Remarks at National Women's Law Center Award Dinner
Secretary of State
Oh, it is wonderful to be here with all of you. The National Women’s Law Center is very near and dear to me and I am delighted to have this very brief opportunity to join you in not only celebrating the work of the Center, but in honoring my friend, Ambassador Melanne Verveer. (Applause.) And I wanted this to be a surprise, so my coming here was a covert operation. (Laughter.) My staff and Melanne’s were sworn to secrecy. I hope and think we have succeeded, because if we did it will be the first time in 20 years at least that anyone managed to pull a fast one on Melanne. (Laughter.)
And I want to thank Brooksley Born, someone whom I have admired and worked with in the American Bar Association whose career as a lawyer really did help to pave the way for so many others. Thanks to Kevin Kelly, the entire National Women’s Law Center team, especially Marcia Greenberger and Nancy Duff Campbell for their leadership, and every one of you who supports the Law Center in doing the critical work that it does every day in supporting women and girls. And I want to join in recognizing Geena Davis for her passionate support of the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. (Applause.)
This treaty is a priority of the Obama Administration. Tomorrow Geena and Melanne and others will be testifying on Capitol Hill and we want to move this treaty forward. We cannot wait any longer to try to put it to a vote. Let people either vote for it or against it and we will know where they stand. (Applause.)
Melanne has been a dear friend as well as a colleague. And she actually, along with her wonderful husband Phil, went to college with Bill. So we have had a very close, personal relationship. And then 18 years ago we started working together and it was the beginning of an epic journey that has taken us together and separately on behalf of the work we love to every corner of the world. We’ve been sitting together under sweltering tents in a village in India or at a meeting with thousands of civil society activists packed in that room in Huairou, China in 1995 or going to a housing development, literally, built from the ground up by formerly homeless women squatters in South Africa, and so many other places that flash through my mind like the movie that reminds me of everything that we have done on behalf of women and girls.
And Melanne has always been unflappable, compassionate, funny, stubborn – (laughter) – unstoppable. And she is one of the few people whose schedule even puts me to shame. She has friends in every corner of every country. Her energy is legendary. I’ve been on week-long trips with her, everyone is ready to collapse, and she’s still making calls and taking notes and planning the next project.
We are so lucky to have Melanne as our first-ever ambassador on behalf of global women’s issues. And I’m grateful that – (applause) – this Administration and this country has elevated the roles and rights of women around the world in our foreign policy. For me, Melanne has been not only a colleague and a friend, but an inspiration. And together we are working to translate into action our hopes and dreams. We have launched initiatives to combat gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and sexual violence against girls and women worldwide. We’ve worked to improve maternal health and women’s rights in Afghanistan and to focus on integrating women into every aspect of American foreign policy. We’ve launched the mWomen Program to close the gender gap in mobile technology and done what we could to support women’s economic opportunities.
At the UN, we’ve helped to create a new mechanism to fight discrimination in the UN Human Rights Council. We thought it a little odd that discrimination against women had never been a focus of the Human Rights Council, so we decided that it should be. We’ve worked to lead the Security Council in passing unanimously a resolution establishing a special representative to the Secretary General to lead and coordinate our efforts to end conflict-related sexual violence, and strongly supported the creation of UN Women, a new agency headed by the former president of Chile, a friend to many of us, Michelle Bachelet, to mainstream gender issues throughout the UN system.
And the list goes on and on and on – (applause) – but if Melanne, who is motioning me to cut it short, quit talking about her – (laughter) – go deal with some other world problem – (laughter) – but I think I can speak for Melanne when I say, as much as we’ve been doing and trying to do, we know that we have so much more that has to be done, and with your help we will do it. We will keep working together to support women and girls. And we will do it because it’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. As I constantly remind my colleagues, and not only in other governments but our own, supporting women and girls worldwide is in the national security interest of the United States and we have to remember that.
So what we hope is to institutionalize this work, to make it clear that it doesn’t depend upon who the Secretary of State is or even who the President is, but the United States of America stands for women’s rights – (applause) – and that we know that that is unfinished business. (Applause.)
And so as you honor Melanne tonight and as she expresses her appreciation to all of you, please know that there are truly millions of women and girls around the world who may never know her name, may never know anything about the Law Center, but whose lives are better because of what she and you have done and will do.
So thank you. Thank you so much for supporting the Center, and thank you so much for honoring Melanne Verveer. Thank you and good night.