The Launch of the 100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls Through International Exchanges

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 7, 2011

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. I am so excited to see all of you and to have this opportunity to participate in the first-ever Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges. And for me personally, it’s very empowering to see all of you and to know a little bit about the stories behind each of you being here.

I'm also delighted that we have young students from the Kipp Academy and E.L. Haynes, who are representing the next generation of leaders. (Applause.) And we will be honoring tomorrow 10 women, eight of whom will be here who are receiving the International Women of Courage awards. There are two that could not come, but the eight who will be here – you will learn more about them and what they have done in their countries when we talk about the extraordinary steps each has taken in the face of tremendous struggle to stand up for women’s rights and human rights, democracy and opportunities.

And for you who are part of the 100 Women Initiative that we are launching today, I am so pleased to have this chance to welcome you formally to the United States and to the State Department. You’re here because people around you see you as a leader. Now, sometimes those of us who are put in that position wonder why. We say to ourselves, me? Oh, that’s hard to believe. But always remember that there are those who look to you for your courage, your conviction, your compassion. And they have told us that they see you as leaders.

This is especially important for me because I believe strongly that every person – man and woman, boy and girl – has a God-given right to participate and to go as far as his or her hard work and talents will take them.

So for me, investing in women and girls is smart. It pays off. It’s not only the right thing to do – and I see some heads nodding – because you’ve seen the differences in the lives around you, in your own life as to what it means for someone to believe in a girl or a woman and to give her the tools to make the most out of her own life. But it’s also true that this is important if you want to alleviate hunger – you teach women, who are most of the farmers in the world how to get more harvest out of their hard work. If you want to alleviate poverty, you give women access to credit and opportunities to actually start to generate income for themselves and their families. And you have been working in these and so many areas. You are established and emerging leaders from 92 countries. You are leaders from the academic world, from business, from civil society, from the media. You are pioneers and you are fearless supporters of those who need a champion.

Now, there are many stories that could be told about each and every one of you. Just a few that give our broader audience an idea of the work that you are doing. Raquel Fernandez from Paraguay – where’s Raquel –Raquel Fernandez from Paraguay connects with women and girls trapped in a life of servitude and brings them off the streets to break the cycle of prostitution and marginalization. (Applause.) In Sudan, Aisha Humad – where’s Aisha – Aisha is empowering women by teaching them to stand up for themselves and to stand up for their own rights, which is sometimes a difficult case to make. But Aisha, thank you for what you’re doing for the women and girls of Sudan. (Applause.) In Yemen, Ishraq Al-Subaeewhere is Ishraq, there you are – (applause) –she is – she’s a busy women. She’s not only a doctor and a medical researcher, but she conducts clinics for young people on everything from vocational skills to the basic principles of human rights and democracy, and that is so important in your country. Thank you such much, Doctor. (Applause.)

Now, these stories are just a small sample. I could be up here all day talking about each and every one of you. And as we go through the days, there will be more opportunities to learn more about what you’re doing and what we all can do to help you.

Now, I would like to acknowledge two of the 100 women who could not be here. One of them is a leader in the Women’s Legal Community in Libya, and she could not get out of her country safely. (Applause.) Let us think of her and all of the brave men and women of Libya. (Applause.)

And then the other, from Egypt, couldn’t make it through the checkpoints and the road closures that are unfortunately still preventing easy travel, and she couldn’t get to the airport. Now, we hope both the woman from Libya and Egypt can join us in a future exchange.

Many of you have also traveled a long distance to be here, and in the next three weeks we are going to send you across the United States. We are going to have you meet business leaders who have confronted challenges and succeeded. We are going to have you meet government officials and those who are trying to make our government at the local, state, and federal level work better. We are going to have you talk with women entrepreneurs who have learned how to set their own businesses up and make them as successful as possible.

You will be going to cities such as Des Moines, Iowa; New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, and others. And not only do we want you to meet Americans and talk with them about what they’re doing; we want you to talk about your own experiences, your own cultures, and what America and Americans can do to be better friends and partners to you in what you do at home.

We think Americans will learn a lot from you, and we hope that these next three weeks will be a valuable opportunity not only during the time you’re here, but as you go home we want to stay in touch with you through the internet, through every other means of communication. We want to be there for you if you have questions or you have other problems that maybe we can offer some suggestions about.

Now, this program represents just one of the ways that we at the State Department and in the Obama Administration are elevating the role of women and girls in our foreign policy. We are working with the private sector to provide grants to NGOs in many countries in order to help women and girls. We are encouraging your governments and your own business sector to invest more in women and bring women into the financial system. We think that’s a good return on investment for those banks and other financial entities.

