SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you so much, Tina, for having the inspiration to put together this remarkable program over this weekend and for introducing some of the inspiring women who have been part of Vital Voices. Thanks also to Diane von Furstenburg who is out there – I can’t see anyone, but I know she’s there – for being such a vital voice on behalf of Vital Voices. Your vision has been essential to its success. And of course, Alyse, who has been absolutely magnificent in taking over and leading Vital Voices. And the predecessor who is now the first Ambassador for Women’s Global Issues Melanne Verveer and so many of you – (applause) – who have come from around the world.
I am thrilled that we are marking this 15th anniversary of the Fourth United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing. Fifteen years and many hairstyles ago – (laughter) – we have seen a lot of progress. (Laughter, applause.) And on behalf of women as well. (Laughter.)
Earlier today, I was honored to speak at the UN in commemoration of this anniversary and to make an accounting of how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go. In many countries, laws that permitted the unequal treatment of women have been replaced by laws that prohibit gender-based violence and discrimination. The challenge now is to ensure that they are enforced.
Growing numbers of women have been elected to public office, received in education, joined the workforce. And so the progress is undeniable, but it is insufficient, because for every place where women’s lives have improved, there are still too many where there has not been that progress, where women’s rights may exist on the books but not on the streets, where violence against women remains an epidemic, and the extremist voices calling for restrictions on women’s rights are growing louder. So we must raise our voices even more loudly.
So we meet today to have this extraordinary gathering, discuss about what more can be done, and how we can be those voices that are needed for so many who are silent. And we call on all people and all nations in recognizing not only that women’s rights are human rights, but that women’s progress is human progress.
And tonight, you’re going to meet some remarkable women – women who have lived lives of activism, sometimes by choice, sometimes by necessity, women who stand for so many other women and girls who will never know the names of any of us, but who, through the ripple effect of what we do, might have a chance to go to school or get healthcare or start a small business or vote.
This project began when a playwright, Carol Mack, met someone whom I have known for a number of years, Farida Azizi. And Carol Mack was so moved by Farida’s story that she wanted to find out if there were other women like Farida in the Vital Voices network. And she quickly realized that this network is overflowing with courageous, extraordinary women. So in a few months, she recruited six other playwrights and they immersed themselves in the stories of seven of these women who overcame powerful interests and personal tragedy, and who found the will and the ways to change lives and promote peace.
I can personally attest to the power and example of these women. I know each of them. And I am anxious for you to meet them. You will meet Inez. She and I have worked together since my time as First Lady. She has been an activist on behalf of women’s rights, labor, and peace. And her efforts to promote human rights and social justice remain an inspiration to me.
You will meet Marina, who has established shelters and provided counseling to countless women who pioneered the fight against human trafficking in Russia and who has carried on that work against formidable odds.
You will meet Mu, who’s been a leader in the struggle against trafficking and on behalf of democracy. And she won a seat in the National Assembly in Cambodia two years ago.
You will meet Anabella, who I met first on a visit to Guatemala, when she was a leader in the congress there. She lifted herself out of poverty, overcame staggering obstacles to fight against corruption, and has championed the rights of women and the indigent.
And you will get to know more about Farida. When the Taliban fell, she and other women from Afghanistan came out of the shadows and began speaking out. And she has carried the message about what has happened and happening to women from Afghanistan, around the world, including to Capitol Hill.
And you will hear the story of Mukhtar, who became a legend and an inspiration as she struggled to educate boys and girls in Pakistan. She is a symbol of how one can transcend the worst brutality and work to benefit humanity.
And Hafsat, who, after the tragic deaths of her parents, transformed her life and the lives of others by working to strengthen civil society and promoting democracy in Nigeria.
These women have never given up. Their courage was forged in fires hotter than most of us can imagine. But they have persevered and even risked their lives to create a world that is more just, more compassionate, more humane. Their stories teach us that one person can make a difference and that change is possible. And they also summon us, challenge us to ask every single day, what can we do here at home as well as around the world? These are women for our time. They are women who are creating change and who can teach each of us how to change as well.
In the play, you will hear Mu say, “When people ask, ‘How can you wake up and still do this after 25 years,’ I say you have to do it until people who do not have a voice do.’” That is the whole idea of Vital Voices. When we first started it back in the last century, we saw it as an opportunity for those of us who are so privileged and blessed here in our country not only to reach out and help others find their voice, amplify their voices, and give voice to the voiceless, but also to influence our own lives, for us to take a hard look at what we are capable of doing, and how much we have to be grateful for.
So the women you will meet tonight truly are extraordinary, but they are not alone. There are so many women and men who are working quietly, doing their part every day. There are so many who need our support, who need our protection, who need our government to stand up for them. That is what we’re doing in this Administration, speaking out for those who need to have the protection that comes when the United States Government notices what they are doing.
I was in Guatemala last week, and I met with a woman who has bravely been taking on corruption and naming names when it comes to the drug traffickers. Our ambassador there said, “Please take a picture with her, because they’re trying to kill her. And maybe if they know that the United States is watching, they won’t.” And I thought to myself: All I’m asked to do is take a picture, stand there for seconds, to exchange words with this woman who is risking all because she cares so deeply about justice and morality and her country. And she’s the one who’s putting everything there is on the line.
So let’s enjoy this evening, let’s meet these remarkable women, and then let’s decide what each of us can do to make sure that we stand on the side of those who are pushing forward the boundaries of human freedom, human rights, who are expanding the circle of opportunity to include women and girls.
So I am very pleased to introduce this reading of the play “Seven.” (Applause.)
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