, the information revolution, the rapid pace of change create pressures on every society, from governments down to families. These pressures pose unavoidable questions for us as we approach the 21st century. How do we figure out ways to balance individual and community rights and responsibilities? How do parents raise children in the face of the influences of the mass media and consumer culture? What do we make of what seems to be a conflict in many instances between personal identity and the work available in an age of globalization and high technology? What about the roles of women in society? How will people preserve their ethnic pride and value their national citizenship, and how will nations protect their sovereignty while cooperating regionally and globally with others?
Thinking about these questions and how a free nation like ours will respond to them, we may need to be reminded that democracy is not just about legally protected rights, elections or free-market economies. It is about the internalization of democratic values in people's hearts and minds. It is about how, in the absence of either hot or cold wars, democracy is rooted in people's everyday lives.
Given the changes that are going on around us, we can no longer gauge our interests around the world solely through power blocs and vast arsenals. Across the globe, here at home, at the end of the Cold War, we have been freed to focus on issues that edge right up to our own front doors. How do we educate our children? How do we insure that families have proper health care? How do we insure that democracies and free markets produce citizens, not just consumers?
I have said before that in this time of challenge around the globe, we know we will continue to cope with what is often thought of as the traditional balance of power among countries. But I would also argue that we must now add to that balance of power equation, often called realpolitik, the idea that real life politik may be just as intimately connected with whether or not democracies survive and flourish.
These issues that we speak of today should not be considered women's issues. But certainly it is fair to say that women, often by necessity, become the world's experts on the hazards and vicissitudes of life, and they therefore often understand and appreciate more clearly that they have a vested interest in insuring that their societies and governments address these real life challenges.
I have seen for myself on continent after continent the solutions that women are forging. New mothers in Jakarta, Indonesia, who gather every week to learn about family planning and better nutrition for their children. Doctors and nurses in Belarus and Ukraine who are caring for the children of Chernobyl. Women from Santiago to San Diego who are working on issues as diverse as education, crime and the environment.
These issues are central to our global democratic interests, for what distinguishes democracy is fair and genuine participation in every aspect of life. It should be too obvious to point out, but unfortunately it isn't, that giving women a strong voice and fuller say over their futures is intimately related to the health of democracies, because women are the majority in most countries and the world over. America's credo should ring clearly: a democracy without the full participation of women is a contradiction in terms. To reach its full potential, it must include all of its citizens.
Clearly, whether we succeed in strengthening democratic values around the world is of special consequence to women, who in our country and elsewhere are still striving to attain and even define their rightful place in government, the economy and civil society, and to claim their rightful share of personal, political, economic and civic power. Raising the status of women and girls and investing in their potential means insuring that they have the tools of opportunity available to them: education, health care, credit and jobs; legal protection, and the right to participate fully in the political life of their countries; and that is why the United States must continue its bipartisan tradition of supporting initiatives that move our world closer to these goals.
Today, more than 600 million women worldwide are denied the opportunity of an education. Women make up two-thirds of those who can neither read nor write. Yet the single most important investment any developing nation can make is in the education of girls and women. We are discovering that in country after country the benefits of educating women go far beyond the classroom and the schoolhouse. They go to stronger families, better health, nutrition, wages and levels of political participation.
I have seen how the support of the United States for the education of women and girls worldwide is paying off. I have seen how similar social investments, also many supported by the United States, can make a difference in countries as diverse as Brazil, the Philippines, Nepal and Pakistan. Certainly, as I travel around the world and as many of you do likewise, we have seen with our own eyes that investing in girls and women helps to transform communities, which in turn can transform society. Women will not flourish and neither will democracy if they continue to be under-valued inside and outside the home.
I have had many experts in economic development around the world say to me that women's work is not part of the economies of countries; that women do not participate in the economic markets of the countries. And yet I have seen with my own eyes as I've traveled through urban areas and remote rural ones that women are bearing often the bulk of the load of the work that must be done to plant crops, to harvest them, to make it possible for small enterprises to flourish in market stalls.
So I know that women are working. Their contributions may not be counted in the gross domestic product of their societies, but they are of value. If all the women in the world tomorrow said they would not work outside the home, the economies of every country would collapse. (Applause)
It is time that we honored and counted the contributions that women make, both in the home and outside. Investing in women also means investing in their health and in turn in the health of their families. I am especially pleased that the United States has provided assistance through the United States Agency for International Development to assure that women, children and families have access to a full spectrum of low-cost, high-yield health care services, from safe birthing kits for expectant mothers, to basic immunizations for infants, to oral rehydration therapy to treat children suffering from diarrhea.
I want to say a special word about family planning and its importance in this larger effort. Family planning is fundamental to letting women take responsibility for themselves and their children. Right now, however, roughly 100 million women worldwide cannot get or are not using family planning services because they are poor, uneducated or do not have access to care. Some 20 million women will seek unsafe abortions. Of these women, some may become disabled for life; some will have other health problems.
