Her public service career has spanned 40 years as an attorney, a first lady, and a senator. And as an advocate for human rights, health care reform, and issues pertinent to women and children. At Wellesley, Secretary Clinton was a political science major who became the first student to address her peers at commencement, a tradition that has been honored ever since. (Applause.)
Secretary Clinton spends many hours a day traveling to all corners of the world, and so we are delighted that she could join us at Wellesley today for the opening ceremonies of the first Women in Public Service Institute.
Madam Secretary, I know the Women in Public Service Project is close to your heart, and we thank you for being the champion of this important initiative. You are a role model to women everywhere and you continue to make your alma mater proud. Please join me in welcoming back to Wellesley, Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning. Oh, good morning. It is wonderful for me to have this opportunity to be here with all of you. I want to thank President Bottomly for her introduction and for understanding that the education of women does not stop at the campus’s edge or even a country’s border. This event, being held for the first time here at Wellesley, would not have been possible without the commitment and leadership of all the so-called sister schools, including Barnard; Bryn Mawr; Smith; Mount Holyoke; Scripps College, who’s president Lori Bettison-Varga is here today, and we just expect this to continue growing and going from strength to strength.
There are many longtime friends here in the audience and distinguished leaders, young and young at heart, from around the world, but I am particularly pleased that you just had a chance to hear from my friend and predecessor both at Wellesley and in the State Department. I’ve had apparently a habit of following in Madeleine’s footsteps, and I have to say it always does work out for the best. So thank you so much, Madeleine.
I also want to thank some of the people who have made this extraordinary idea become a reality: Rangita de Silva-de Alwis, who is the director of the 2012 Women in Public Service project; Ambassador Melanne Verveer, our ambassador-at-large for global women’s interests, who you will hear from later in the program (applause); Farah Pandith, who is my special representative to Muslim communities around the world, a graduate of Smith College and a strong advocate for this program (applause); and Kavita Ramdas, chair of the institute planning committee. I want to thank not only all whom I have mentioned, but all the speakers and mentors who are contributing their time and expertise throughout this first Women in Public Service Institute. It’s an extraordinary collection of talent and wisdom, and I envy all of you who will be given the opportunity to sit on every session and listen to every panel.
And most of all, I want to recognize the 50 young women who have traveled here from around the world, not only to participate, but to share their own experiences, to give us some sense of the challenges and opportunities that they see before them, to acquire some new skills and some new friends. And many come from countries in transition across the Middle East and North Africa. And you are among the young people transforming a region and inspiring the world.
Now we are looking to you for your leadership to turn the promise of change into real and lasting progress that moves each of your countries toward democracy, human rights, and opportunity. And no matter where you’re from, we’re all here today because we believe in your potential, and we are committed to your futures. We’re here because we feel the call to public service, to work together, to solve problems, to improve lives, and because we are convinced that the women of the world have so much to contribute.
Now, I could not think of a better place to launch this institute than here at Wellesley. I have so many memories from my time here: swimming in the lake – (laughter) – sometimes legally, sometimes not – (laughter); staying up late in my dormitory talking to my friends, sometimes arguing about everything from art and politics to what we were going to do for dinner that night; being told by my French teacher that, Mademoiselle, your talents lies elsewhere – (laughter). It was a humbling experience.
I came here at a time of great upheaval in America. The years of my time at Wellesley coincided with protests and war, by inspiring movements for social change and by devastating riots and assassinations. The experiences of that era not only changed us but also changed Wellesley. We used to say that Wellesley was a girls’ school when we started and a women’s college when we left.
I learned a lot from my time here. This is where I first felt the call to public service, the imperative to get off the sidelines and try to make a difference. After all, this college’s Latin motto urges us “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” And it was here that I began to gain the confidence and the skills to get involved, to pursue new and different ways to solve problems, to speak up, to be heard.
And that’s what this Women in Public Service Project is all about. You’ve begun your own personal journey. And in some cases, you’ve had to overcome challenges that certainly my classmates and I never dreamed of.
You will get to know each other over these next weeks, but I’ve been reading your bios and being very impressed. There’s a young woman from Afghanistan here today, Naheed Farid, who, like millions of other girls in her country, lived for years under the repression of Taliban rule. They burned her school and all the books. But Naheed persevered. And after the Taliban were overthrown she went on to earn degrees in law and political science. She became a human rights activist. She even ran for office. And now at 27, she is the youngest member of Afghanistan’s parliament.
Naheed is not alone. There’s a young woman here from South Sudan, Jackcilia Ebere, whose family had to flee when civil war reached their village. Now she’s back home, helping build the world’s newest nation as both a civil society activist and a public official.
Every one of you has your own story of challenges overcome and barriers broken, because all over the world, women still face obstacles to political and economic participation. Cultural traditions, legal barriers, social pressures stop women from pursuing an education or starting a business or certainly running for office. And there aren’t enough mentors and role models. And there are too many extremists of all stripes trying to constrain and control women: how we dress, how we act, even the decisions we make about our own health and bodies.
