Thank you very much, Katie, and indeed it is a pleasure for me to be here with so many friends and colleagues and to be sitting on a panel between my great friend Michelle Bachelet, a former president, and a woman I admire so much, Dilma Rousseff, a current president, in addition to a prime minister and a high representative and a deputy UN secretary general, and to see out in this audience women who are heads of state and heads of government as well as ministers, and other excellencies both male and female who have come here today on behalf of the important issue of women’s political participation. And I particularly thank the prime minister and the president for their remarks and their example, because clearly, as someone who tried to be a president, it is very encouraging to see those who actually end up as a president. (Applause.)
The work that brings us together today is, I think, one of the great pieces of unfinished business in the 21st century. If you look back historically – and it’s always somewhat suspect to do this – but certainly the 19th century, which was a great movement against slavery and the enshrinement of the rights of people, followed by the 20th century with a great struggle against totalitarianism in favor of freedom and democracy; well, here we are in the 21st century, and if we want a safe, secure, prosperous, peaceful future, women must be equal partners and free to realize their own God-given potential.
And what that means is that it’s not only enough for those of us gathered here today to continue the work that many of us are committed to, but it’s also important that we reach out to the new emerging democracies and societies, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where women have marched and demonstrated, blogged, and put their lives on the line for a future that includes them, their families, their communities, and their countries.
In Libya, women hid fighters, ran guns, contacted journalists, and even fought for freedom. One woman was so inspired she said, “Maybe I can be the new president or the mayor,” – a thought that had never crossed her mind anytime before.
And in many cases, progress is being made. I want to commend Tunisia. I don’t know – is there a representative from Tunisia? Minister. Thank you, Minister. Because in April, the commission responsible for drafting Tunisia’s new electoral code ruled that there must be full gender parity on election candidate lists from the top down. I think we should give Tunisia a round of applause. (Applause.)
Many of us are working closely with our friends in Egypt to ensure that women who played a decisive role in carrying out Egypt’s revolution are not left out of the democratic transformation, because, in effect then, it will not be a true democracy. Women have to be part of the future. And it’s imperative that as constitutions are created, as political parties are organized, as elections are waged and won, nobody can claim a democratic future if half the population is marginalized or even prevented from participating.
We are in an age of participation. Social networking and connective technology has made that a fact. And every party in any democracy should recognize the rights of women and make room for women to play roles in the political process. As the Arab Awakening enters a new chapter, we all have a stake in ensuring that the potential of all citizens – men and women, boys and girls – have a chance to be realized.
That’s why the United States is supporting efforts like the Charter of Egyptian Women. Nearly 300,000 women and men and 500 NGOs signed on to a set of demands for the political, social, and economic rights of the women of Egypt. And we will support Egyptian women in their efforts to serve as community leaders, as business owners, as citizens, as elected officials.
We have tried to put women’s lives and women’s progress at the center of our foreign policy, in everything from our diplomatic efforts to our investments in developing countries. And we will work through multilateral forums—including UN Women under Michelle’s great leadership—to to integrate women’s issues throughout the work of the United Nations.
This Participation Age is a reality, and it will not realize its full potential if women are not viewed legitimately as participants. Now, Persad, when your uncle said, “No, that young girl shouldn’t go to school,” and you said, “Thank goodness for your mother,” that’s a very familiar story. So parents need to recognize the values of their girls, invest in their futures, their education. And then families, communities, societies, need to do the same.
You cannot have the kind of broad-based economic growth that is so necessary in our world’s economy today if women are not able to play their economic roles outside the home as well as inside the home. When we liberate the economic potential of women, we elevate the economic performance of communities, nations, and the world.
And I think as we meet on political participation and as we sign the declaration that I was very pleased to sign before coming in, we recognize that these values that what led to President Rousseff becoming a president, the hard years, the sacrifice, what led to Persad becoming a prime minister, or Cathy Ashton now the first high representative of the European Union, or Michelle Bachelet becoming first the president of her country and then the head of an organization, that we mean to make clear women are involved in every level of the international community.
There are stories like that that are percolating everywhere in the world, and we have to do all we can to value the girl child, to provide support for families so that they recognize and then fulfill the promise of that young girl, and then make sure that the doors are open. And I think these values do not belong to any one culture or any one country; they are universal. One of my predecessors as a first lady of my country was Eleanor Roosevelt, and she was one of the people from around the world who met after World War II to decide on what were universal rights. They came from everywhere.
And the Declaration of Universal Rights that they wrote should still be our guide. And it is not out of fashion, it has not been overtaken by events, it cannot be stopped by ideology or extremism of any kind. And the United Nations must stand firmly behind the rights of all – the rights of women, the rights of men, but in particular for women to sit at every table where decisions are made.
So it’s a great pleasure to be part of this important event. Thank you. (Applause.)