The Strategic and Economic Dialogue / Consultation on People-to-People Exchange -- U.S.-China Consultation on CPE Women's Leadership Exchange and Dialogue Event

Heather Higginbottom
   Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources 
Catherine M. Russell
   Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong
George Marshall Center
Washington, DC
June 23, 2015

STAFF: Please welcome the Deputy Secretary of State, the Special Representative of President Xi for the Consultation on People-to-People Exchange, the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, and the Vice President of the All-Women’s China Federation[1]. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR RUSSELL: Thank you all again. It’s so nice to see most of you back here today. We’ve had excellent discussions here, and I’d like to thank so much all of the terrific participants who did an amazing job.

We talked about the importance of empowering women and ensuring they have opportunities, how critical that is for the women themselves, for their families and, ultimately, for their economies and countries. But of course we know and we talked today about the fact that women face barriers, including access to capital and lack of capacity. So we’re very focused on how everyone – government, civil society, business leaders and communities – can work together to unlock women’s full potential in the economy.

How can we make sure that we’re doing everything we can to break down the barriers that women face? Today’s event lays the foundation for those conversations to continue across sectors and across borders. I look forward to continuing these conversations with my very good friend, Madame Meng, who has been a terrific partner to us, and with the rest of the delegation from China.

It is now my great pleasure to introduce Special Representative of President Xi for the Consultation on People-to-People Exchange, Vice Premier Liu Yandong. Madame Liu has played a tremendous role in starting the U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange in 2010. She’s been the Chinese host of the CPE ever since then. And we are so grateful to her for her leadership and her commitment to these exchanges. Thank you very much.

Vice Premier Liu. (Applause.)

VICE PREMIER LIU: Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom, Your Excellency Ambassador Catherine Russell, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, good afternoon. It gives me real pleasure to attend this China-U.S. Women’s Leadership Dialogue.

During the day, you have conducted discussions on the theme of women’s economic empowerment and spirit of entrepreneurship and explored ways to unleash her power. This is of great significance. Let me express warm congratulations on the success of this dialogue.

This WE dialogue has been a flagship program in the people-to-people exchange mechanism. During the recent years, our two sides have had deep discussions on employment, science and technology, education, house and many other areas which has resulted in fruitful progress and play an important role in promoting gender equality and women’s development in both countries. Let me take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to people from all walks of life in our two countries who have long been caring about and supporting the women’s development in China and the United States.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, women’s development has been an important sign of the progress of human civilization. This year marks the fourth anniversary – the 20th anniversary of the fourth global women’s conference, which adopted the Beijing Declaration and Action Plan which remain the guiding documents for development of women worldwide.

During the past two decades, China has earnestly implemented its commitments and made remarkable progress in promoting women’s development. First, we have effectively implemented the basic policy of gender equality. In 1995, gender equality became one of the basic state policies in China. Ever since then, we have implemented three outlines for women’s development in role and women’s development has been planned and pursued in parallel with economic and social development. More efforts have been made to remove gender discrimination and give more care to rural women.

Second, we have improved laws and regulations to uphold women’s rights and interests. We have formulated or revised women’s rights and interest protection law, maternal healthcare law, and employment promotion law, together with over 20 laws and regulations. The anti-domestic violence law has entered the legislative procedure.

Third, the outcomes of policies promoting women’s development have become more evident. We have established a committee for work-related women and children’s welfare which consists of 30 national-level ministries and institutions, and I myself act as its leader. By 2012 we have met UN development goals ahead of schedule. These goals include the reduction of poverty and hunger, universal access to primary education, gender – removing gender gap in education, and reducing children’s mortality, treating HIV/AIDS, and providing clean drinking water.

Fourthly, women are playing a more active role in economic development. During the past two decades, the percentage of women in the employed population has been over 45 percent, in science researchers about 40 percent, and in business leaders about 25 percent. Fifty-five percent of online startups have been opened by women.