Now, the numbers on participation tell the story. Women hold less than 20 percent of all seats in parliaments and legislatures around the world. I’m sorry to say, here in the United States, our percentage is even a little lower, at 17 percent. And it’s not just politics. Only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. And I always think to myself: What a waste, because the world cannot miss out on the talents and contributions of half the population.
But these numbers tell only part of the story. We need better data and more rigorous research that documents the impact women have on in public service and the obstacles that still prevent us from contributing. To begin this work, the Women in Public Service Project has given an initial grant to the University of Albany for field research in Uganda and an initiative to form a new caucus for women legislators there. And we look forward to expanding on this kind of effort in the future.
Around the world, we are hoping to help correct the gender imbalances in public service, not just by working at the top, shattering those glass ceilings, but also at the grassroots level by training and supporting women like those who are here, who have the talent, who have the will, but sometimes not the opportunity to become effective leaders in their nations.
Now, I know how daunting it can be to get started. When I first arrived on this campus in the fall of 1965, I was acutely aware of my own limitations. I didn’t think I was smart enough or worldly enough to succeed here. I called home and I told my parents I didn’t think I should stay at Wellesley. And my father immediately said, “Well, then come home.” (Laughter.) “Go to school near home.” But my mother, a women who had been abandoned as a child and had to fight for everything she had in life, said, “You cannot quit. You must persevere. You must go on.” And of course, she was right. And I grew to love Wellesley and to test myself against limits that I experienced and then to try to go beyond them.
I remember a classmate of mine wrote a poem about this process we were all going through. And she said, “It is well at every given moment to seek the limits in our lives, and once those limits are understood, to understand that limitations should no longer exist.”
The year 1968 was particularly tumultuous. I remember going with a friend to what was then the Democratic National Convention in Chicago to Grant Park, where there were riots and confrontations with the police. I’ll never forget the smell of teargas, the sight of night sticks and rocks slicing through the air, the sound of protest chants mixing with frightened screams and angry shouts.
Now, that was just one day, and I got to go home to my safe life once it was over. But over the last year and a half, as protests and revolutions have swept the Middle East and North Africa, I’ve thought back to that experience in Chicago.
And when I talk to young activists, whether they be from Egypt or Tunisia or Yemen or Libya or Jordan or anywhere in the region, I’m reminded that our yearnings for human rights and human dignity, for justice and opportunity, are truly universal. And for those of you who have been on the front lines of these struggles, who have tasted the gas and felt the beatings, and who are now working to shape and secure your transitions to democracy, I express great appreciation.
It can be difficult, however, to move from protest to politics. And in my conversations with young activists, I’ve heard many questions about how to make that shift, how to organize, how to hold a new government accountable, how to run for office. Those are crucial questions because truly, in a democracy, protecting that democracy becomes the duty and responsibility of every citizen.
History shows that all too often, the victors of revolutions can become their victims and that new autocrats can derail progress toward democracy. So it is up to every citizen, men and women alike, to resist the call of demagogues, to build coalitions, to keep faith in the future of the system you are building even when your candidates lose in the elections. And as women, you have a special stake in the outcome, because we have seen that women’s rights and opportunities can hang in the balance. And we know from experience that women’s contributions are vital to building successful democracies and thriving societies.
This can be an incredibly frustrating process. After the riots and assassinations of 1968, my classmates and I wrestled with whether political action is ultimately worth the pain, the struggle, the compromise. But I realized that despite our disillusionment, it was ultimately the only route, in a democracy, for peaceful and lasting change. The class of 1969 eventually decided we needed a student speaker and they asked me to speak at our graduation ceremony. And one of the things that I said was, “The challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible.” That is what I hope you learn to do here at the Women in Public Service Institute: to make what seems to be impossible, possible.
I remember being in Cairo last spring, meeting with men and women who had been leaders of the protest in Tahrir Square. And I asked them, “So now, are you starting to organize for politics? Are you beginning to think about how to put together coalitions to run candidates for office?” And I’ll never forget one young man said, “That is not our job. Others will do the politics.” I said, “Oh, excuse me. If you do not participate, then others will hijack your revolution. And they will – (applause) – very often begin from the first day to undermine the hopes and aspirations that you were protesting for.”
Over the coming days, you will work with leading experts and academics, and have the chance to build these relationships that can give you additional insights. You’ll hear from a wide range of women leaders from inside and outside government, women who have organized social movements and civil society organizations, who have started businesses, run for office, and defied the odds throughout their lives. And each of you will be paired with a mentor who will stay in close contact with you after you return home.
There will be seminars on practical skills like how to move legislation through a parliament or hold a press conference, sessions on how to organize grassroots networks and how to lobby public officials, discussions about major challenges like increasing women’s participation in peace negotiations and post-conflict decision making.
I’m very pleased that Dell computers is one of our sponsors, because each of you will be given a laptop loaded with software and tools for grassroots organizing and networking. And Dell is also providing training on how to use social media and other connection technologies for effective advocacy and communications.
