Video Remarks to the African Union Launch of the Decade for Women

Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Nairobi, Kenya
October 15, 2010

Congratulations on the launch of the African Women’s Decade. I so wish I could be with all of you.

You are all innovators, leaders, and problem-solvers – together you are advancing women’s economic, political, and social progress to fulfill the promise of this new century by creating a better life for all. We cannot achieve peace, prosperity, security or any of our other shared goals without the full partnership and participation of women around the world. That’s why President Obama is committed to making gender equality a focus of our foreign policy agenda, at the State Department and in our government.

The State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues works to promote sustained peace and development by promoting the full engagement of women in the economic and political spheres; mitigating the impact of violence against women; preventing a return to or the start of conflict by addressing underlying socio-economic problems, including women’s access to health and education; and ensuring that emergency relief to countries affected by conflict and natural disasters reaches women and children.

These goals are at the heart of the African Union’s plans for the African Women’s Decade. The Decade’s objectives provide direction for the continent’s efforts to accelerate gender equality and women’s empowerment. And the U.S. Government is committed to supporting your efforts to achieve these objectives.

Two key issues for Africa’s progress and for women’s empowerment are food security and global health – which are major priorities of the Obama Administration. The President’s Feed the Future and Global Health initiatives, which are in the process of implementation, will target many countries in Africa for support. They have a special focus on the needs of women. For example, the President’s Feed the Future Initiative recognizes that female small-hold farmers have specific needs that must be addressed to achieve the enhanced agriculture productivity we would all like to see. The President’s Global Health Initiative seeks to strengthen healthcare systems by creating greater integration and coordination and includes a focus on maternal and child health, access to family planning and nutrition. Many African countries confront extraordinary challenges. We hope that through a women-and-girls-centered approach to health and combating hunger we will see more progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The U.S. Government is also supporting women’s political participation. Of the 24 countries that have at least 30 percent female participation at the parliamentary level, a full third of those are in Africa, countries such as Rwanda, South Africa, Mozambique, and so on, and we congratulate you. This has largely come about as a result of affirmative strategies in post-conflict situations and the creation of new constitutions and governments. Where women have been engaged in peace processes and where quotas have been chiseled into the constitutions, women today have greater opportunities. Women are taking their place effectively in the decision-making of their countries, and we are working to support your leadership and efforts. We know that peace cannot be sustained unless women play a critical role in the process. As we prepare to mark the 10th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution1325, governments, including the United States, are looking at what we can do to advance women’s participation in peace and security because we all know that women, peace, and security are intrinsically linked.

I want to thank the African Union Commission, the Government of Kenya, and all the sponsors and supporters of this conference for highlighting the many contributions of Africa’s women. I look forward to continuing our work together to open the doors of opportunity for more women and all people across the region.

Thank you, and we wish you good luck throughout the African Women’s Decade.