In the great undertaking of reform and opening up, women have gained a stronger sense of identity. Their wisdom and creativity can be felt in every part of our social progress. Now Chinese people are working hard to realize – to build – the completion of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020. The agenda equality will become an even more important part in the overall social progress in China, so that the -- her power of numerous Chinese women will be unleashed as we pursue the Chinese dream.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, China-U.S. cooperation on women’s affairs has strong complementarity and great potential. China has the largest number of women in the world. They are hardworking and kindhearted. From women entrepreneurs to women scientists, from astronauts to business leaders and to women civil servants, her power is just everywhere in China’s development. American women are independent, and you are the pioneers for women’s liberation. The International Women’s Day is just a contribution of American women to women all over the world. Over the years, women have been an active part in China-U.S. relations.

Looking into the future, women’s development in post-2015 years is our shared responsibility. We should firmly oppose gender discrimination, ensure women’s equal participation in social and economic development, and in sharing the fruits of reform and development. We should deepen practical cooperation via platforms of exchanges and dialogue. We should have more experience sharing and coordination in areas of women’s access to capital and markets, skills and capacity-building, and women’s leadership so as to advance women’s development in both countries. We should make good use of the people-to-people exchange mechanism and make women’s interactions an integral part in our interactions in science, education, culture, sports, house use, and many other areas so that the friendship between our two countries gets more brilliant with the charm of the women in both countries.

And we should also jointly promote the development of women all over the world in the spirit of equality, mutual understanding, and inclusiveness. In this coming September, China and United Nations will co-host a Global Women’s Summit. We look forward to deepening cooperation with the U.S. and the United Nations and related international organizations to jointly promote women’s development across the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, Chinese people often say that women hold up half of the sky. I believe that so long as the her power in China and U.S. can be fully unleashed, it will provide new impetus to the people-to-people exchange between China and U.S. and to the building of the new model of major country relations between our two countries. Thank you. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR RUSSELL: Thank you very much, Madame Liu. Our final speaker is Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom, who has been an incredible champion for women and girls throughout her career, but especially in her work here at the State Department. She’s been a leader in our efforts to ensure that gender equality is at the heart of the post-2015 Development Agenda.

Ladies and gentlemen, Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom. (Applause.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Thank you, Cathy. Vice Premier Liu Yandong, thank you, as the Special Representative of President Xi for the Consultation on People-to-People Exchange, for your leadership in strengthening the ties that drive our bilateral relationship. I also want to thank the many Chinese and U.S. nongovernmental and private sector partners who have come to Washington, including Madame Meng and the All-China Women’s Federation, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, Goldman Sachs Gives, the Tory Burch Foundation, and the White House Council on Women and Girls. Congratulations to all of you for your innovation and hard work.

If there’s one thing that we’ve learned over the years, it’s that there is no more reliable measure of progress towards prosperity, justice, and peace than the empowerment of women and girls. This is true in our own countries and around the world. In recent decades, the international community has made enormous strides in breaking down the barriers that in too many places have held women back. At the UN and in our regional and bilateral relationships, we’ve worked together to promote women’s entrepreneurship, increase access to capital, and equip women and girls with the knowledge and resources they need to participate fully in the economic and political life of their societies. These efforts have paid off.

Girls now attend primary school at roughly the same rate as boys. Maternal and child health have improved. Many countries have enacted laws against domestic violence and abuse. Women are better represented in governments and international organizations. And all of these are big steps, but much more work remains to be done. And that’s why the women’s pillar of our annual bilateral consultation is so critical, not only for what it does, but for the larger economic transformation that it is helping to bring about.

The statistics tell an important story. Here in the United States women own about 30 percent of small businesses, which generate more than $1 trillion a year in sales. In China, women make up some 25 percent of all entrepreneurs, and these numbers will continue to grow as our countries become more urban and more reliant on new technology.

We also know that full participation in the economy can boost GDP worldwide by up to 12 percent by 2030. I’m a big believer that investing in women is good social policy because women, on average, devote a larger share of their income to the education and health of their families. That yields important dividends today, but it also lays a solid – it also lays solid groundwork for the next generation.