So by the time you leave Wellesley, I hope that you will not only have some new tools and connections, but even more importantly, new confidence and determination. Because this, as you know so well, is only the beginning. The real work lies ahead for each of you back home.
I also hope that the Women in Public Service Project will continue going and growing as well. The summer institute will rotate to each of the founding Seven Sisters colleges in the coming years. And these schools have created a foundation that will sustain and coordinate this effort for the future.
And that’s not all. Later this summer, the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh will host another conference for women from across South Asia. The State Department will also sponsor two summer institutes for women student leaders at Simmons College and St. Mary’s in Indiana. Then in the fall, Smith College, in collaboration with the State Department and the French Government, will organize a gathering focused on women’s leadership in public health around the world. And early next year, three women’s colleges on the West Coast – Scripps, Mount Saint Mary’s, and Mills – will welcome young women leaders from Latin America.
So there’s a lot to do and it all depends on you. And let me leave you with one last memory.
One of my classmates at Wellesley, and still a friend of mine today, was the granddaughter of one of America’s greatest diplomats, the former Secretary of State Dean Acheson. Four years later, right before graduation, I was introduced to him. And I was pretty nervous about making a speech the next morning. But Secretary Acheson shook my hand and said, “I’m looking forward to hearing what you say,” and that made me even more nervous. (Laughter.) Well, today, I’m saying to each of you I am looking forward to hearing what you have to say, and to seeing what you will accomplish and to admiring the progress that you will achieve.
And I want you also to know that the United States will stand with you as your partner and as your supporter as you do what is necessary to secure democracy and the universal human rights that every human being is entitled to.
So I thank you. I thank you for coming to be part of this, our first event. I thank Wellesley for hosting and for nurturing generations of young women like Madeleine Albright and myself. And I am thrilled that there is such an outpouring of support from around the academic world not only here in the United States, but globally, to give you what you need to help you make the decisions that are right for you as you continue your own journey of leadership and service.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
MS. BOTTOMLY: Thank you, Secretary Clinton, and thank you for agreeing to take some questions. We’ll now open this up to questions from the audience. There are microphones that will be located in each of the aisles, and we will also have a microphone so those of you in the balcony can participate in this. Although I can’t see you very well, I’ll try to see your hand.
So if you’d like to ask a question – and I know many of you who are Wellesley women, you probably will want to ask questions – (laughter) – so please raise your hand and a microphone will be brought to you.
We have one right here.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for the brilliant and very inspiring talk. My name is Jackcilia Ebere, the state minister for labor in Western Equatoria State, South Sudan.
I have a question: As you know, we are yet the newest country in the world. We have gotten the independence after a long struggle, and that independence is even shaky because since the signing of the peace agreement in 2005, some of the terms of the agreement remain hanging and were not implemented until you have gotten independence such as the border issues and sharing of resources. Currently, there is an issue about the border and the oil now, which is almost escalating into war.
So I’m asking: How can the United States help us, South Sudan, to intervene so that the hanging issues are resolved peacefully without the two countries, North and South, returning again to war? Because women and children are the victims of this war. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Well, your question points out one of the most serious dangers for widespread conflict that we face in the world today. Some of you may know that there was a very long conflict between the north and the south of Sudan. There was a peace treaty entered into in 2005. The United States played a major role, along with Norway and the United Kingdom, in helping to negotiate that peace treaty. And it provided for the people of the South to have a referendum to determine whether they wanted to stay in Sudan or break away and form their own state. And the people in the South voted for a new state. That new state came into being last summer. And there was a roadmap about what needed to be done in order to implement all of the requirements of the peace agreement.
Sadly, there has not been the kind of cooperation that was called for. There is currently an ongoing mediation process that is sponsored by the African Union in Addis Ababa. The United States is very active in this. The lead mediator is the former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki. And it comes down to two very difficult issues, which the questioner referenced: One, exactly what are the borders? They were determined to a great extent but not completely by the time South Sudan became an independent state. And how will the oil be – the oil profits be distributed? Because most of the oil is in South Sudan but the pipelines and the infrastructure are in Sudan.
And this is a perfect example of where both sides need to make decisions that will give them a positive outcome, although it most likely will not be all that they want. How do they compromise in a way that keeps the peace, sets borders, and divides oil revenues? And unfortunately, because of the ongoing disagreements and actions taken by both sides to try to assert themselves, there has been a return to violence disproportionately by the government in Khartoum because they are using modern military equipment – fighter planes and the like – against people living in the southern areas right across the border from the new South Sudan.
And we are working very hard to try to find a peaceful way to bring this to a conclusion because in the absence of a peaceful resolution, we are very worried that war will break out again, and the principal victims of war in the world today everywhere are women and children. Fifty, 100 years ago, going back through history, when wars were fought, they were usually fought between armies or militias or guerrilla units but they were primarily fought soldier versus soldier. Now that has changed, and the victims are often women and children who are caught up in whatever the conflict is.
