Remarks at a Meeting of the Equal Futures Partnership

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Waldorf Astoria Hotel
New York City
September 23, 2013

SECRETARY KERRY: (In progress) and to the distinguished ministers, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for being here, all of you, very, very much. We appreciate it.

As Cathy mentioned, this is the third high-level meeting of the Equal Futures Partnership, and we’re delighted to have former heads of state as well as some other distinguished leaders, foreign ministers. All of you are so (inaudible) to this mission.

Some of you may not be sports aficionados, (inaudible), but I’ll tell you, I can tell you from just common sense that no team can ever win if half of its players are on the bench. And that is effectively where we are in so many parts of the world with respect to women and women’s ability, opportunity, capacity to be able to take part and share in all aspects of society. We know that a country’s economic competitiveness increases as the gender gap decreases, and that’s clear to us in health and education, political participation, and in economic inclusion. And while we’ve made remarkable progress in the first two areas, health and education, I think everybody understands that we’re still far from where we need to be when it comes to civic involvement and also economic opportunity for women. Even here in our country, we still have a huge differential in pay for the same work – the same work, less pay. Those are the barriers that we need to try to continue to break.

And the State Department, which I am very proud to say, has been led by smart, capable, female diplomats for many of the past years – Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright, my immediate predecessor Hillary Clinton. Indeed, I joked that when I came into the building, that part of my task was to prove that a man could still do the job. (Laughter.) But each of those individuals are clear examples of the very powerful impact that women who are involved in civic enterprise and government can have throughout the world. And I’m proud to say my wife here, Teresa Heinz, is here, who is one of the champions of that notion and has been for a long period of time.

The same is true in business. When researchers from the Harvard Business Review conducted a global study of business leadership, they found that women were rated by their peers in fully 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership ahead of men. And despite this fact – pretty good ratio, 12 out of 16 – despite that fact, the study also found that more than 60 percent of business leaders are still men. And the higher you go up the career ladder, the more men you find.

In joining Equal Futures, our nations have committed to taking bold steps to close the gender gap and to sharing the progress that we make with each other so that local practices can be replicated all over the world. And we’ve taken a commitment to try to increase our work with private and public sector partners to remove the obstacles that make it harder for women to get an equal seat at the table.

President Obama and I share powerfully – if you look at our families, we both have two daughters, and two strong wives. I firmly believe, as he does, that the opportunities for women in all of our countries, as they grow, so will the possibility for prosperity, for stability, and most importantly, if you look around the world, for peace. That’s exactly what this partnering here is all about.

And today, I am very pleased to welcome Japan – Fumio, Fumio Kishida, the Foreign Minister of Japan here – thank you very much, Fumio; Italy – Emma Bonino, the Foreign Minister – thank you for being here, Emma; Switzerland, and Mexico. We are delighted to have everybody aboard. These are the newest nations to join this effort, and I know that each of our member countries are going to significantly benefit from your participation.

I also want to welcome Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who – did I get it close to --


SECRETARY KERRY: Close? All right. (Laughter.) Ngcuka – that’s how you say it – who recently became the Executive Director of UN Women, and Dr. Jim Kim, who is the head of the World Bank. And both organizations play really critical roles in the work of the Partnership, and their insights are going to be particularly important as we chart the future for the program.

We are particularly interested in examining how we can better address sexual and gender-based violence. Up to seven of every 10 women in the world report having experienced physical or sexual assault sometime in their lives. Think about that – seven out of 10. It’s plain and simply, flatly unacceptable. It’s an insult. And for women and girls to take advantage of new opportunities, first and foremost they must be able to live free from the fear of violence.

With that goal in mind, I’m proud to announce today, on behalf of President Obama, a new U.S. initiative called Safe from the Start. And our initial commitment of $10 million will help the ICRC, the UNHCR, and other organizations to hire staff to develop new programs to protect women and girls in the face of emergencies and implement these programs as quickly as possible. And I hope this will be one more initiative which brings us all together and that we can all cooperate on.

I want to emphasize that high-level meetings like this are critical to our ability to be able to identify where and how we can generate systemic change. It helps all of us to organize and coordinate our energies to that end. And so I regret that, because of the schedule, I’ll be leaving here to go – I’m meeting shortly with President Obama – but I ask that all of you to feed in in the course of this meeting so that we can have your sense of direction as to how we can best implement this and support the work of Equal Futures over the course of the next months and years.

