Interview With Michele Kelemen of NPR

Hillary Rodham Clinton
   Secretary of State
Melanne Verveer
   Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
International Women of Courage Awardees Eva Abu Haalaweh and Ghulam Sughra
Washington, DC
March 8, 2011

QUESTION: So before we talk about the individual stories, I wanted to ask sort of more broadly about what’s happening, because you alluded to this today, in Egypt that there are so many women out in the streets but nobody rewriting the constitution. So what is the U.S. doing to encourage the Egyptian Government to include women, to listen to women?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s our role to support Egyptian women who are speaking up for themselves. And we certainly try to ensure that their concerns are heard by the new Egyptian Government, because it would be a shame with all of the extraordinary change that’s going on in Egypt if women were somehow not given their opportunity to be part of bringing about the new Egypt.

Women, like men, have the full range of political opinions. I mean, women go from one end of the political spectrum to another, just like men. So we don’t argue for any particular group of Egyptian women; we just want to see that Egyptian women’s voices, especially of their lawyers, their professors, their judges, their business leaders, just so many accomplished women, are part of the decision making.

QUESTION: And do you talk about that, though, when you pick up the phone and talk with the foreign minister or whoever the latest foreign minister is? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I do, because I – and I think it’s important that we always raise it because we think it will make a better outcome. We don’t want to see Egypt or Tunisia or anyplace eliminate half the population when they think about the future. That would make no sense at all.

QUESTION: One of the things that’s happening, I mean, as you have to sort of rethink strategy in the Middle East is you have groups – political Islam sort of becomes a reality. In Tunisia, they’re worried that women’s rights were very strong under Ben Ali. So how do you recalibrate U.S. foreign policy keeping in mind women’s issues?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t see a contradiction. I think that women are playing a major role in so many countries across the world today that didn’t have a chance to in the past. Pakistan had a woman prime minister, who very tragically was killed, but she was very brave in standing up for women and women’s role in the world. India has had a woman prime minister. Bangladesh currently has a woman prime minister. You go from country to country to country and each country is different, but in the 21st century there’s no doubt in my mind that there should be no excuses about using women’s talents and educating girls and making sure that they have access to the same opportunities as their brothers.

QUESTION: I want to ask about Jordan specifically because that’s a country that you’re coming from. What role are women playing in the transitions there, and do you feel the support from the U.S.?

MS. HALAWEH: In fact, in Jordan, the King is leading the reform. He is the person who started talking about (inaudible) ago. And also (inaudible) also they are working with us to do difference on women’s rights, especially work against discrimination and to protect victims of domestic violence. Now, we did add on, of course, and they (inaudible) in the Jordanian community. And part of this, part of the (inaudible) is talking about (inaudible). It’s also part of the response we want, more women’s participation, more – also a compact (inaudible) all kinds of (inaudible), all kinds of discrimination against women (inaudible).

QUESTION: What was your message to the Secretary about U.S. policy? Because she has to think about the new realities in the Middle East. I mean, you’re – as a woman, as a Jordanian, as a Palestinian.

MS. HALAWEH: In fact, I (inaudible) – I mean, the courage woman in Palestine, they really need her support. We are looking for a change and toward more courage towards the Palestinian issue. We (inaudible) two weeks ago for the – using the veto and for conducting (inaudible) the settlements. But (inaudible) humanitarian sense that (inaudible) watch what’s happening now in Palestine and that (inaudible) will be a change I believe on (inaudible) humanitarian sense.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I also want to ask you about – because I know we don’t have that much time – about Afghanistan and Pakistan because there was just this report out about the U.S. aid clause that’s been dropped for requirements for gender equality. Why was that dropped, and are you worried about – are you backing off from these demands in Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, we’re not backing off at all. And Melanne may want to answer that specifically, but what we’re trying to do is be effective. We want to get the results so that it’s not just a rhetorical claim that we can point to, but actual results on the ground. Melanne, you might want to add to that.

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Well, the specific issue that was raised was in a USAID program that was directed at land rights, and there were some changes made as that program was being implemented. But I think the real misunderstanding that came out of that was a sense that the United States was reevaluating its (inaudible) policy in Afghanistan vis-à-vis Afghan women. And that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It is very much central to our stabilization program there. We’ve got extraordinary investments in education, in health, particularly ameliorating and decreasing maternal mortality, which is the second worst problem in the world in Afghanistan; strong investments in women’s economic participation; and the Secretary has been an extraordinary leader on women’s political participation. Obviously, there are many more women in the parliament, but the big issue today is so-called reintegration and reconciliation and whither goest the women in the peace process.

