United State of Women

Heather Higginbottom
Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources 
Washington, DC
June 14, 2016

As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning. It’s an honor to be gathered here together not just to reflect and react, but to push and to prod because the United State of Women reaches far beyond the United States of America -- and our fight is not over until every woman on Earth is just as empowered as every woman in this room.

No community, no country, no civilization can truly race ahead if it leaves more than half the population behind. Ensuring the full and equal participation of women isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

And that’s the mission we’re committed to at President Obama’s State Department and at USAID – where we’re working everywhere to tear down the barriers that hold women back anywhere.

We’re confronting the crisis of early and forced marriage, a tragedy lived by 700 million women today. We're making progress in places like Ethiopia, where the United States has trained justice officials who have annulled hundreds of illegal early marriages. We’re taking away forced marriage and giving force to the rights of women to decide who they love and when they will marry.

We’re standing up against the forces that deprive girls of an education, by investing in initiatives like Let Girls Learn. We’re helping train educators – over 460,000 in the last year alone. And in the last five years, we’ve provided safe education for over five million girls in dangerous places, and reached over 19 million with literacy programs.

Because we know that women’s full economic participation would add an estimated $28 trillion to global growth by 2025, we’re standing up for a woman’s economic potential to power strong societies. Over 14 million women have won access to services like banking and education through mobile technology partnerships we support – and we’re helping unlock the doors of economic opportunity by expanding access to credit for entrepreneurs.

And finally, we’re standing up to violence against women, which will affect one in three of us, because no woman can live life to its fullest if she's struggling to stay alive. We’re working to change laws and mindsets, to educate and promote women leaders, to strengthen justice systems and support survivors.

The statistics are compelling – but the stakes are so much more than numbers on a piece of paper. It is women – brave women whose lives hang in the balance.

And if ever the fight looks daunting just think of Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya.

Think of her as a young girl – 5 years old – a future husband already chosen for her, and imagine the courage it took for Kakenya to say “no.” Imagine the guts it took for her to convince her parents and her village to let her go to school, and even to pay for her flight to America. In return, she kept her promise to come home and build a school for girls; that school has educated 280 girls – and counting. But she also gave into her parents' demand that she undergo genital mutilation and cutting.

No girl, no young woman should ever have to make a choice between controlling her body and controlling her destiny.

Kakenya’s story is a story of resilience – but more than that, it is a story of hope.

It is hope that with the resilience and perseverance of everyone in this room, we will one day live in a world where no woman is asked to make the sacrifice that Kakenya did.

It's now my honor to introduce Kakenya to tell us how we can each work to forge a United State for all women.