Good afternoon – what an honor to welcome such a diverse and accomplished group of women to the United States and to the State Department.
I’d like to thank Ann and everyone in the bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs who worked to organize the 100 Women Initiative in honor of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.
Our mission for this initiative is two-fold.
First, to celebrate the progress we have made since women in Europe overflowed their village meeting halls on the first International Women’s Day in 1911.
And second, to carry forward the work of all those pioneering women who refused to let discrimination and gender barriers hold them back.
We have seen striking examples of this in North Africa and the Middle East recently as women stand shoulder-to-shoulder with men to demand their rights and freedoms. Their indispensible voices rang out from Tunis and Tahrir Square, inspiring women around the world.
And in Libya, a journalist recently asked a woman dressed in full Islamic veil why she was volunteering to paint protest signs. She replied simply: “I have come to make my contribution.”
Every woman’s contribution is different, but we are all committed to protecting and promoting the rights of women and girls for future generations. And as we work toward this goal, the diversity of interests and experiences in this room is a great strength.
Integrating women into their communities, their governments, and their economies is the best way to address many of today’s global challenges. From reducing poverty and expanding social inclusion to improving global health and access to education, women are a smart and reliable investment.
As Ann said, I come from the business world, so I always like to look at the figures.
Microfinance institutions report women are more likely than men to repay their loans on time and in full. And the World Bank has reported that women reinvest 90 percent of their incomes in their families, compared to less than 40 percent for men. Women are not only savvy entrepreneurs, they are the backbone of their local economy, and they help spread wealth more broadly.
This is just one example of the power women have to turn small opportunities into big changes in their communities. You will be essential allies as we work together to increase these opportunities for women around the world.
Partnerships and exchanges such as the 100 Women Initiative have the power to strengthen bonds between friends and bridge gulfs in understanding. The International Visitors Leadership Program has built 70 years of vital bridges that circle the globe.
You are now all linked to that network, and I hope you use this network to provide advice and support to one another for years to come. Shared problems often lead to shared solutions. Together, we can think about these problems in new ways, identify ideas that work, and implement strategies that will move us forward.
But this is more than an opportunity, it is a responsibility for all of us. We have a responsibility to take what we learn here and share it with others. We have a responsibility to become the 21st century leaders the world needs. And we have a responsibility to work tirelessly, so that when future generations gather on International Women’s Day, they can look back and celebrate all that we achieved together.
I wish you a productive and successful time in the United States. I look forward to hearing about the outcomes of this trip.
And I wish everyone a very happy International Women’s Day. Thank you.