We have something called the mWomen program, and that is to try to get more mobile technology – cell phones – into the hands of more poor women, because there’s such a gap. Even though there are now 2 billion cell phones in the world, there are at least 2 billion more poor people who could use those cell phones for all kinds of purposes.

We want to make sure that we hear from you about your experience and you give us your best ideas. We are going to be bringing even more women leaders to the United States. Every year, 5,200 entrepreneurs, politicians, civil servants, human rights activists, teachers, and others visit our country. When I travel around the world – and I’ve traveled hundreds of thousands of miles in the last two years. I think the last time I looked, it was over 450,000 miles, and I’m, like, perpetually jetlagged, to be honest with you. (Laughter.)

But when I travel to other countries, I always meet somebody who’s been on a visitor program to the United States. And that makes me feel good because I learn how it helps to shape their lives. And as I travel, I always take time out to meet with women, because I have a very strong belief that diplomacy, being the Secretary of State, is not just about governments meeting governments and government officials meeting government officials. Ultimately, I think it is people-to-people relationships that make a difference, that can really give you the strength to keep going through very difficult times.

And we know that many of the global challenges that we’re facing in the world today are going to require a lot of strength and a lot of energy to keep going forward. Each of you is really an ambassador – an ambassador for yourself, for your family, for your society, for your country, for your values and your ideals. And I want you to feel that way because you are a very valued and honored guest in the United States.

I’m going to be turning this over now to a panel of women who work with me, so that they can talk with you and you have a chance to ask them questions. Each and every one of them is a very special woman in her own right. And Ann, if I could, I’d like to introduce all of you as you maybe come up. Would that be all right?

And I think it’s Ann Stock, who some of you have seen already. Ann worked – (applause) – and it’s Cheryl and Melanne?

STAFF: I’m sorry?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Is Cheryl and Melanne next to the – great.

STAFF: Yes, Cheryl and Judith.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, great. Ann Stock worked for me the first time in the White House, when my husband was president. And so I’ve known Ann for many years now. She’s a good friend. She’s worked in the White House, she’s worked at the Kennedy Center – which some of you may have seen when you came into Washington – and now she’s here in the State Department, running our educational and cultural programs.

The next person I want to introduce is Cheryl Mills. Cheryl Mills has been – (applause) – a friend of mine for a long time. She was a lawyer in the White House, and a very famous one. If you ever Google her, you will see why. (Laughter.) She is fearless and she is one of the most highly organized people I’ve ever worked with. She is my chief of staff, she is my counselor, she basically runs the place. So she will be able to talk with you as well.

And finally, Judith McHale – is Judith here yet? She’s on her way? Well, I’m going to let Ann and Cheryl start. But Judith McHale, whom you will meet in a minute – you all can sit down – Judith McHale is the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy. But before that, she was one of the three original founders of the Discovery Channel. Have any of you ever heard of the Discovery Channel? Well, Judith was one of the people who started the Discovery Channel, which I think has programming in maybe 150-or-60 countries. And so she is a very successful businesswoman, a very successful investor and entrepreneur, who I enticed to come to work for me to try to do a better job of communicating on behalf of our country.

And I’ll be really honest with you. I need your help on this because I think that in the last several years, particularly a lot of young people in the world don’t really understand what the United States stands for and what we do and what we try to do to help people. So I need your advice as you go through your time here about how we can do a better job to communicate about who we are and why we want to help other people, because we want each and every one of you and every country you come from to have the same opportunities – to have a democracy where everybody is included; to have strong institutions; to end corruption; to create a level playing field where, no matter who you are or who your parents are, you have a chance to be a successful person if you’re willing to work hard. And that’s the message we try to give to our young students here about what it means to have a chance to get an education and to grow up here in the United States.

So I am thrilled you’re here. I’m going to turn it over to Ann and Cheryl, and they’ll be ready to answer your questions. And please give us your best advice, and we are not afraid of criticism. Somebody said to me once, “How does it feel when you’re criticized?” I said, “You know, I’ve been criticized for so many years, I hardly even know it happens anymore.” (Laughter.) It just kind of goes with the territory. If you’re going to be an outspoken woman and you’re going to stand up for yourself and you’re going to try to stand up for other people, guess what? You’re going to be criticized.

So this is Judith McHale, who I just bragged on and told all about being a Discovery founder. Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)

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PRN: 2011/346