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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks before the International Leadership Forum for Women with Disabilities
Bethesda, Maryland, June 16, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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As delivered

Thank you, very much, Judy. It is always a pleasure to be with you anywhere. Your leadership is just amazing, and we all appreciate it so much.
Secretary Shalala, it's always good to appear with you. As a member of the delegation to Beijing and President Clinton's interagency council, and as a driving force behind this conference, Judy, you have been a source of leadership and strength to us all.
I say to you, and to Kathy Martinez and to all of you that I am truly delighted to participate in this conference as at least a partial payback for the hospitality that you all gave me in Huairou. For me, speaking at the disabilities tent was the high point of the whole Beijing experience. It was what the women's conference was all about--commitment, empowerment, access, unity--not to mention rain. (Laughter.)
Today, we meet in better weather, but in the same spirit and with the same fundamental message.
All women, whether we have disabilities or whether we do not, are ready to claim our rightful place as full citizens and full participants in every society on Earth. (Applause.)
Ours is a unifying vision, based on the truth that in our era, security, prosperity and freedom are not finite, nor are they the rightful property only of some people in some places.
If we plant the seeds and till the soil, those precious commodities will grow. And more and more people in more and more countries will become beneficiaries and contributors to our global community.
To that end, I am very encouraged by the work the organizations sponsoring and participating in this conference have done and are doing to advocate, educate and lead. You are doing an outstanding and important job. But as I am sure you agree, there is a very long, long way to go.
There are more than three hundred million women with disabilities in the world. In many societies, they are consigned to the margins--not admitted to schools, rejected by employers, denied access to health care. We cannot afford this loss. We need your strength and skills. If we are to build the kind of future we want, women with disabilities cannot be marginalized, women and girls with disabilities must be empowered. (Applause.)
This morning at this historic conference, I assure you that I will do everything I can to see that America does its part in advancing our common agenda. First, closest to home, I want to see a State Department and foreign service that is truly open to the talents of all. (Applause.)
Spurred on by Deidre Davis, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of our office on Civil Rights, we have eliminated barriers to full participation. I have been told that a record number of individuals with disabilities took our foreign service exam last November, and that 146 passed. (Applause.)
I look forward to many of them joining the foreign service, and I encourage any of you who are eligible and looking for an interesting change in career to consider taking the exam, as well.
Second, as a matter of policy, the United States can and will be telling the story worldwide about what we have been able to do here through our knowledge of rehabilitation, the strength of our civic organizations, the liberating nature of our technology and the justice of laws such as Americans with Disabilities Act. After all, if we Americans can export our strategies for selling hamburgers - (laughter) -- surely we can export our strategies for meeting the needs and benefiting from the skills and strengths of persons with disabilities. (Applause.)
Third, the connections between poverty and disability, between maternal health care and preventing disability, and between community-based rehabilitation and independence for disabled persons are not widely understood. But there are many who do understand at USAID, in the Peace Corps, in UN organizations and programs and in the PVOs that support economic and social development worldwide. Their challenge is finding the resources they need to keep us all moving forward.
As Secretary of State - I hate to tell you this -- I don't have a blank checkbook, but I do have a bully pulpit. I will do my absolute best to make the case on Capitol Hill and around America that by helping these organizations, we give a hand to friends everywhere, we honor our values and help secure our own future. (Applause.)
Fourth, we have the problem of landmines. We must do more to cleanse the Earth of their pernicious presence. (Applause.)
We must do more to rehabilitate and provide for full entry into society of the victims. And we must negotiate an agreement that will end forever the danger landmines present to women and children around the globe. (Applause.)
As long as I live, I will never forget my trip to Angola. I don't think I've ever seen so many injured people as I have in Angola. And when I went there, out into the villages, to see children tethered to their houses so that they would not escape into the fields to get blown up by landmines. Landmines are a scourge, and we call on all of you to help us in this very, very important issue.
Fifth, here in the United States, our top priority in implementing Beijing has been to halt violence against women. That is also a goal of American foreign policy; because the truth is that today, around the world, appalling abuses are being committed against women and women with disabilities. These abuses range from domestic violence to dowry murders to mutilation to forcing young girls into prostitution. Some say all this is cultural and there's nothing that can be done about it. I say it's criminal and we each have a responsibility to stop it. (Applause.)
Finally, I will say to you now what I said to you in Huairou. It is past time -- way past time -- for the United States to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. (Applause.)
Here in the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act has made us a leader in promoting full participation by persons with disabilities. But a year ago, when the National Council on Disability issued a report asking whether our foreign policy had a coherent approach to disability, the answer was no. This is not an acceptable answer and, fortunately, it is not an answer that will remain accurate for very long. (Applause.)
Within a matter of weeks, USAID will be issuing a new policy and action plan on disability and development. That document will express the agency's commitment to reach out and include persons with disabilities in its programs and place this issue prominently on our development agenda with governments that receive our aid. (Applause.)
The new policy is based on a recognition that people with disabilities have the same need for food, health care, shelter, education and training as others, but are often denied access to programs that meet these needs. The solution is greater foresight, wider consultation and better planning. There is no reason on Earth, for example, why a child with disabilities should not be able to sit in the same classroom, learn the same skills and dream the same dreams as her or his fellow students. (Applause.)
There is no reason on Earth why an adult with disabilities should not receive the same help in starting a small business or learning a trade. (Applause.)
There can be no excuse for failing to take access into account when constructing shelter or designing a community center or developing a source of potable water. The lesson we should all have learned by now is that the best way to prevent barriers to access is not to erect them in the first place. (Applause.)
In this connection, let me say it to you before you say it me. Far too many U.S. embassies remain insufficiently accessible to persons with disabilities. (Laughter and applause.)
I have asked our Office of Civil Rights and our Office of Foreign Buildings to produce a plan to correct that wherever we can as soon as we can. And I can promise that when the U.S. Government builds a building overseas, that building had better be accessible to someone, or they will owe an explanation to me as Secretary of State. (Applause.)
Since Beijing, we have moved forward and we will continue to move forward as long as conferences such as this and people such as you continue to reach out to each other and to challenge societies and governments to do the right thing. That is your job. It is the job of governments to create a basis in law and in the community to remove obstacles to the full participation of women and of persons with disabilities in the economic and social life of their nations.
At this conference's center, and at the heart of the disability agenda, is the simple premise that every individual counts. That is the philosophy of America at its best. And that has been the motivating force for the movement to advance the status of women and women with disabilities for longer than any of us have been alive.
This philosophy is not based on any illusions. Advocates of social progress have seen far too much of hardship and heartbreak to indulge in sentimentalism. But we live in a nation and a world that has been enriched beyond measure by the survivors, by those who have overcome obstacles to build platforms of knowledge, understanding and accomplishment from which others might advance.
It has been said that all work that it is worth anything is done in faith. While respecting our diversity and building our unity, let us all keep the faith that our persistence and dedication will make a difference; that every friend transformed by our caring, every life enriched by our giving, every soul inspired by our passion 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 on this Earth.
Towards that end, for all you have done, I salute you. For all that you will do, I admire you. And for your attention and kindness this morning, I thank you very, very much. (Applause.) Thank you all. Thank you. Have a really successful conference. Thank you. (Applause.)

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