And it is a deeply distressing situation for me because I think both Sudan and South Sudan should be paying attention to the needs of their people, and the only way to do that is to have peace, and to have the revenues from oil justly divided, and to have the borders justly determined, so that South Sudan can build their institutions and Sudan can continue to look for better ways to serve people and end conflicts that are still ongoing in places like Darfur.
So we’re hoping for a peaceful outcome, and we’re working with the African Union to achieve that. But it is truly up to the leaders to make some hard decisions and even some compromises to avoid war. And that’s what we’re trying to convince them to do. (Applause.)
MS. BOTTOMLY: Right down here in front, in the green scarf, with the microphone.
Oh, I’m sorry. Go right ahead. You were next.
QUESTION: Good morning. Thank you so much for coming, and thank you for your continued support of women in leadership. My name is Jayna Gane. I’m a rising a senior here at Wellesley, and I am unofficially representing Jamaica. (Laughter.) I have a – my question is pertaining to countries like Jamaica, mostly in the Caribbean, where we’re not currently under civil war or wars between other nations or there isn’t an overt presence of oppression based on religion. I feel that a lot of times, people tend to forget us as the Caribbean region and Jamaica in particular because things seem to be going well. And so I was wondering what measures or what projects the Women in Public Service Institute plans on undertaking to help women in Jamaica and women in other nations in the Caribbean to basically move forward in our democracy because it is there but it is not present in a way that is working very well, so to speak. And so if you could speak a little bit about that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m very happy you raised that because it is true that countries where there’s not obvious conflict and terrible things happening, like we were just talking about in South Sudan and the border areas of Sudan, may not get the attention of the international community that they deserve to have.
Jamaica, as you know, has had a long history of violence, drug trafficking, gangs, poverty, and so there is work to be done in Jamaica. And Jamaica just elected a woman prime minister, and I called her after her election and offered as much technical assistance and support as we could. And I sent a team from our government down there to meet with her because we now know some things that work in order to reverse poverty. We have seen in Brazil and Mexico, for example, that using what are called conditional cash transfers to families where the money has to be spent on improving the health of the children, the education of the children, can begin to reverse generational poverty. We know that concentrating on education as a pathway to opportunity for poor children remains a very important commitment. How do you do that when you don’t have enough teachers, you don’t have enough curriculum, you don’t have the resources? What can we learn about what has worked in other countries that we can bring to a country like Jamaica?
So I am not at all overlooking the need for the United States and the international community to work together in countries that are not necessarily in the headlines in order to provide as much support as we possibly can. And that’s particularly true in our own neighborhood. In this hemisphere, we’ve seen great commitment to democracies.
Some of the young women who are here from countries that have been under military rule and autocratic rule should take heart from what has happened in Latin America in the last 20 years, where there has been movement from military dictatorships to very vibrant democracies, where women have been elected presidents of countries like Chile and Brazil and even Costa Rica and a prime minister in Jamaica, because democracy has taken hold against great odds, a lot of poverty, a lot of discrimination against women and minorities. So there is a real pathway for progress, and I want to make sure that continues in our own hemisphere and that it can be an example for countries elsewhere. (Applause.)
This young woman right there.
QUESTION: Thank you, and again, it’s such a pleasure for me to be here. I’m Naheed Farid and I’m the youngest member of Afghanistan parliament. The question that I have is related to United States presence in Afghanistan. You have the longest war with terrorism in Afghanistan. It lasts for 10 years and is a continuance in 2014. And finally you signed an Strategic Partnership with Afghanistan. Some people in Afghanistan think that United States is going to escape from my country because of this trouble and problem and treating from Taliban. In another side, we don’t have infrastructure, we have fraud election in Afghanistan, we have open borders, and we don’t have a good situation of economy. And you know that democracy is a new thing in my country, and people – human – don’t realize human rights, the values of the human rights and democracy.
Don’t you think that after withdrawal of United States and international troops from Afghanistan after 2014 there will be a disaster of democracy in the region, especially in Afghanistan? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me congratulate you on serving in your parliament, and I hope you don’t mind that I mentioned you in my remarks, because I spent a lot of time in Afghanistan and I know how challenging the environment is for all the reasons that you suggested.
Let me just make a few points. One, the United States signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan as a strong signal of our continuing commitment and support. Secondly, President Obama and I and others have said consistently that we are drawing out combat troops, but we will negotiate with the Government of Afghanistan for a continuing military presence that will help train and assist and support the Afghan National Security Forces. The primary responsibility for the security of Afghanistan, as with any country, has to be the security forces, the military and the police, in that country. But we’re well aware that there will still be a role for the international community, including the United States, to play in making sure that the forces are able to defend Afghanistan.
We have said we do not want – and I want to underscore this – we do not want any bases in Afghanistan, but we will continue, with the approval and the request of the Afghan Government, to operate certain functions inside Afghanistan, to support you when we know that you will continue to face very concerted attacks from the Taliban and their allies to try to undo the progress that has been made.
