There are so many people in this room who have played a major role in the furtherance of economic development for all people, and in particular for women and girls. And I want to mention several countries who are represented, who have signed letters of intent to join the Equal Futures Partnership at our next meeting in April: Latvia, Thailand, Croatia, Italy, and Belgium.
And I’m grateful to the World Bank for agreeing to host that next meeting, where we can share progress and compare results.
I’m also pleased that many of us gathered here today were at an event hosted by UN Women and Michelle Bachelet, who is on the stage with us, dedicated to increasing women’s political participation worldwide. We signed a joint declaration affirming the importance of women to democracy, sustainable development, security, and peace, and I’m pleased that many of the leaders who signed that declaration are with us.
I said then that this work, ensuring that women are equal partners, as they should be, and are free to realize their own God-given potential, was one of the great pieces of unfinished business of the 21st century. With this Equal Futures Partnership, we are taking an important step toward trying to finish that business.
Through this initiative, governments from around the world are making concrete commitments to support women in two key areas: political participation and economic opportunity. Those are mutually reinforcing, so I’m pleased we are addressing them together, because we know that when women participate fully in their governments and economies, they and their families benefit, but so do their communities, their countries, and even the world as a whole.
In democracies, all people – women and men – have an equal voice and an equal vote and an equal chance to run for office and to serve their fellow citizens. In thriving economies, all people have an equal opportunity to start a business, own property, earn a fair wage, and support their families. And in stable and peaceful societies, all people’s human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected equally.
So if we want to support strong democracies, thriving economies, and stable, peaceful societies worldwide, we must support women and girls. And that means focusing on a wide range of issues – from working to improve women’s leadership in industries where they are currently underrepresented, as Australia has pledged to do in the mining and construction industries, to enforcing and strengthening laws that guarantee women’s equal political participation, as Senegal has committed to do, to addressing once and for all the problem of nationality laws that discriminate against women and leave they and their families vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Now, all the commitments we are making today are voluntary, so we are called to hold each other accountable. We need to be transparent about both our successes and our struggles, so we can learn from one another what works and what doesn’t. None of us has all the answers, but together we can make real, measurable progress.
But I hasten to add this cannot be the work of governments alone. We need the private sector and civil society to bring their resources, ingenuity, and commitment to the effort. And I am particularly grateful to the private sector partners who have joined us today.
You just heard from Valerie about the commitments the United States is making. Let me mention one additional initiative. I’m pleased to announce that the State Department and American University, along with the Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North America and our counterparts in Pakistan, are founding the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council to promote economic opportunities for women in Pakistan. The Council will connect businesses, universities, and individual donors in both the United States and Pakistan. And I’m very pleased that Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States is here with us today.
There’s really no limit to what our imaginations can devise as to what we can do in supporting the Equal Futures Partnership. We know that there is economic data, health and social science data that demonstrates clearly now is the time, and investing in women and girls is a smart strategy. As Valerie said, President Obama is personally committed to this effort. And I’m very pleased that we have a strong, robust set of initiatives. And I’m proud to stand with all of you as we launch this new, important global partnership.
Let me also recognize that there are a number of other countries in the audience, including the President of Kosovo who is here, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, foreign ministers, and others. And we look forward to welcoming them in the future to the Equal Futures Partnership. So let’s get started.
Let me turn now to His Excellency, Dr. Boni Yayi, the President of the Republic of Benin.