I want to thank Madame Meng Xiaosi and Madame Zhang Lixi for their very kind welcome and introductions this morning. I first met Madame Meng a few years ago – and after a very good conversation, we both agreed that it would be advantageous to women leaders in both our countries to meet on important topics as part of a forward program. Together last year with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and State Counselor Madam Liu, we launched the U.S. China Women’s Leadership Exchange and Dialogue – “Women LEAD,” for short - which promotes and supports increased exchanges between women leaders in both of our countries.
In working together on this exchange, Madame Meng and I have had a very busy year. She has become my Chinese sister! In November, I led a delegation of American women to attend the All China Women’s Federation (ACWF) Global Conference on Women and Sustainable Development here in Beijing. At the conference, we discovered a shared commitment to ensuring women’s voices are integrated into sustainable development planning and programs. This led to our jointly organizing the first ever U.S. - China side event on women and sustainable development at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in February. It was viewed very positively that China and the United States were speaking out together on behalf of rural women! This is because sustainable development stands on three pillars – economic, social and environmental. Sustainable development is not possible without women’s participation and progress.
In March, we were honored to receive ACWF President Madame Chen Zhili and a group of distinguished women leaders, including your president, Madame Zhang Lixi, in Washington for our third Women LEAD dialogue. The topic was Women and Employment. Madame Zhang as you know – is an expert on gender issues – and she gave a great presentation on Chinese women and employment. At that time she also told us about China Women’s University here in Beijing. So I am delighted and honored for this opportunity to see Madame Zhang again and to come to this university to meet its remarkable students -- China’s next generation of women leaders -- who make this university such a special place.
I first came here to China in 1995 with Hillary Clinton, when she was the First Lady of the United States. She came to speak at the 4th UN Conference on Women, which helped spark a movement around the world for women’s progress. She forcefully made the point that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” It sounds so fundamental, so obvious to us now but at that time it seemed unprecedented. And yet in nearly all those areas identified in 1995 as needing progress – ensuring women and girls access to education and healthcare, ensuring they can live free from violence, that they have the ability to participate in the economic and political life of their countries in parliaments and legislatures, and in increasing equality under law – in all of these areas, we all still need to make progress.
I’d like to take a few minutes to talk a little bit about my job and the mission that I very much hope you will join in one way or another once you graduate from this university and embark on your professional lives. In 2009, when President Obama appointed me as the United States Ambassador- at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, he charged me with the task of ensuring that my country remains a strong voice for advancing the status of women around the world. And wherever I go, I carry a simple message: No country can get ahead when it leaves half its people behind.
We know that not one of the most pressing economic and political problems facing the world today can be solved without the full participation of women. This is, as Secretary Clinton has called it a "Full Participation Age." In countries all around the world women and girls have the potential to transform their families, and their nations. And that is true for each one of you here.
Now some of you may be thinking, I am just 18, 19, 20 or 21 years old. I come from a modest family. How am I going to make difference in the world? Well, there’s an old Chinese saying – “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Change and progress begins with a single step. In my travels, I have met many ordinary women and girls who took that first step and ended up doing some extraordinary things, even when faced with challenges or adversity. They made the most of each opportunity. They have taken the lead in efforts to fight child marriage, to promoting greater economic opportunity to even working to end conflicts and becoming champions for women’s rights.
Think about the bravery of the girls in Afghanistan, who have had acid thrown on their faces, and yet continue to go, undaunted to exercise their right to go to school. And I know that there are many committed women leaders in China too. I know I have only met a tiny fraction of them, women who are starting and running businesses, working with rural women, starting legal clinics, fighting Violence Against Women, editing newspapers and magazines, teaching and caring for children, working every day to build a better future for themselves and their families. I continue to be inspired by them and I look forward to hearing and seeing your accomplishments in the years to come.
Later this week I will go to a training center, for rural girls that helps them develop skills so they can get good jobs instead of facing a difficult future – a center created by a couple of Chinese women leaders and supported by ACWF. And I will also meet with philanthropists who have a desire to give back to their communities.
I know that each of you stands ready to take on roles in the interconnected world in which we live today. And the challenges you and all of us will be facing are truly universal, and global: climate change, economic recession, extreme poverty and the proliferation of disease, conflicts and terrorism. As Secretary Clinton has said, these challenges transcend borders and oceans, politics and ideology, and they affect us all. But the same interconnectedness that amplifies these global challenges also makes it possible for us to solve them, and for you to help lead us to the solutions.
You can be problem solvers – the agents of change for a better future. We have every confidence that you will be.