U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea Trilateral Forum on Women's Empowerment

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C.
September 27, 2016

As prepared

Good morning. It’s my pleasure to welcome you to the State Department for the inaugural U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea trilateral forum on women’s empowerment.

First and foremost, I’d like to thank each member of the delegations for being here. And special thanks to my counterparts from Japan and the Republic Korea: Ambassador Nishumura and Ambassador Choi.

When it comes to women’s empowerment, each country represented today is a leader on the global stage.

When I visited Japan in 2014, Prime Minister Abe announced at the World Assembly for Women that he would open a UN office on women’s issues in Tokyo, and I was happy to see that the UN Women’s Japan Office officially opened within a year of my visit. And of course, Japan has continued to hold World Assemblies for Women, and the United States has been proud to be a part of them.

The Republic of Korea is equally committed to promoting gender equality abroad, with a long list of impressive global programs, from Better Life for Girls to programs that provide services to vulnerable populations and promote entrepreneurship.

I could stand here all day and talk about our own list of initiatives, but let me just say that the United States is proud of our record on gender equality. And we’re proud of our leaders—from President Obama to Secretary Kerry to our Ambassadors around the world—who make these issues a priority in U.S. foreign policy.

But these issues are important matters at home just as they are abroad, because no country has achieved gender equality. Too few women in the workforce or in leadership, as well as harmful cultural attitudes can be found all over the world, including in the United States.

So we all have work to dp. But the good news is that we don’t have to do it alone. In fact, I would argue that we shouldn’t.

I’d like to highlight the most important partners in addressing women’s empowerment.

The first is governments. From diplomats to elected officials like the incredible women we have with us today, there’s so much we can learn from each other. In fact, this is the very reason why we started the Equal Futures Partnership four years ago. Because we know that creating equal futures—the equal opportunity to work, to lead, and to achieve—will take countries coming together to make change a reality. And we’re proud that Korea, Japan, and the United States have joined together in this effort.

Today, our governments are building on the Equal Futures Partnership. Through this forum, we have the opportunity to deepen our partnership, strengthen our alliance, and improve our efforts through trilateral cooperation, knowing that when we work together, our efforts are better for it.

The second critical group is the private sector, particularly when it comes to issues like women’s economic empowerment. The truth is that the private sector can often push harder and faster on these issues than governments can, from trying out new policies to recruit and retain women in leadership, to measuring the success of paid parental leave. We’re glad to have representatives from the private sector at the table today.

The third essential group is civil society. I can’t say enough about how critical civil society organizations are to our work, both at home and abroad. They keep governments up to date on the latest research, they make sure we stay true to our word, and they’re some of the best experts on these issues. So thank you to the civil society organizations that have joined us.

Last but not least, this work requires long-term thinking, and that means we need to engage the next generation and hear their ideas. For this reason, we’re excited to welcome emerging leaders from each country to our conversation today.

In addition to having all the right people in the room this morning, we are looking at the right issues: women in politics, women in the economy, and the next generation of leaders.

These topics are at the top of the list when it comes to making a difference in the lives of women. And when we make progress in one area, we often see progress in the other as well.

Let me give you an example. It wasn’t so long ago that it was legal in the United States to discriminate against women who applied for credit cards—simply because they were women, or because they were married. In the 1970s, the banking committee in the House of Representatives was considering the issue of discrimination in banking. And it didn’t seem like women would be mentioned at all in the new bill.

But there was one woman on the committee: Representative Lindy Boggs. When she saw that women were left out of the bill, she drafted a new version, and brought it to the committee. Because of her, the words “sex or marital status” were added to that lending bill, and ever since then, it’s been illegal in the United States to discriminate against women applying for credit cards.

What I love about this story is that it shows how connected the issue of political participation and economic empowerment are. Women policymakers help ensure that the challenges facing women in the economy are on the agenda. And it also demonstrates how our countries truly will be better when women have seats at the table. And that’s why we’re seated around this table today. Because ultimately, our countries will be better if we work together to address these issues. And our partnership with each other will be stronger as well.

So thank you again for being here today. I’m looking forward to a productive discussion.