And that’s precisely why the United States stands behind efforts to make gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls a priority in the new Sustainable Development Goals and the Financing for Development Framework. We look forward to working with China to ensure these agreements reflect the importance of including women as key drivers of economic growth.

The bottom line is pretty simple: No country can get ahead if it leaves half its people behind. That was the spirit behind the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. And this year as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of that conference, we reaffirm our commitment to support women’s groups and civil society in their efforts to express their views freely and openly on issues affecting the rights of women and girls everywhere without fear of reprisal.

The summit that China will co-host in September is a crucial opportunity for all of us to reinforce the Beijing Platform for Action. Each of our governments has a responsibility to respect the rights of women and girls and those of human rights defenders and other civil society activists working on their behalf. Each of our governments has a right to ensure their voices are not silenced. And I want to be clear: We’re not talking about giving anything to women and girls. Governments don’t grant fundamental human rights to women or to anyone else. Women, like men, are born with these rights. Our obligation is to allow for the responsible exercise of rights by everyone without discrimination, without exploitation, without abuse, and without violence.

The question is: How do we make further progress in our own countries and across the globe? I’m sure many of you have your own suggestions, and I’ll offer just four possible areas of cooperation. First, we need to empower women by making it easier for them to gain access to capital. That’s why we’re working with the All-China Women’s Federation, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, and others to host two seminars on women’s entrepreneurship in China between now and the end of next year. Each seminar will develop plans to overcome the barriers women face in starting and growing a business.

Second, we need to ensure that women have access to the professional training that will enable them to succeed in the workforce. In many countries there’s a troubling disconnect between the schools that – between the skills that schools teach and the expertise that the job market demands. That’s why the State Department is working with locally run nonprofits across the globe that are focused on precisely this challenge of matching jobs to skills. And it’s why we’re developing plans now to do even more.

Third, we need to make full partners on – to make women full partners on energy and the environment. This week the All-China Women’s Federation and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves will sign an agreement to equip some 12,000 Chinese households with clean and efficient cookstoves – a number that we hope will expand dramatically as time goes on.

In this country – and I suspect China as well – women are environmental leaders because they understand so clearly the cost their families pay when water is unsafe and the air impossible to breathe. Looking ahead, this is a challenge but also an opportunity, because the market for clean and renewable energy has the potential to be a huge engine of economic growth. Already Chinese investments have caused a global drop in the price of wind and solar technologies. This trend is sure to continue, and women as well as men can benefit by finding new jobs and by creating a society that is healthier and less dependent on the power sources of the past.

Finally, we need to ensure that the rights of women are fully respected. That means removing barriers to opportunity. And no barrier is more oppressive or readily measurable than discrimination and violence. Last year the United States and the All-China Women’s Federation agreed to host three expert exchanges to provide technical assistance on preventing and responding to domestic violence. The first exchange took place in April in Wuxi City and Beijing. I am pleased to announce that the next exchange will take place this October in Austin and San Francisco with a particular focus on the role that civil society and grassroots organizations play.

Why are we committed to these four goals of access to capital, access to training, environmental health, and protection from violence and discrimination? The answer is simple: Because we won’t accept the marginalization of women and girls from the economic and political life of their countries. We won’t accept violence against women or exploitation or discrimination, because when we ensure that women and girls have a fair chance to achieve their aspirations we realize the vision of a world that is more just, prosperous, and free.

One woman entrepreneur summed it up best. She said simply, “It is not enough to have a light in my house. Every house in my community has to have a light.” All of you are here today to give life to those words and to bring about the day that will surely come, the day when we are able to say with confidence that any woman anywhere can rise as high and go as far as her energy and skills will take her. That’s our mission. That’s what our partnership demands. So let’s get to work and make it happen. Thank you very much. (Applause.)


[1] All-China Women's Federation