And in that situation, from their participation in the peace jirga to very strong statements and leadership that she has underscored repeatedly about the red line in all of this, which is that any reintegration take place by renouncing violence, renouncing al-Qaida, and strongly supporting the Afghan constitution, which has women’s rights chiseled into it. And that means the right to go to school. It means the right to work.

So women’s participation, as has so often been articulated by the Secretary in particular and others as we engage in Afghanistan, is that any potential for peace – and women want an end to the conflict more than anybody, but any potential for peace will be subverted if women’s voices are marginalized or silenced. And (inaudible) our effort is very central to what we’re doing there because the prospect for peace won’t succeed without it.

QUESTION: And you’ve talked recently about a diplomatic surge. So there’s that --


QUESTION: I mean, is that something that --

SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s exactly what we are doing. We’ve had certainly a surge in military activity and forces. We’ve had a surge in civilian personnel. But what I’m focused on now is what I call the third surge, which is the diplomatic and political, searching for ways that we can end the conflict in Afghanistan, work with Pakistan to help stabilize Pakistan against the threat it faces from extremists.

So there’s a lot that we have to work on, but I want to reinforce the message from Melanne, and that is I personally – this Administration is absolutely committed to doing everything we can to support the women of Afghanistan and Pakistan, because we believe that you will have greater stability and greater security if women are included. If women are educated, if women have a chance to have their voices heard, if they are respected, that will eventually result in a much more stable society.

QUESTION: The U.S. pours a lot of aid into Pakistan, so are there those sorts of requirements in U.S. aid?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We do everything we can to try to work to focus on women and girls. It’s not the only thing that we do. We do a lot of security aid which goes primarily to the military or to the police force or to other elements of the security structure in both countries. But when it comes to our civilian aid, we believe that improving education, improving healthcare, improving agriculture, improving governance and the rule of law, is all about improving the lives of girls and women.

QUESTION: So I wanted to ask you then if you feel that support, because the relationship with Pakistan is so complex, there’s so many different issues, whether you feel that support from the United States.

MS. SUGHRA: I told already I can’t do anything in Pakistan without support and help, so we are working for women issues (inaudible) little bit, not much more. And Pakistan many issues by the women, they don’t get education, there is no facility for help, there is no facility in the village and the desert areas. The women is like (inaudible). So there is male-dominated society in Pakistan. Males dominate and their violence on the woman and different violence in the home.

So I want the support from the State Department and the popular ladies, so I want that support. And I am very happy I work in Pakistan but give me respect (inaudible) in USA. So there is many problem for me, why you go to the village, why you empower the women, why you work in – for the women? So here is very support and very kind people, and I am very happy. I want the support in Pakistan from USA.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that’s a really important point, because the work that she does or the other women do is often very lonely work, very isolating work. Sometimes your family doesn’t understand, the people that you grew up with, live with, don’t understand. They keep asking why aren’t you happy the way things are? Why do you want to try to change things?

And it can be a very unhappy experience trying to change things to help people. And I think part of what we’ve tried to do over the last two years, and then for many years before that, is to make it very clear that the United States, either through our government or through individuals or through our charities, we will try to help those who are standing up for human rights and women’s rights against great odds.

To start a school in her village in Pakistan was an act of such enormous bravery, because most of the people didn’t see any reason why girls should go to school. And it seems like in some respects an obvious sort of thing – of course girls should go to school – but she has to fight for that every single day. And so we want to help her.

But what we would really like is to see changes in attitude in Pakistan so that the people in Pakistan would help her do what she’s trying to do to make Pakistan better.

QUESTION: Okay, I’ve been told I’m out of time, but if you could just real briefly – she brought up the question of doing something on Palestine. I mean, should we be expecting any big new surge on this front?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we hope so because we believe strongly that the Palestinian people deserve their own state and they deserve a state that can provide economic opportunity and security and democracy. And I am very supportive of what is going on in the Palestinian authority because they’re proving that they can build a state. And now I want to see the political changes that are necessary so that there can be two states living side by side. And I’m not saying anything that I haven’t said to the Israelis and the Palestinians many times. It is now more than ever the opportunity to resolve this conflict, because people deserve, if you’re in Israel, to live in security, and if you’re a Palestinian, to live in your own state. And the only way that will happen is if there is an agreement between the two. And we are pushing every single day for that.

QUESTION: Is Netanyahu coming here with a plan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are looking for a lot of action on the part of the leadership in both – on both sides.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for your time.


PRN: 2011/358