|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks before the Women's Legal Defense Fund Award Luncheon, Washington Hilton Hotel
Washington, D.C., June 13, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Thank you very, very much. I have to tell you, I wouldn't be here if it weren't for all of you. Thank you.
Judy, thank you very much for that introduction and for your remarkable service. We are all deeply in the debt of the Women's Legal Defense Fund, in every way that you have described and for what you will do in the future, even more so.
Ellen, your leadership across the board for women's issues and everything that you've done makes me very proud to call you a friend, and all of us call you here a friend. Thank you very much for everything that you have done. (Applause.)
There are lots of people to thank in the audience, but I have to pay special tribute to my friend, Senator Mikulski. We are a team, and we do what we can, Barbara. (Applause.)
I am delighted to be here among so many friends. As many of you know, in my prior life I served with a number of organizations that gave out awards, which I often had the honor to present. And I have found that, although it is admittedly more blessed to give than to receive, receiving is a lot more fun. (Laughter.) So I thank you very, very much.
I'm often asked what it's like to be the first female Secretary of State. Now that I've had the job for about five months, I have decided that being a woman has several important advantages. One is makeup. (Laughter and applause.)
If a 60-year old male Secretary of State has had a bad day, he has two choices -- to look like a tired old man, or look like a tired old man with makeup. (Laughter.)
But with a little help, I can at least convince myself that I look as fresh as I feel right now. (Laughter.)
Another advantage to being a female Secretary of State is that, as the media informed us yesterday, we're just better at it. (Laughter and applause.)
The scientists are saying that women are genetically inclined to be peacemakers, problemsolvers and basically well-adjusted. (Laughter.) That may explain why I'm always so temperate in my language -- (laughter) -- and why around the world there has recently been a bit of a boom in the appointment of new women foreign ministers. (Laughter.)
A third advantage is receiving letters like this one from a little girl from Tennessee named, of all things, Madeleine Albright. She sent me a short story about her dream of coming to Washington to meet the other Madeleine Albright. (Laughter.)
She writes that in her dream, we went to the zoo first; we went to the White House; we ate dinner together; I spent the night at her house. (Laughter.) Her house was bigger than the Biltmore Mansion. (Laughter.) She had more jewelry than everybody in the whole world. (Laughter.)
At the White House, we went to Chelsea's room and played Barbies. (Laughter.) And after that, we were all tired. (Laughter.)
We went to Madeleine's house to sleep; it had all kinds of stuffed animals. Madeleine let me have all her old dress-up clothes with big dress-up hats. Then it was time to go home. I will never forget my visit with Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State. (Laughter and applause.)
And of course, the final and biggest advantage is having the opportunity to address gatherings such as this one.
The award you have presented to me is especially meaningful because of what your organization stands for and what it has accomplished in its quarter-century of existence. As we've heard, through the Family and Medical Leave Act, the criminalization of sex discrimination and countless initiatives at the state and local level, you have put law at the service of justice and social progress, which is exactly where the law should be. Your struggle to make America a better place for women and families is mirrored in America's struggle to help bring the world together around the principles of freedom, tolerance and the rule of law.
The reason is that, as we approach the new century, we know that we cannot build the kind of future we want without the contributions of women. And we know that, around the world, women will only be able to contribute to our full potential if we have equal access, equal rights, equal protection and a fair chance at the levers of economic and political power. This isn't rocket science, or something that is even more difficult, like child-rearing; it is simple common sense.
We know from experience, after all, that when women have the knowledge and power to make our own choices, the cycle of poverty, in which too many countries remain ensnared, can be broken. Birth rates stabilize; environmental awareness increases; the spread of sexually-transmitted disease slows; and socially constructive values are more likely to be passed on to the young.
One of the most encouraging developments of our era is the coming together throughout the world of organizations and individuals dedicated to the challenge of advancing the status of women.
This past month in Central America, for example, I participated in our meeting with our First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and women from each of the countries in that region. It was heartening to learn during this meeting that, thanks to the efforts of concerned NGOs, one country has approved a law requiring new members of Congress to pay any child support they may owe before they are allowed to serve. (Laughter and applause.) Quite amazing.
In another, the courts have -- for the first time -- overturned laws that explicitly discriminate against women. The efforts of non-governmental organizations should be applauded, but governments must do their part, as well.
As Secretary of State, I am working with other Administration officials to see that issues related to the status of women receive the attention they deserve. For example, our overseas aid programs support projects that help women from Soweto to San Salvador to become full participants in the economic and political life of their societies.
