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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks to the Media at U.S. Embassy Rangoon

Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Rangoon, Burma
May 10, 2012


AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Good afternoon everybody. I'm so pleased to be here with all of you and unfortunately come to the end of what has been an extraordinary visit for me to this country. I have come at a very important time, I think a time of historic opportunity. And everyone knows while the future is uncertain there have been many encouraging steps that have been taken and the United States is committed to responding, as Secretary Clinton has said, action for action as the government here embraces democratic reforms. And as a result of what happened with the by-election that took place, she has recently announced steps for the establishment of an AID mission to work on development issues as well as the easing of restrictions having to do with financial services and other restrictions that will be announced in the future as frameworks are set up and changes occur.

But I’d like to tell you a little bit about my trip here. I have come really to focus on the opportunities and challenges for women and girls in this country. It has been a time of great inspiration for me. Because we know that no country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind. And the women in this country have a very important role to play. A role that they have been playing and, I think, are strategically positioned to play that much more in the months ahead.

I have met with a group of remarkable women in all of the places I visited. I was privileged to have time to meet with Daw Suu. Aung San Suu Kyi has been a great world leader, a woman of great inspiration, one committed to democracy even at great personal price. And we had a very good constructive conversation. I also met with an extraordinary group of young women who are eager to take their place in the political life of this country, who are working to set up organizations, who are engaged in civic education, who are promoting steps in terms of training and inspiring others in their age group, to be part of this process.

I met with women political leaders from across the parties who came together one evening to talk about their desire to work together going forward. I met with women entrepreneurs who talked about challenges that women who want to start a business or grow businesses confront everywhere. But the kinds of challenges they have here in terms of access to finance to markets for their services and products, and especially for the kind of training and networks and mentors that they need and would love to have.

I met with so many people who are engaged in positive good works to help develop the human infrastructure of this country – women who are training girls from the poor sections; young women to be nurses or health practitioners; others who are coping with or addressing HIV/AIDS and the consequences to families and obviously to those who are afflicted; others who have provided inspirational funeral assistance that is the envy of most places to respond to a need and do it in a way that they do every day.

I met with civil society leaders who are running all kinds of organizations, from those engaged in politics to those engaged in economics to those engaged in all the kinds of life issues confronting this society. And when I went to Nay Pyi Taw, I had an opportunity to meet with the first lady and to meet with a group of senior advisers who comprise the Myanmar Women's Federation, as well as, the Child Protection Association. And we talked to them also about the importance of investing in the human capacity of this country and addressing issues like maternal mortality and child survivability, and the accessibility of microcredit and dealing with violence against women and other issues. I also have an opportunity to meet with the Minister for Health, an official whom I had the privilege of meeting in Washington several weeks ago as conversations have begun between our two countries on focusing on the health needs of the people here and with Deputy Education Minister and Foreign Minister. So I had an opportunity to have a free and full exchange with government leaders as well. And yesterday and the day before, I was in Shan state. And again, the ability to come together with people at the grassroots level, where their leading their lives, young people telling me about their hopes and aspirations, women who are involved in business and involved in civic education and so many other pursues talking about the hard work that they are doing.

I was able to go to a meeting, a political meeting, of the SNDP and with some NLD participants as well. And I felt privileged to be in an extraordinary engagement with local people who were really working at building a democracy. And I reminded them that my own country is over 200 years old and we are still working to perfect our democracy. So, it is a hard job. And they were extremely enthusiastic about what they wanted to achieve for their country.

And then I was able to meet with some of the officials and community leaders of Pa’ O and hear how they had worked to end hostilities among their ethnic peoples and the insurgents and the kind of agreement they now have in terms of their own autonomous operations there. So again, it was one of those extremely significant insights that I was provided in terms of the life of the people and the desires of the people to really work towards building a stronger, freer, democratic society here.

I will be leaving shortly, in fact, shortly after this press event with all of you. And I will leave with memories of inspiring people, extraordinary inspiring people from all works of life, all ages. It was stunning for me to see how many women who are long retired, who are in the fray, working to bring up the next group of leaders in this country as well as the vibrant young people who really wanted to plow ahead and take their place.

Just before I came here, at lunch today, I met with five young women who are deeply committed to their country. The five Me N Ma girls – they have a girls band which some of you may know about. And you know they comprise Chin, Kachin, Burman, and there they were, five women who came together to start a band and sing music appropriate to what’s on the mind of the young people everywhere. And I probably shouldn’t say this because they haven’t released their new song yet. But they sang it for us. And the lines were “To Burmese everywhere, come back home. Myanmar is changing. We need you”. They were looking at the future with great hope, with great possibility. And that was their song to their fellow citizens wherever they were living. And I thought that it was a fitting ending to this trip that I just have been privileged to take to be able to hear young people sing out so eloquently for new day, a new day that they want to have and they want to see realized in their country.