You are a perfect example of that progress. When the Taliban was overthrown in Afghanistan, there was not one legal school for one girl anywhere in the country. I mean, that’s astonishing. I mean, you think about how could a country not want even to educate their girls, but that was the case with the Taliban. There were grave difficulties facing women and girls to get healthcare, and women were not permitted to work. So you had widows, you had terrible family circumstances where women were – by definition – considered unsuitable, unacceptable in society, and they couldn’t do anything to help support their families or their children or even get healthcare for themselves and their children.
So when people say, “Well, what have we gotten done in Afghanistan over the last 10 years?” I think it’s only fair to look at the changes that have happened in terms of the millions of children – at least 40 percent of whom are now girls – in school; the thousands of young women going to university, like yourself; the hospitals, the clinics, the healthcare outreach. I mean much to everyone’s amazement, a country that had the worst rate of maternal mortality associated with childbirth – pregnancy, labor, childbirth – has made great improvements that have been applauded by the international public health community.
There is still a lot of work to be done, but how could one expect there would not be? I am always amazed at how quick people are to make judgments about new democracies and not look back on our own history and the difficulties we had. Our constitution did not include African slaves or women or men who didn’t own property. We had to fight a civil war, a terrible, bloody civil war. We had to amend our constitution. We had to change our laws, and equally importantly, we had to change our attitude.
So I get somewhat – (applause) – I get somewhat frustrated when I see commentators or politicians or others say: Well, what’s Egypt going to do? What’s Afghanistan going to do? How’s Libya ever going to hold elections? Well, for goodness sakes, we’re just getting started. (Laughter.) And that’s why all of you are here, because we want you to be some of the leaders who help answer those questions going forward.
So I can assure you that we are prepared – so long as the government and the people of Afghanistan wish to have our help – not only to help on security, but also to continue to help on development. I will be going to Tokyo in July for an international conference to determine what we can do to help on continuing to improve the government functioning, to improve the economic prospects, as well as services like health and education. And it’s important to take stock of what has been accomplished and then to have a vision about where your country and other countries represented here can go.
So I am very committed to making sure that we stand with you and support you on your journey. (Applause.)
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Hillary. It’s an honor to be here. I’m also unofficially representing class of ’88, but also Pakistan. I want to thank you for, a few years ago, making the last minute detour to Pakistan when you were on your trip to India. It meant a lot to us here in America.
But my question – I mean, there’s so much work to be done in Pakistan and women are, as you know, heavily involved in public service. And my question actually is about women in public service in America. And there’s so much work to be done here too. And I was wondering if this project will extend into that area that is needed here in America as well with women’s participation and all the wealth or resources, as you said we have, and what a shame not to use them here at home. And – that’s all. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you. I think that this particular program is filling what we see as a gap. And it’s one that we feel strongly can be addressed through the kind of intensive outreach that we’re doing – starting today – not only at Wellesley, but as I said, elsewhere.
And I think that, with respect to public service and women in our own country, clearly we have a lot of activity and energy going into that arena. We have women running for and holding office. We have women in many high-level corporate positions. We have many women who lead academic institutions like Wellesley and others.
So we have a lot of signs of progress and change, certainly from the time that I was here as a student. But I would be the first to say we have work to do as well. I have talked about how difficult it is for women running for office in our political system because we have a particularly difficult set of obstacles to run through. You have to raise your own money, which in many parliamentary systems is not the case. You have to contend with the continuing double standard that exist in my country – as it does, apparently, everywhere still – where women are held to different standards, higher standards, the kind of commentary that I’ve gotten pretty well used to – (laughter) – over more than 20 years in the highest levels of American politics.
So we know we’ve got to keep pushing at that glass ceiling. We have to try to break it. Obviously, I hope to live long enough to see a woman elected president of the United States. (Applause.) And it’s always a little bit odd when you look around the world. You see from Jamaica to Pakistan they’ve had women leaders, which is great because every society has to come to grips with the need for women to be fully integrated into the political and economic systems of the country, but I think we’re making progress here and we’re going to continue to make progress. And I hope that there will be some real thought given.
And President Bottomly and I were talking about this before we came out, public leadership today is – it appears to me, at least, harder than it’s ever been, particularly in democracies, which are messy by definition, where people compete in the marketplace of ideas, but where you’re doing it in a 24/7 media environment. And it’s not only the conventional media, but it’s all of the new media. And therefore, it’s even more challenging to be able to work your way through all of the scrutiny, all of the attacks, all of the criticisms that go with being in democratic politics.
But I go back to what I said earlier: We need good leaders. And we need leaders who are sophisticated enough, strong enough, to be able to make their stand on behalf of the causes and values and issues they care about. That’s true in our country, where we’ve been at democracy a very long time, and it’s as true in the new democracies that are represented by these young women.
MS. BOTTOMLY: Great. A question up in the balcony.
QUESTION: Rangita, I wanted to say bless you for creating and nurturing this project.