We look forward very, very much to working to develop a strategic plan for the partnership and to create working groups that break out and pull together a roadmap, if you will, for all of us to embrace and work on over the course of these days. And I – it goes without saying that I think all of us who have come here with this one purpose long for the day when our daughters’ dreams are just as valued as our sons’.

Let me introduce Valerie Jarrett, who has led an extraordinary career through her life. She was the chairman of a business called Habitat Chicago. She was the Commissioner of Planning and Development for the city of Chicago. She was the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Mayor. And somehow, in the course of all of that, she found time to be at two law firms and a whole bunch of other things. Everybody knows she is a very close friend of the President – more importantly, perhaps, in terms of this work, a huge collaborator and leader with respect to these issues, and it’s my privilege to introduce her now.

Thanks, Valerie.

MS. JARRETT: Thank you very much, Secretary Kerry. I want to begin by showing my appreciation for your commitment and strong leadership in promoting the role of women and girls around the world. And good afternoon, everyone. It’s just a pleasure to be here with all of you. It’s good to be back.

This time last year, many of you would recall that I was here with Secretary Clinton, and together we announced Equal Futures with just 12 original nations. And so I’m so happy to return after a year of collective progress and to welcome now 23 additional nations. I’m delighted to report that the United States has made great headway since we gathered at the World Bank in April, and I look forward to hearing about the tremendous work being done by all of our member countries.

It has been a true pleasure for me to work with the President, who really understands the value of empowering women and girls. Whether assessing complex social policy, public safety, or setting economic priorities, President Obama understands the importance of women and girls not just as a President, but as Secretary Kerry alluded to, but as a husband, a loving father of two little girls, and as a son of a single mother. That is why he formed the White House Council on Women and Girls, which I am so proud to chair, and why he is committed to the success of Equal Futures.

Today, I’d like to begin by announcing that in addition to the Safe from the Start initiative just announced by Secretary Kerry, that there are several new efforts that will be launched by the United States to strengthen our Equal Futures commitments and to move us closer to our collective goals.

First, I am thrilled to announce that next spring, President Obama will convene a summit on working families at the White House. In preparation, we are already holding discussions with working families, employers, business leaders, economists, and advocates to seek new ideas for ensuring fair pay for women – women in the United States still only earn 77 cents on the dollar, far less for women of color – encouraging family-friendly workplaces, increasing productivity, and strengthening our economy, all of our goals for the working family summit. Our summit will be an important event, and I’m confident, will lead to bold, concrete actions to strengthen opportunities for working families.

On other fronts, Girls Inc. and Discovery Education are working together to help girls receive science, technology, engineering, and math education that they will need to prepare for high quality, high-paying jobs in the future. NASA and the National Science Foundation are also working in pursuit of this important goal.

Our federal agencies are supplying survivors of domestic violence with the support and the tools that they need to achieve economic independence and regain their lives. The federal government along with our civil partners from George Washington University and are working together to ensure women and girls receive the education and training they need to reach the highest ranks of leadership in government and in elected office.

Private sector partners are also stepping up, and we’re excited to announce a few of those new partnerships here today. Just this month, USAID and the world’s largest retailer, Walmart, signed a Global Memorandum of Understanding committing to work together in support of women’s economic empowerment. The partnership will kick off in Bangladesh, helping 40,000 women farmers there play a more prominent role in agricultural production and marketing.

The Cherie Blair Foundation – and I see Cherie Blair is here with us, thank you for being here – WEConnect International, Intel, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, and the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and the Bluedrop Performance Learning company will help women obtain education, training, and mentoring that they need to start and grow their own businesses in many Equal Future partner countries, including right here in the United States.

I’d like to ask all of our private sector and civil society partners to please stand so that we can recognize you and show our thanks. Please stand. Thank you. (Applause.)

We sincerely look forward to your continued partnership and to the growth of this group as more and more governments and private sector stakeholders commit and invest in the political and economic empowerment of women and girls. I want to thank you all for an impressive first year, and I cannot wait for the years to follow.

And now I’d like to turn it back over to Secretary Kerry.

SECRETARY KERRY: Again, my apologies. I really would like to be here. I think Teresa’s going to stay here and represent me and come back with all the goodies that you’re going to put on the table. But I generally appreciate the expansion of this group in a short period of time and the commitment that has been made here. And to our friends from Mexico and Bangladesh and Belgium and elsewhere, thank you so much for being part of this.

With that, I need to join the President for a meeting, but thank you very much.

MS. JARRETT: Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Madam Ambassador, it’s yours and Valerie’s. Thank you. (Applause.)

PRN: 2013/1174