Remarks at Screening of A Single Step

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
U.S. Institute of Peace
Washington, DC
November 3, 2015

As prepared

Thank you, Kathleen. I so appreciate working with you and your colleagues here at USIP. And I especially love that the building closest to the State Department is one dedicated to the pursuit of peace.

Those of us who work on these issues know that women are vital to progress, and that when women do better, countries do better. We take that knowledge and apply it to our work every day.

And yet it never gets old to hear stories about how women make a difference, largely because these stories remind us in the most powerful ways just how important women are.

Take, for example, the story of Dr. Aparna Hegde, who is featured in A Single Step. Dr. Hegde worked in a crowded hospital in Mumbai, where she and her team cared for hundreds of poor pregnant women each day.

The worst part of her job was that so many of her patients came in for that first visit, but never came back until the baby was due. With so many patients waiting for care, Dr. Hegde didn’t have time to hold the hands of these women through their pregnancy. And without access to the right care, patients often developed complications that put their lives, and the lives of their babies, at risk.

You’ll see in a moment how Dr. Hegde helps her patients, and many other women in India, get access to better health care. And if you’re like me, this story will remind you that progress is possible. Problems are solvable. And women are often at the center of the solutions.

That’s the promise of women’s full participation. But standing in the way of that participation are so many barriers, from gender-based violence to gender norms. Too many girls don’t have the opportunity to become doctors because they’re forced to get married and drop out of school. Too many young women don’t have the chance to be entrepreneurs because they can’t access the capital they need to get their business off the ground. Too many women of all ages aren’t safe in their own homes and communities simply because they are women.

These challenges hold women back. And by doing so, they hold back communities, companies, economies, and countries. That’s why the United States works so hard to advance gender equality. We’ve integrated gender into all levels of our foreign policy, from our national security strategy down to the local programming at U.S. missions around the world.

One of those programs was in Sierra Leone, where our Embassy gave local women leadership training. When the Ebola crisis hit, these women used their convening power to bring together health care providers and the local community to stem the outbreak. They stood on the front lines to help their community through the crisis.

In other words, investing in these women paid off in ways we couldn’t imagine. And that’s the story of A Single Step. As the movie shows, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing started an unexpected movement, one that has spread around the world, inspiring men and women to take action for gender equality.

And while we have a long way to go, there’s no doubt that we’ve made tremendous progress, thanks in no small part to many of the women here today—Ambassador Verveer, Tara Sonenshine, Kathleen, Sanam, and others.

But it’s the stories of that progress—the stories of the women on the ground—that show us just how far we’ve come and inspire all of us to be a part of the next step. So thank you to the Voice of America team, and particularly Beth Mendelson, for making this film and telling these wonderful, inspiring stories.

With that, I’d like to introduce our next speaker, the CEO and Director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, John Lansing.