Remarks at the TEDWomen Conference
Before I go too much further in talking about what we are doing in the government and what I would like to challenge you to join us in doing, I want to acknowledge the passing of Elizabeth Edwards, someone whom I have the greatest respect and admiration for. She lived with a fierce intelligence, a passion, a sense of purpose. She was not only devoted to family and friends, but also to improving health care and finding a cure for cancer for once and for all. And she would have appreciated this event where we are coming together to look for solutions. And I want to express what so many people feel about the loss of Elizabeth, and that is that we’ve lost a voice and we’ve lost a very active blogger, who was willing to put herself on the line time and time again.
I see women like that everywhere I go. I just came back from Kyrgyzstan where there’s a woman president, who’s not only the first female head of state or government in post-Soviet Union Central Asia, but she is presiding over the first parliamentary democracy in the entire region. The courage it takes for her is something that I draw courage from. Or when I go to visit projects that women have carved out literally with their own hands in places like South Africa, I see in action that sense of resilience and commitment that can keep any of us, including me, going.
I know so well that there are women, as we speak, in our own country and elsewhere, who will never hear of this conference and certainly could not even imagine attending, but who are living the kinds of life experiences and involvements that bring us here.
So the United States has made empowering women and girls a cornerstone of our foreign policy, because women’s equality is not just a moral issue, it’s not just a humanitarian issue, it is not just a fairness issue; it is a security issue. It is a prosperity issue and it is a peace issue. And therefore, when I talk about – (applause) – why we need to integrate women’s issues into discussions at the highest levels everywhere in the world, I’m not doing it just because I have a personal commitment, or not just because President Obama cares about it; I’m doing it because it’s in the vital interest of the United States of America.
Let women work and they drive economic growth across all sectors. Send a girl to school, even just for one year, and her income dramatically increases for life, and her children are more likely to survive, and her family more likely to be healthier for years to come. Give women equal rights, and entire nations are more stable and secure. Deny women equal rights, and the instability of nations is almost certain.
The subjugation of women is, therefore, a threat to the common security of our world and to the national security of our country. That is why across all of our work in the last 23 months or so, from our initiatives on food security and climate change and global health to our efforts on peace and security, we have made this a primary focus.
We are currently completing the first-ever comprehensive review of our diplomacy and development policy. It’s something that I determined to do upon becoming Secretary of State, because the Defense Department has for years produced what they call the Quadrennial Defense Review, the QDR. And part of my goal is to elevate diplomacy and development to be on a par with defense. (Applause.) We are making progress, but their budget is still about 12 times what ours happens to be.
But we wanted to take a hard look at ourselves and say, okay, what do we have to do to improve diplomacy and development so that Members of Congress, the public, activists, the press, everyone would say we’re moving toward that vision of a foreign policy and a national security approach that puts at parity these three key elements of our world view.
So in the now-called QDDR, which we will roll out next week, one of my directions to our very hardworking, talented staff was to be sure that we integrated women’s issues throughout the review. I didn’t want a section on women’s rights. (Applause.) I wanted to ensure that women were at the table in every discussion and on every single issue.
Now, also in the spirit of TED, we are creating solutions and partnerships, reaching out to all sectors – government, NGOs, private business. Through the Secretary’s International Fund for Women and Girls, we are partnering with the private sector to provide small grants to local NGOs working to improve the status of women right where they live.
For example, the Avon Foundation made a contribution to fight violence against women which will support an award of 10 grants to nongovernmental organizations in Egypt, Turkey, Mexico, Argentina, Jamaica, Liberia, Cambodia, and India. And we are focusing on what can you do right in your community and your country to combat the crime of violence against women. We’ve had some experience with that in our country, because it wasn’t so long ago that people were afraid to talk about domestic violence, where even the worst abuses were explained away or tried to be covered up. So we know the journey that is necessary to move from people saying, “Well, that’s culture. That’s who we are.”
I was in a country that shall remain nameless for the time being, where I had this conversation with the prime minister and the leadership because there’s a very high incident of violence against women. And the answer I got was an answer that I remember hearing many years ago when I was a young law professor working these issues at the University of Arkansas Law School, and that was, my goodness, 1974. It was so long I can’t remember. And so I heard that and I knew that we have so much still to do.