And we will commit to continuing to work with the people here. I leave with a lot of insights, a lot of ideas, a lot of recommendations from all of the women with whom we have talked, particularly about their great desire to have their capacity built for the skills they need; for the kind of support they would like; for the kind of connectivity – the networks, the ability to meet with people everywhere; and for us to continue to collaborate and work together. So that is the end of my statement and any questions you have, I’d be happy to take.

And I am happy to have our Charge here. I think he is known to all of you.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Zaw from Democratic Voice of Burma. Now, I know you have scheduled meetings with different people who are working for the women. And I really want to know that if you had the meeting with the Myanmar Women Association, and also the government officers. So did you talk about the women in the border area because these women are the victims of the war and conflict? So, this is a kind of issue in our country. So did you talk about and did you have a meeting focusing on the women in the border area?

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Yes, we did. And it is an important issue – an issue I talked about all the days I have been here because my country has called for dialogue in these areas, called for obviously a ceasefire. That is only the first step. Any agreements that will be reached need to involve all of the people need to address all of the issues and all of the challenges. And women in many places have borne the consequences in very significant ways, both in terms of the violence and in terms of the internally displaced. We have asked for access for humanitarian organizations – the UN and others – so that they can provide the kind of assistance and support that is critically needed. But it is an issue that has come up repeatedly. I am going to Chiang Mai when I leave here tonight. Tomorrow morning, I will be meeting with the women’s organizations who represent all of the ethnic groups in Chiang Mai and talking to them. I know them personally, many of them, and have been able to work with them over the years. I think it is also important to continue to get their perspectives.

QUESTION: Aye Aye Win, I am with the Associated Press. I want to refer back to the same question. But I’d like to know... you might have heard about conflict in northern Kachin State. Women and children are still the victims of the conflict. How is the US going to help alleviate the plight of these people, particularly in Kachin State with fighting there?

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Well, the US has been calling the government as well as the leaders there to come together to start a dialogue because ultimately, what is required is reconciliation. And reconciliation will not come until that conversation begins and it is a serious conversation. Obviously, you need to end the hostilities and you need to begin to get in the humanitarian assistance. And I know, the situation is very grave in many ways.

But that has to start very, very seriously. And it's something that is a top priority for my country when Secretary and others talked about action for action. This is a very important, critical step that needs to be taken; that needs to be addressed. And it is not one that will come without both sides sitting at the table, with representation from the community. I firmly believe as my country does, President Obama recently established a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Women have a critical role to play in peace, security and reconciliation.

As I said to the gentleman, the women in Kachin State and others have borne a significant part of the consequences of that conflict. And they deserve to be heard from, to have the issues that are significant to them raised and addressed and to make sure that those issues are part of any of eventual agreement. But this is something United States is firmly committed to and has been raising with the government here.

Do you want to add anything?

CHARE D’ AFFAIRS THURSTON: Only that, this is a regular sort of discussion between us and the government in Nay Pyi Taw that this fighting has to stop. And international access, free access to these areas – not just Kachin, but all of the conflict areas – has to begin. And it has to have a verbal [inaudible] to do such things that we can in conjunction with international groups like United Nations and other groups who want to try to make a difference in the border areas for everyone but especially those women and children who are so often the victims of these sorts of conflict.

MODERATOR: We have time for one more question. And then Ambassador Verveer will have to go.

QUESTION: I am Zaw Htike from Yangon Times. You said you have met with so many people in Myanmar who work for women. So, I’d like to know your assessment about the present situation of Myanmar women rights. And with your assessment, what are you going to do when you go back to US? And what did you say with the first lady?

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: That has about six parts to, I think. [Laughter]. But, as I said, I had a really, very constructive discussion with women and I came with a delegation on this trip. I came with heads of foundations who are interested in supporting the efforts of the women here. I was also accompanied by a journalist from Newsweek who is also associated with the Women in the World Foundation. And at their big conference earlier this year, a panel discussion on Burma was one of the center pieces of that discussion. And I think, it is fair to say that all of us who are engaged in these discussions over the last four days were blown away by the commitment, the intelligence, the determination, the capacity, the great desire for women, no matter what their age, to roll up their sleeves and really work towards creating the kind of country that will create a better life for all of the people here. I think they have a level of ability, and know-how and commitment that is truly something that will bode well for everyone here in the weeks and months ahead. But that said, they did have requests for support for the kind of infusion of resources that will help them to do what they think have to be done. They want to be involved in networks within the country, and across the borders. They want to be able to exchange best practices and knowledge so that they can take the kind of place they need to take. And they certainly want to be a part of any peace and reconciliation efforts going ahead, in terms of the ethnic areas that have been beset by conflict. So, I think there is great leadership ability and I think that, to the extent that the women here are fully incorporated in the work going forward that will speak volumes for the potential here.

Lastly, in the meeting with the first lady, we talked about the commitment that is represented in the signatory to CEADA, the Convention for Eliminating All Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing platform for action and the principles that are guideposts for many of our countries that include access to health and education, full political participation, economic participation, the freedom from violence, and the development of the potential girl child. So, a full array of issues were discussed and efforts to address those issues to work together to really embrace the kind of talent pool that I was able to meet with in terms of women during my days here.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much.


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