MS. BOTTOMLY: We can’t understand her. The sound is sort of rotating around. We can’t quite understand you.
MS. DE SILVA DE ALWIS: I’m going to repeat her question.
MS. BOTTOMLY: Okay.
MS. DE SILVA DE ALWIS: Thank you for nurturing and creating this project. Her question is: This seems inspired and she is wondering what went into creating it.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s an interesting question, because I have long been very committed to women’s leadership in every different format from my days here at Wellesley. And in looking around the world, it became clear that a lot of women felt like they were not well-equipped to participate in the politics of their countries. They believed that they didn’t have whatever the skills were, the education was, and they therefore were kind of self-eliminating. They were saying, “Well, I can’t do that, so I won’t try.”
And then, of course, there were cultural and social attitudes that persuaded young women that they shouldn’t try and should not participate. And I was struck by what a void that would leave if we didn’t do something special to try to reach out to young women who are already evidencing an interest in politics – we have women serving in government, women running for office, women part of various social movements all represented here – and contribute to their own experiences so that they were better equipped to participate in politics back in their country.
And then of course, what happened in the Middle East, in North Africa, was such an explosion of opportunity, and yet it had to be seized. Politics doesn’t just happen by itself. People have to work at it. They have to plan for it. They have to be willing to put themselves on the line. And if we didn’t have a group of young women who were prepared to claim their right to participate, the process, I feared, would be tilted against women’s rights and opportunities.
So we began working on this and decided to bring it to women’s colleges that have a great track record of educating young women, and today is the result as we begin this.
There’s a lot of women here in the front, too.
MS. BOTTOMLY: Yes, thank you.
QUESTION: Good evening, or good morning. I am Hala Jamal, and I am from Bahrain. I don’t know if everybody know where Bahrain is. (Laughter.) Yeah, it’s a small country in the Gulf and I am very proud to represent Bahrain here. We would like first to thank you for giving us this opportunity to come to this great university. I am really impressed by all that we have heard and seen about this, and I would like to thank also all the people who kept on calling us or sending us emails, especially Mrs. Rangita. She has done really a great work for that. (Applause.) Thank you very much.
I’m the only one who represents Bahrain, but we have so many Bahraini ladies who are really working very hard and for social – as voluntary workers or any – many front seats in the government or in different seats. But I would like to ask only one question: How do you see the situation as a whole in Bahrain now, for women and as a whole? Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I am hoping that the civil unrest and the instability that has taken place in Bahrain over the last year can be resolved through a national process of reconciliation, dialogue, and reform. I think Bahrain is a very important symbol of whether people who come from the two great traditions of Islam are able to find common ground and work together.
And I have had numerous conversations with the leaders of Bahrain, and I’ve also reached out to opposition members through the State Department, because we think this should be resolved internally with no external influence or agitation. If you look at the map, as many of you already have, and you know where Bahrain – which is a very small country – is located, it is located between Iran and Saudi Arabia. And we know that there is a great rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. And Bahrain is a country with both Sunni and Shia Muslims, and it’s a country that has been blessed by natural resources, so there’s been a certain financial base for Bahrain. The United States has a military base in Bahrain and we work closely on security in the Gulf with Bahrain. But we think that, as in any country, including my own, you have to be constantly asking yourself: How can we solve problems? How can we get ahead of problems? How can we bring people together?
And we have been urging that there be a process like this in Bahrain where people of good faith – now, I will be the first to say that in any political struggle, in any conflict, there are people on both sides or all sides who do not want to compromise, who are extreme, who believe that only their way is the right way, but most people are not in those categories. And so you have to bring together people who are willing to talk with those they do not agree with, to try to find solutions that will benefit all the people. And I know that His Majesty the King and the crown prince and others have been working on that, and we are urging that that process go forward.
MS. BOTTOMLY: We only have time for three more questions. So I will take the woman right here.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Withane, I come from Yemen. We are a country in transition, and I know the U.S. policy will have lots of effect on what’s going on in Yemen. But my question today is about women in public services. What’s your experience after having three women secretary of State in the U.S.? What influence did you have on the foreign policy? I know it’s a hot kitchen with lots of men. Did you change the rules of game?
If you get elected as the next president, will we – (applause) – as a woman president with lots of wars in our region, will we have less of that? Because as for in – we see in the U.S. policy that the state of defense takes over the ministry of foreign affairs. Would we need women in that department – maybe just balance between the two – the militaries and the dialogue and that? Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say that – (applause) – I am encouraged and hopeful about the transition in Yemen. I know that it has been difficult, but it has been largely, not completely – as you know better than I – it has been largely worked out for the departure of the prior president, the election of the new president, and there’s a sense within Yemen and those of us supporting the transition that Yemen has a real chance.
Now, Yemen has a lot of internal problems still, but we think that the new leadership is trying to unify the country and help end some of the internal conflict so that you can focus on development and opportunities for the people of Yemen. One of the things that I’ve done as Secretary of State, which is evidenced by this institute and project, is to say that women’s issues have to be central to American foreign policy. They are not a sideshow or marginal because we know that where women are not educated, where women’s health is not cared for, where women are denied the right to participate in their societies, the societies are not as stable over the long run. They do not have the benefits of half the population to participate in building a strong society.