But fundamentally, the rate of unsafe abortions is in itself a tragedy. High abortion rates do not represent women's equality. They represent a failure on all our parts to help women prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. If we really care about reducing abortion and fostering strong families, we must not back away from America's commitment to family planning efforts overseas. (Applause)
And if we really care about making women equal partners in societies the world over, we must do everything in our power to fight violence against women, whether it is a hidden crime of domestic abuse or a blatant tactic of war. No single social investment is a panacea for women or for developing countries, nor should every just cause in the world be America's to embrace. But I do believe that as long as discrimination and inequities persists in a broad-scale way against women, a stable, prosperous world will be far from a reality.
Taken together, our investments in social development are vital to strengthening free market interests, spreading our democratic ideals, and enhancing our security. Over time, America has learned that our ideals and interests cannot be divorced from the political, economic, and social cross-currents swirling around us.
I hope that we have also learned that engagement with the world represents opportunities at home as well as obligations abroad.
Let me give you just one modest example. I spoke recently at a conference sponsored by USAID called "Lessons Without Borders." At the conference, Baltimore's Mayor, Kurt Schmoke, told how governmental leaders from his city had gone to Africa to learn about simple, low-cost strategies used on that continent to encourage parents to immunize their children. Now, similar programs are in place in Baltimore, with community clinics, a vaccination van, door-to-door visits, and the resulting higher immunization rates for children under three.
We can learn from our neighbors around the world. Many of the lessons we can learn, we will find, are lessons that have been helped to be taught by our own foreign policy engagement. Less than one percent of our budget, yet countless lives can be improved and we can improve lives here at home.
Before I close, I want to say a word about my forthcoming trip to Africa. I was very honored to be asked to make this trip because I think America's engagement in the world must include an engagement with sub-Saharan Africa. Contemporary history is a story that citizens and countries are writing, and there is a new story that must be told. Every region is contributing its own chapter. Africa has a remarkable story if we will only pay attention to it.
It is moving toward democracy. In the last six years, the number of democracies have jumped from five to 23. Africa is growing economically, moving from suffocating state-controlled economies to open markets that can give full life and scope to human endeavor. Last year, 30 countries recorded positive economic growth.
Africa is beginning to forge a new relationship with the United States; one based not just on aid but on shared ideals, mutual responsibilities, integration into the world economy, and partnerships designed to resolve conflicts and to meet common challenges. To be sure, many of the African democracies are new and therefore fragile. Hope remains tenuous. Too much of the continent continues to be driven by disease, malnutrition, poverty, injustice, corruption, perilous conflicts, and their terrible aftermath - refugee crisis that trap women and children especially in lives that go from bad to worse.
And yet - and yet in spite of these challenges, for the first time, we can see that at this moment in history there are in Africa grounds for far more hope than despair. With the support of the United States, we can solidify that hope.
I will be privileged to visit Senegal, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda, and Eritrea. I am pleased that so many of the Ambassadors from those countries and other countries in Africa are with us today.
I hope to witness firsthand and to highlight each country's efforts to build democracy and a strong, civil society. I will focus particularly on grassroots initiatives and on efforts that affect women and children. I hope this trip will give the American people a renewed sense of the importance of our commitment to Africa. I hope it will lay out exactly why we must do our utmost to support democracy and social investment in Africa, and to strengthen Africa's place in the community of nations.
I hope it will show that American engagement must be measured not just in aid dollars or humanitarian efforts in the wake of tragedy and crisis, but in the democratic values we reinforce and the human rights we defend and in the conflicts we help resolve preventatively.
There are, to be sure, issues of America's national security at stake. Instability in Africa, whether it is rooted in war, in terrorism, in organized crime, in disease, in environmental degradation and poverty, touches us, too. There are also economic issues at stake. Right now, the United States holds only seven percent of the African market of 600 million people. By forging stronger economic ties with Africa, we will do much to secure the prosperity of our own people as well.
But, finally, our greatest reasons for engagement with Africa are built on a positive foundation. Africa is on the move with a new generation of leaders, the fresh air of political reform and thriving multi-ethnic societies.
As we look at the future for America's engagement around the world, we can see that wherever we help to seed the ground for democracy, wherever we reach out to people out of mutual respect to help them help themselves, wherever we understand clearly that in this time of inter-dependence and interconnection, we all have a stake in the success of the other. We will make progress together. Whether it comes to assisting and working with our friends in the new democracies in Africa or understanding the importance of our commitment to women and girls, America's interests are at stake.
But far more importantly, America's values are at stake. If we act upon those values, we will help to lead the world into the kind of new future we envision as possible for our children and all the children around the globe.
Thank you very much.


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