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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Remarks to Oxfam

Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Washington, DC
March 6, 2012


A special welcome to Washington to all of Oxfam's sisters on the Planet Ambassadors!

Thank you for your commitment to addressing some of the critical issues of our times and for devoting your considerable efforts to advocating on behalf the President's foreign affairs budget and programs like Feed the Future to enhance agricultural productivity and end hunger. What a terrific way to celebrate International Women's day!

Issues affecting women and girls are of strategic importance to our country because when women are left out of, or mistreated by their societies, those societies are less stable, less secure and less democratic.This concept is embodied in the President's National Security Strategy which says, "countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity. When those rights and opportunities are denied, countries often lag behind." Moreover, no country can get ahead if it leaves half its people behind.

We have put women and girls at the center of American foreign policy because it is the not just the moral, right thing to do but the smart, strategic thing to do as well. The Foreign Policy and development budget is less than 1% of the federal budget and it encompasses all of our diplomatic work around the globe as well as our assistance programs ranging from emergency humanitarian aid to our core development initiatives. It is an investment in America's security, in our leadership around the globe and our commitment to creating a better world.

Thank you for making Feed the Future a priority of your advocacy efforts. Your theme "Women Feed the World" could not be more timely.

Secretary Clinton has described the harsh challenges that women farmers confront in too many places. "She lives in a rural village and farms a piece of land that she does not own. She rises before dawn and walks miles to collect water – if there is water to be found. She works all day in a field, sometimes with a baby on her back. If she’s lucky, drought, blight or pests don’t destroy her crops, and she raises enough to feed her family—and maybe has some left over to sell. But there’s no road to the nearest market. Moreover, her work is not counted in many economies as 'economically active employment'."

In many developing countries, women are the backbone of the economy. In some place they even comprise the majority of small hold farmers. There is a strong economic argument for focusing on investing in women in agriculture. Yet women farmers do not have equal access to resources and this significantly limits their potential in enhancing productivity. They are often at a severe disadvantage when it comes to securing land tenure rights or owning land outright, owning livestock, accessing financial services, and receiving the kind of extension services and resources that will grow her output.

Last week, I participated in the meetings of the UN Commission Status on Women, which focused on the theme of rural women and girls. We cannot eradicate poverty and hunger without empowering rural women and girls nor can sustainable development which rests on the three pillars - the social, economic and environmental be successfully addressed without the inclusion of women in the solution. CSW rightly underscored the importance of gender equality and women's empowerment to advance progress in these important areas.

The Food and Agriculture organization's annual State of Agriculture report focused on the vital role of women in agriculture. Data shows that when women are provided with equal resources, they can produce yields equal to those of men, if not more. Closing the gender gap and providing women with the same resources as men could increase their individual yields by 20-30%; that would in turn improve agricultural production in many countries between 2.5-4% and reduce the number of undernourished people by 100-150 million globally.

I have seen firsthand how, with proper training and networking opportunities, women farmers have organized associations to promote greater productivity, create successful markets and offer effective advocacy for better policies and programs. But we must do our part to support them. Food security is a foreign policy priority for the United States. The Obama Administration’s Feed the Future initiative is aimed to advance food security worldwide. We are integrating gender into all aspects of this initiative because of the significant role women play in agriculture and the persistent economic constraints they face. We are working to improve and expand the involvement and participation of women at all levels of decision-making and to ensure they have equal access to a range of resources they need.

Another key focus of Feed the Future is to reduce under-nutrition, which also requires we look at women as critical actors. We are working to ensure that our development efforts are carefully considered and our decisions based on strong evidence.

Women are not victims. They are change makers. And so are all of you. In a very eloquent op-ed that Senator Kerry wrote for the Wall Street Journal recently defending our diplomatic and development efforts as crucial investments, he reminded readers of a quote from President Reagan: "Foreign aid suffers from a lack of domestic constituency, in large part because the results of the programs are often not immediately visible and self-evident." You are a very important part of that necessary constituency of informed, committed and active Americans/

So what you are doing is critical – You are speaking out for what matters if the US is to advance economic and social progress around the world -- peace, stability and democracy and a better world for all.

You all know that when the status of women improves, agricultural production increases, poverty decreases, and nutrition improves. Unleashing women's potential by closing the gender gap is a win-win strategy, Thank you for all you are doing – for your advocacy and for your commitment, not just on March 8th, but each and every day. Godspeed to all the Oxfam Sisters on the Planet Ambassadors!

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