We are emphasizing access for women and girls to education and health care, and designing refugee relief to meet women's needs. We are supporting efforts to provide credit for women engaged in micro-enterprise. We are leading a global effort to crack down on illegal trafficking in women and girls, because we believe that if those who traffic in drugs should be punished severely -- and they should -- so should those who traffic in human beings. (Applause.)
And we are working hard to end violence against women. Today, around the world, appalling abuses are being committed against women, from domestic violence to dowry murders to mutilation to forcing young girls into prostitution. Some say all this is cultural, and that we can do nothing about it. I say it's criminal and we each have a responsibility to stop it. (Applause.)
We have a special concern for the needs of women in the aftermath of conflict, where wounds not healed properly will fester for decades. That is why we are insisting on a full inquiry into the atrocities committed during the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have made it clear to the new government there that there will not be any U.S. aid -- that it will be conditioned on cooperation in allowing international teams to investigate, and in ensuring that those responsible are punished. (Applause.)
It is also why America, from the beginning, has led in supporting the International War Crimes Tribunal. That tribunal represents a choice, not only for Bosnia and for Rwanda, but for the world. We can accept atrocities as inevitable, or we can strive for a higher standard. We can presume to forget what only God and the victims have standing to forgive, or we can heed the most searing lesson of this century, which is that evil -- when unopposed -- will spawn more evil.
The majority of Bosnia killings occurred not in battle, but in markets, streets and playgrounds where men and women like you and me, and boys and girls like those we know, were abused or murdered not because of anything they had done, but simply for who they were.
We all have a stake in establishing a precedent that will deter future atrocities; in helping the tribunal make a lasting peace easier by separating the innocent from the guilty; in holding accountable the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing; and in seeing that those who consider rape just another tactic of war answer for their crimes. (Applause.)
Overall, we are making good progress in bringing women's concerns into the mainstream of American foreign policy. On several key issues, however, differences of opinion and a deficit of funds are holding women and families down when we should be helping them up. Let me highlight three areas on which I have made it my priority to work with Congress to confront the challenges we face.
Our contributions to international organizations leverage millions of dollars from other states to end conflicts, care for refugees, immunize children and feed families. That is why we are strong supporters of reforming the United Nations and related organizations so that they can accomplish more with every dollar they spend. And it is why we are working so hard to persuade Congress that the time has come for America to pay its bills. (Applause.)
Our international population programs help women exercise our right to control our own bodies. They reduce demand for abortions, and they contribute to child survival. They are an investment that helps mothers around the world give their daughters and sons the choices -- and the lessons -- our mothers gave to us. That is why this Administration supports and will continue to support full funding for international population programs. (Applause.)
And I am sure that you agree that, almost twenty years after it was signed, it is high time for the United States to ratify the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. (Applause.)
When we stand up for basic values of law and respect for the dignity of every human being, we are serving our common future. The American values we share, and the world admires, are founded in a commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law -- not just for some, but for all people.
Only in liberty can human potential find fulfillment in equal men and women, secure in their rights and able to meet their responsibilities. And only if our nation is outward-looking, if we are responsible and if we are true to our values can we fulfill our potential -- as leaders and as builders of the next American century.
And if I might say, looking out at this audience and looking at the young women that are here and that came up to greet me, this is for all of you. You are the ones that we are doing this for. Pick up the ball; we will be there with you. (Applause.)
Certainly, our progress in obtaining truly equal rights for women is slower than we would like. But if you compare what has happened during just the past generation with the pace of progress in generations before that, you know that we can move ahead ever more rapidly in the days to come if we work together, in government and out, to make that happen.
It sounds like quite a tall order. But I am one of those who believes, with Aristophanes, that there is no animal more invincible than a woman -- although I am not sure he meant it as a compliment. (Laughter.)
I said earlier that we share a struggle. But we also share a vision. A vision of a world in which every girl can look ahead with confidence that her life will be valued, her individuality respected, her rights protected and her future determined by her own abilities and character. (Applause.)
There are some, I guess, who would call that radical. And they are right -- equal rights; equal enforcement of those rights; equal opportunities; and equal valuation in the eyes of society as an individual, within the family and as a citizen. Simple principles, but if we lived by them, instead of just talking about them around the world, the results would be astounding.
For what you have done to make those principles a daily reality for millions of Americans -- women and men -- I applaud you. For your support in our common undertaking to extend those rights and opportunities to our sisters and brothers around the world, I salute you. And for your hospitality here today, and for the honor you have given me, I thank you very, very much. (Applause.)
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