So we believe it’s not only the right thing to do, that every woman deserves to have her universal rights respected, but we think it’s the smart thing for the United States to do to support women and girls around the world. And I’m working very hard to institutionalize that in our government so that it is part of whatever might come in the future.
But I do think that you can’t make generalizations that simply having a woman in a high office means you’ll have a different policy. But you can say that having many women involved in the governments of countries means that issues important to women will be on the agenda. (Applause.) And that, to me, is a very important step.
If women are not in the halls of government, then women’s voices are not going to be heard when budgets are written. I just met with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is the Nobel Prize winner, along with Tawakul Karman who was your great Nobel Prize winner from Yemen. And President Sirleaf has just been reelected in Liberia. And if you have never seen the movie about how women brought the civil war in Liberia to an end, I hope you will look at it. It’s called Pray the Devil Back to Hell. And what that movie shows is that at a certain point, with terrible killings and raping and mutilation and turning children into soldiers, women said, “No, we can’t let this continue.” And Christian and Muslim women came together. They marched together. They worked together. And they demanded that there be a peace conference. So the peace conference was held in a neighboring country, in Ghana, and a large group of the women went over to where the peace conference was being held and sat down and wouldn’t let the men out of the room until they made a peace deal. (Laughter.)
Now I say – (applause) – part of the reason why this happened is because it was women losing their husbands and their sons. It was women watching the misery of their daughters and their sisters and their mothers. And it was women who finally said, “Enough.” We need more women at all levels of society to say that – “Enough. Enough with the fighting.”
In some ways, it’s a lot easier to fight and kill than it is to nurture and build. I mean, if you go back to war, it’s because that’s what people know how to do. They’re not so sure how to build a parliament or how to make a government work, but they know how to kill each other. We have to end that. We have to say that is unacceptable. And wives need to tell their husbands and mothers need to tell their sons, “We deserve better than this. We deserve schools and hospitals. Not more killing.” So I think women can make a difference. (Applause.)
QUESTION: Thank you. Hello. My name is Ann Malama. I came from Kosovo. I’m proud to say that Kosovo, such a small country, has give the world such a great woman that is Mother Teresa.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: I want to say that in Kosovo now, we have a woman president as well, and 40 women elected – one-third of women elected in parliament – and we are doing a great job. But as everyone knows, the fighting, or the battle for woman rights is an unfinished battle.
But today, I want to ask you for another thing. Kosovo is a small country and not recognized by many countries, and we are urged to became a member of United Nations because we want to participate in different organizations. I want to ask you what our – I know that you are doing a lot, but how can we do more – let Kosovo to became a United Nation and also to have more recognition because this is the condition. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I work on this all the time. Kosovo does have a young, dynamic woman president who I have met with numerous times. She was a police officer, and she became a police officer because she was tired of all the insecurity and the crime and the conflict. So she became a police officer, and she did so well in a country where women were not always given responsibility in the old days, that she became chief of police and now she’s president of Kosovo.
And I am working very hard, and while you’re here, you should talk to all of your fellow participants about recognizing Kosovo – I think it’s up to 89 countries – and we hope that we’ll get to even a higher number. There is an unfinished area of concern to us between Kosovo and Serbia. Those of you may know that when Madeleine Albright was Secretary of State, the breakup of Yugoslavia led to a terrible ethnic cleansing in Kosovo where Kosovar Albanians were put on trains and taken out of the country. It was horrible. And the United States, along with other countries, took action to stop that.
But there are still areas where borders have to be absolutely recognized, and where people living inside of Kosovo who are not Muslims, who are not Kosovars, but are Serbs and who are Christians – Orthodox Christians – they have to learn to live together. And this is one of the biggest problems we face is getting people of different religions, different races, ethnicities, tribes, clans, to actually coexist peacefully with each other.
And I’ve spent so much of my time trying to persuade people to get along with each other. (Laughter.) And it’s quite a challenge because if you think that the other – whoever the other is – is less than human, is an infidel, is illegitimate, then you see no reason why you should have to talk with that person, let alone work with that person. I’ve spent a lot of time helping to work on what was a very old conflict in Northern Ireland between two branches of Christianity – between Catholics and Protestants. They were killing each other, they hated each other, they didn’t go to school with each other, they didn’t work with each other, they didn’t live with each other. And I remember people around the world saying, “Well, why are they fighting? They’re both Christians.” And I say the same; well, why are Sunni and Shia fighting? They’re both Muslims. Why are different tribes fighting? They’re both in the same country.
But these ancient conflicts, these ancient disagreements and hatreds prevent people from seeing the other person as a fully human being, and that is one of our biggest problems. And so we’re working on trying to resolve the lingering problems from what happened in Kosovo. We’re trying to work to help the different communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina work together. We’re working all over the world to try to do that. But we need your ideas and we need your help as to how we can be more effective.
