Today women are on the frontlines of change around the globe, and they are changing the world by taking on the hardest issues – including those of war and peace – in the hardest environments. Women and men together have led the revolutions that brought the promise of democracy and dignity in their countries. Unfortunately, women are too often viewed as victims, not as the powerful agents of change that they are. It is true of women all over the world from Sri Lanka to Colombia; and it is without question true of all of you here in Libya. You are leaders and you are doing the hard work of building a new future for Libya. It will not be easy.
Despite women’s vital role in the revolution and the efforts of so many, including many in this room, women were largely shut out of the transitional process after the liberation. There are even naysayers who question whether Libya is ready for women in power. Well, the people of Libya sent them a resounding message when they elected 33 women to the National Congress. I was heartened to learn that these same women have come together to form a cross-party women’s bloc, dedicated to playing a positive role. These women put democracy, spreading prosperity, and bringing stability, including advancing women’s rights and participation, over party, region, or ideology.
Women's voices are just as vital in matters of national governance and security as men’s. Including women is the right thing to do and the smart thing. Including women and the experiences, talents and perspectives they bring to conflict prevention, the promotion of justice, the development of the economy, and more is absolutely essential to peaceful, stable, and democratic Libya.
In December 2011, President Obama launched the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, which lays out a comprehensive roadmap to accelerate and institutionalize efforts across the United States Government to advance women’s participation in making and keeping peace. This National Action Plan represents a fundamental change in how the U.S. will approach its diplomatic, military, and development support to women in areas of conflict — by ensuring that women’s perspectives and considerations of gender are always part of how the United States approaches peace processes, conflict prevention, the protection of civilians, and humanitarian assistance.
We are seeking to better engage, ensure the protection of, and empower women and girls across the world. And we recognize, as you do, that rule of law – rule of law for all and for all crimes – is essential to these efforts. Promoting an independent judiciary, transitional justice, and establishing the rule of law are critical components to the success of the new Libya. We cannot wait for law enforcement to be ready to address gender-based violence. If Libya is not secure for women, it is not truly secure.
Before he left Washington, Ambassador Chris Stevens and I had a discussion about the present and future of Libya. Chris spoke passionately of his hopes and the challenges he saw. He told me of the Libyan women he knew personally who had risked everything in the revolution. He said the strength and determination of the Libyan women he had met and worked with gave him great optimism for Libya’s future.
In fact, our National Action Plan has focus countries and, last summer, , Chris strongly advocated for Libya to be included. He understood that the new partnership between our two countries must be built on a firm foundation that is inclusive of everyone. We must work together to live up to his hopes.
In some post-revolutionary countries, women are being marginalized, their rights threatened and their progress threatened. I know you will not let that happen in Libya. You must stay engaged and the international community will stand with you. You are entering into one of the most important stages of your country’s transition to democracy: the writing of the constitution. The voices of the Libyan women – your voices – must be heard. Women’s rights are human rights and every woman has the right to live up to her God-given potential. The constitution must protect women’s equal rights.
You are making progress on this road, but our journey together is far from over. You are the changemakers. You are women making a difference. The courage and commitment of Libyan women is an inspiration to the world. During the revolution was ongoing, one of your sisters met with me and expressed supreme confidence that the forces of freedom would win. She said the mask of fear had been lifted from the women of Libya, of Tunisia, of Egypt, of Yemen, and of Syria. Once lifted, it would never go back no matter how hard the road ahead.
We will do all we can to support you in the hard work of securing just, peaceful and prosperous Libya.
Godspeed to each and every one of you in your work for blessed, indeed, are the peacemakers.