On March 8, the United States joins people around the globe in honoring women and celebrating their contributions toward building a more peaceful, just, and prosperous world. The State Department, which has been led by strong, smart, and remarkably capable diplomats from Madeleine Albright to Condoleezza Rice and my predecessor Hillary Rodham Clinton, stands as a lasting example of the powerful change that determined women can make and sustain on behalf of America in the modern world.
It is a great and too often untold global success story that so much of the political, economic, and social progress of the last few decades could never have been imaginable without the leadership and courage of strong women. Over the past year alone, we’ve celebrated the landmark ascendance of women to the presidencies of Malawi and South Korea–and here in the United States, we saw the unprecedented election of 20 women to the U.S. Senate. That milestone was particularly meaningful to me, as someone who was sworn in to serve in the United States Senate in 1985, joined by my two teenage daughters and struck by the fact that I had twice as many daughters as there were women in the Senate. Today, with the service of 20 women, the Senate is a stronger, smarter place; more representative of our belief that we are a stronger nation when our leadership reflects our population. I am proud to benefit every day from the wisdom and example of my wife Teresa--who was born in Mozambique, marched against apartheid, speaks five languages and worked with the UN Trusteeship Council, and I am blessed by the lessons I’ve learned from my sister who worked for most of her career at the UN, and most recently at the UN Mission, and another sister who spent decades teaching young girls overseas.
Around the globe, whether they are creating and embracing new opportunities for education and entrepreneurship in Afghanistan, working for democratic reform in Burma, or advancing human rights in the Middle East and North Africa, more women are finding their voices, lifting up communities and nations, and paving the way for future generations to live a better life.
Yet, despite the significant gains women and girls have made, too many challenges and barriers remain. In far too many places, women continue to be excluded from the ballot box and political leadership, and from land ownership and credit markets. In far too many places, girls are still kept home from school or are forced into early marriage. Too many women are being silenced, abused, or subjected to violence simply because of their gender. Many are risking their lives in the pursuit of justice. Their courage must inspire us to continue to work toward a world where every woman can live free of violence and pursue her fullest potential.
Decades ago, before I was born, my mother was volunteering as a Red Cross nurse in Europe, and, when the Nazis invaded, she fled on a bicycle, until she finally reached Lisbon and returned home to Boston. Even at the height of war and separation from her family, she wrote my father a letter that my siblings and I cherish to this day, conveying a simple but profound thought: “there is something for everyone to do.” International Women’s Day reminds us of all that there is still today “something for everyone to do,” a challenge to safeguard the progress that we have made–and to roll up our sleeves and embrace all the work that lies ahead of us–to protect and advance the health, education, and human rights of women and girls. The United States remains committed to working with partners around the world to ensure that this vital progress continues.