Remarks at the Ninth Annual Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards

Special Briefing
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Kennedy Center
Washington, DC
March 10, 2010

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all so much. I want to thank you, Michelle. That really means a lot to me to be here again with all of you and not on an airplane – (laughter) – coming or going, and to participate in this wonderful night of celebration of individual women who we honor and learn more about them and their work, and all women whose lives are affected for the better. Because the women who we honor are willing to take a risk, are willing to stand up against oppression and discrimination, to stand up for the rights of all people, but particularly women and girls.

I am so grateful that Vital Voices is still blazing a trail that so many are following in increasing numbers around the globe. Nearly everywhere I go around the world, I am met by women who proudly tell me that they are members of Vital Voices. They often are wearing a scarf that Diane von Furstenberg designed for Vital Voices, and they give me in great detail accounting of what they’re doing in their countries. Their excitement, their passion and commitment often keep me going from one event to another.

And that spirit is what we have brought to the State Department, because it’s no secret that we agree with Nick Kristof about the great struggle of the 21st century – that everything we can do individually, through our businesses, through our faith organizations, or through groups like Vital Voices, or through academia, or in any other setting that we find ourselves that can help move the cause of gender equality forward is going to make our world better for both the X and the Y chromosomes. (Laughter and applause.)

And if you picked up The Economist this week, you saw a headline that made you do a double take. It said “Gendercide.” We’re so used to hearing about genocide that I looked twice. And it was a story of how there are probably up to a hundred million missing girls in the world, girls who died too soon or girls who aren’t ever given life. And it’s a reminder of the work that lies ahead, that a night of excitement and laughter and tears and inspiration like we share every year here at the Kennedy Center is a way to take stock of how far we’ve come, but also to remind us of what lies ahead.

And therefore, it gives me a particular personal pleasure tonight to be an award presenter, because I think that the person I am privileged to introduce so greatly deserves the Global Trailblazer torch that I inherited from Sheikha Lubna, from Muhammad Yunus, from President Michelle Bachelet, and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – a woman who has in her own inimitable way made such a difference in the lives of so many millions of people around our world. She is the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and she has gone head to head, toe to toe, against killers like AIDS, malaria, and malnutrition.

She is taking the lead in the foundation’s efforts to tackle maternal health and child survival challenges. She is helping to eradicate the educational deficiencies that rob girls and boys of hope and opportunity. When we were listening to Andeisha Farid talk about growing up in a refugee camp, she said words that should stick with all of us: “But I got an education.”

It’s important to point out that no one pushed Melinda Gates to take on any of these challenges. No one ordered her to go to AIDS clinics or orphanages, to sit with patients and children, to listen to their stories and bring them the promise of better healthcare, of education, of a brighter tomorrow. Seattle is a pretty nice place. (Laughter.) She could have had a quiet and enjoyable life on the shores of Lake Washington. But that’s not who she is and that is not who she was raised to be.

When Melinda was growing up in Dallas, she was the valedictorian of her high school. And on graduation day, she told her classmates if you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a light or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped. Well, she is practicing what she preached, and she is bringing hope and health and opportunity to millions and millions of our fellow citizens of this world we all share.

Melinda Gates is a trailblazer and she is leading the way for everyone who is ready to stand up and make a difference, to use the blessings and gifts that life gives you to give back to others. Let’s hear it from some of the people who have seen her in action.

(Video shown.)


SECRETARY CLINTON: So for her vision, her dedication, and her commitment to global progress, Vital Voices is proud to present the 2010 Global Trailblazer Award to Melinda Gates. (Applause.)

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PRN: 2010/290