MS. BOTTOMLY: This will be the last question. Oh, my goodness. (Laughter.) (Inaudible.) Over here, about the fourth row back, right there.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Adeed Bab from Israel. I’m the advisor of the general manager of the ministry of interior. I’m very excited to be here. I would like to focus on a personal question; I hope it’s okay. For me, I’ve always wondered, what is the right path for me? Until now, I’ve focused in the more professional status until now. And I keep wondering if it’s the right position to really influence about stuff in Israel, because as you all know, there is so much things to do.
So my question to you is: What made you get into politics and what made you change your course in 2001 for the first time?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a very good question because when I was at Wellesley, I was interested in public policy. I was interested in how government worked. I did run for and serve as the president of our college government. But I didn’t believe that I would go into electoral politics. That’s not something that I thought I would do. I thought I would be more of an activist in civil society. So I worked on a lot of – I worked – I went to law school after Wellesley. And then my first job was for something called the Children’s Defense Fund, where I worked on behalf of abused and neglected and orphaned and mistreated children, children who had all kinds of problems, that they were being left out of school because they had disabilities, or they were denied healthcare because their parents didn’t have money. And I really thought that’s what I would do. And when I lived in Arkansas, where my husband was the governor, I started another group called Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and worked on a lot of these issues, which really touched my heart.
And then when my husband was elected President in 1992, I worked on a number of issues, most prominently healthcare, which is a very difficult political debate in our country, still going on as you, I’m sure, either know or will learn. And I realized that a lot of the changes that I wanted to see would take political will and political action. But I didn’t think I’d run for office myself, and I’ll tell you a little story as to how I decided to do that.
I was approached in late 1998 by political leaders in New York who asked if I would consider running for the United States Senate from New York. And I said no. I said that was not going to happen. And they were very persistent and they kept coming at me and kept arguing as to why I should run. And they, of course, had ulterior motives. That’s just between you and me. (Laughter.) There was a very powerful candidate on the Republican side, the then mayor of New York, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was running for the Senate. And the Democrats in New York didn’t think they could find anyone silly enough to run against him – (laughter) – but thought that if I ran I could at least make a respectable showing. I was kind of their sacrificial lamb, I think – (laughter) – if you really thought about it hard. And I kept saying no, and I kept saying no. And the papers – the news was filled with stories about was I going to do it, was I not going to do it. And I was determined that I was not going to do it.
As first lady, I went to New York City for a totally unrelated event. It was an event about encouraging young women to participate in sports. And I was introduced at the event by this very attractive young woman who was a volleyball player, so she was about six inches taller than me. (Laughter.) And there was a big banner behind the podium where I was going to speak, and the banner said: Dare to Compete. And it was about being a sports athlete. (Laughter.) That’s why I was there.
So this young woman introduces me, and I’m coming up and I’m shaking hands with her, and she bends over because she’s so much taller than I am. She whispers in my ear, “Dare to compete, Mrs. Clinton. Dare to compete.” (Laughter.) I thought oh, no. (Laughter and applause.) Oh, boy. That did it. (Laughter.) I thought, here I’d been someone telling young women all my life do what you can, make good choices, get your education, compete for what you believe in, whether it’s in your community or your country, and my words were coming back to haunt me. So I did make the decision.
But I would be quick to say this. I think there are many ways to serve. I do not believe you have to be in elected office to serve and to make a difference. There are excellent public servants, civil servants around the world who are doing incredibly important work. They’re deciding education policy, they’re opening up schools, they’re deciding health policy, they’re immunizing children. There are excellent people in the economy who are creating jobs and wealth and giving men and women a chance for rising incomes. So I do not think that you can say there’s only one route to public service or public leadership. I feel very grateful for my eight years in the United States Senate and now having served for three and a half years as Secretary of State.
So I think be open to opportunities, because when I was here all those years ago I never could have predicted the course of my life, never. I never could have sat where you are sitting and said to myself: Okay. I’m going to graduate from Wellesley, then I’m going to go to Yale Law School, then I’m going to meet a guy from Arkansas and I’m going to fall in love – (laughter) – and then I’m going to move to Arkansas, and then I’m going to marry him, and then he’s going to be governor, and then he’s going to President. I mean, that is not how life works. (Laughter.) I mean, really, right? (Applause.)
So I guess, finally, I would say you have to be true to yourself. You have to believe in what you’re doing and who you are and the contributions you can make. And they may be different from your neighbor’s contribution and they may change over time as you change over time. But each of you is here based on our assessment that you can make a real contribution to your country at challenging times like the ones we live in today. And we want to help you find your voice and your way on your journey.
And I’m very proud that you’ve accepted the invitation and came a very far distance to be part of this new initiative. And I hope that we will be hearing from you in the future. And I will certainly do everything I can, both in this position and in the years to come, to support you and to support women like you who are trying to make this world a better place for all of us. Thank you very much. (Applause.)