We have formed an alliance with the UK, Australia, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve maternal and child health. And key to maternal and child health is universal access to family planning, which we are now integrating – (applause) – into our health programs. We are developing innovative programs to address the particular needs of women in particularly difficult circumstances. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where violence against women and sexual-based violence, in particular, is rampant, we are developing a mobile justice initiative to help women collect evidence of the crimes committed against them, record and transmit their testimony, and help bring the perpetrators to justice. So before they have to show up somewhere and give testimony, they can record and transmit it on cell phones. So we begin to build an evidence base that can then be used to bring the perpetrators to accountability. (Applause.)
And we want to do more to partner with all of you here in this room and online. With the support, for example, of the Rockefeller Foundation, we have launched the innovation award for the empowerment of women and girls to encourage and reward creative approaches to empowering women politically, economically, and socially.
We recently held a contest called Apps 4 – number 4 – Africa to reward local mobile developers in four African countries whose apps are helping to promote prosperity and stability. And one of the winners is a program called Mama Keba, an app that helps low-income pregnant women to budget and prepay for prenatal care and the cost of delivery. We also recognize the important role that innovation can play in accelerating progress that has already begun. In addition to programs like Apps 4 Africa and Mobile Justice, we are supporting the mWomen initiative to close the global gender gap in cellular phone ownership and to use mobile technology as a development tool for the empowerment of women and girls.
In January, the State Department will lead an all women’s technology delegation to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and we will be sending an impressive group of innovators and entrepreneurs to explore how technology can increase opportunities for women and girls in those two African countries.
And I want to say a special word about the importance of girls. The low value that many families and societies place on girls makes possible many of the worst abuses they suffer. But even among girls who are spared the worst, too often it is a girl who is still the first to drop out of school, the last to be fed, the last to receive medical care. And in too many places she is taught there are special limits to what is possible for her. So we need to persuade families and nations to value girls and to teach the girls themselves to understand their own value and their potential. And so we need to reach out to faith leaders and community leaders to change the perception and treatment of girls, and to persuade men and boys to value their sisters and their daughters for their talents and their intrinsic worth.
If we can convince societies to invest in girls, we will strengthen our efforts to fight poverty, drive development, and spread stability. There are more than 600 million girls in the developing world alone. More than one-quarter of the population of Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa are girls and women between the ages of 10 and 24.
Now, people sometimes talk about the youth bulge of the Middle East and the developing world solely as a group of unemployed young men, and that is a problem. But we also need to figure out how to tap the potential of girls.
At the President’s entrepreneurship summit this last April, I announced a program called TechWomen to match women in Muslim majority countries with women working in tech countries here at home. Across the globe, we have an opportunity to build these networks and to empower these women who are already taking the steps to be entrepreneurs and business leaders in their own societies.
I love this story about a teenage girl and a cow, which drives home the challenge but also the opportunity that we face today. This teenage girl’s father expected to force her into an early marriage, but she had been to school and she received a cow, perhaps through the Heifer Project, designed to encourage her to stay in school. When her father demanded that she drop out of school and get married, she said no. When he insisted, she insisted right back. And finally, she pulled out her trump card – "If I leave and get married, I’m taking my cow." (Laughter.) "That cow belongs to me." So, guess what? She stayed in school. She was spared an early marriage all because her father couldn’t bear to part with the cow. (Laughter.)
But the lesson goes beyond the human nature of the story. Even a small intervention can change a girl’s life. And you – many of you here and in the virtual world participating in this TEDWomen Conference are already doing remarkable work. You’ve already presented, you already have built the networks. But we need more partnerships, more mentoring, and more good ideas. And we need to think hard about how to translate the energy and excitement in a room like this at a time here in Washington, DC, into energy and excitement across the world.
So I encourage you to seek out the State Department. We have our first-ever ambassador for global women’s affairs. Many of you know Melanne Verveer, she and I started Vital Voices together many years ago. Get in touch with our Office of Global Women’s Issues, compete for our innovation prizes, help us use the full power of the American Government to deliver the change we want to see, visit the website of Vital Voices.org or the Girl Effect at girleffect.org, or any of the other exciting organizations that you know about that are doing important work.
There truly are no limits to what we can do together on behalf of girls and women. And I am so delighted that you are here, not only for this first-ever conference, but fully ready and prepared to go forth from this conference to begin to do even more on behalf of your own dreams and aspirations, but also to make sure that every girl in the world has a chance to live up to her own dreams and aspirations as well.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)