Remarks During Women's Empowerment Breakfast

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Grand National Theater
Lima, Peru
November 18, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Scott, thank you very much. My apologies to all on two counts: one for arriving, and then two for leaving almost as fast as I arrived. (Laughter.) But I received a call from the State Department; unfortunately, I needed to take it. But my apologies to all.

Scott, thank you so much. Thanks for helping to lead this effort. I’m delighted to see that you are balancing the needs of customers with social corporate responsibility. There is such a thing in life and in our social structures as corporate citizenship. And more and more corporations across the world are assuming major responsibilities in concert with government in an effort to do things – in some cases to be able to do them faster and more efficiently and more effectively. So this is a partnership that we value enormously, and I’m grateful to the business leaders who are here, all of you who participate in this endeavor. We’re very, very grateful to your leadership in trying to keep the cause of women and girls at the forefront of our policies and of our consciences.

I want to recognize and thank Vice President Araoz. Thank you very much for your leadership. Dr. James Soong, thank you, from Chinese Taipei. We really appreciate your special participation today and your commitment to – financially to this effort, which makes an enormous difference. And we thank you for that.

And I want to underscore the criticality of the private sector participation that is here today. None of this works if we don’t have corporate leadership that is really invested in this effort.

Five years ago, when we came together in San Francisco, we endorsed the San Francisco Declaration. That was the beginning. And our goal was as clear then as it was compelling, which was to break down the barriers that prevent women from participating fully in our economies. I am the father of two daughters and just about to have a third grandchild – daughter. And this cause is personal in obvious ways. But it ought to be personal to everybody. I mean, there isn’t anybody who shouldn’t understand this and be deeply invested in it. It is a matter of human rights, it’s a matter of good governance, it’s a matter of good business, it’s a matter of common sense.

And I say it all the time: No economy, no country can really move ahead if it is leaving half of its people behind. And you simply can’t do as well as an economy ought to be able to do, and this has been proven statistically again and again all around the world, that where women are participating and participating fully, the society tends to be more stable, it tends to be more participatory, and particularly it tends to be more productive and effective.

So economies are today powered by innovation, by ideas, by smart marketing, sound management. And any company that wants to compete in today’s world, where it is harder and harder to compete – I mean, let’s be honest about it. There are a lot of competitors. And the rewards of the marketplace go to the people who can respond quickly, effectively, creatively, and if you dawdle, someone else in some other country, some hungry small business entity is going to come in and grab the spoils. So – and by the way, that drives – that competition drives a more efficient economy. It drives effectiveness. But it will never be effective if we leave in place those barriers that keep preventing people as a matter of sort of social stigma or culture or tradition. And in some of the toughest places in the world with respect to this – I’m not going to start naming locations and countries; I think you know what I mean – where there are real quasi-religious and certainly cultural barriers to this, increasingly the leadership of those countries are coming to realize they have to open up, they have to be more flexible, they have to transition, and they have to diversify.

So – is this – am I supposed to speak to the rhythm? (Laughter.) I’m happy to do that, if I – (laughter). I mean, I – I’ll go further, but I won’t do it here. (Laughter.)

But the fact is that participation by women traditionally always increases productivity in a country and it’s good for morale; let’s get to the bottom line. And that is good in the Asia Pacific just as it is in other places in the world.

So this is not just a matter of economic theory, I want you to know. This plays out in classrooms, boardrooms, factory floors, and offices where there are real people trying to make a living and put food on the table for their families, and where everybody that I’ve ever met always wants to be able to explore and live the full possibilities of their life.

So let me tell you about that. Miriam is a young Peruvian girl. She participated in this year’s STEM. And everybody knows, science, technology, so forth. Okay. I see a lot of heads nodding. You are a very educated audience. And the United States was very pleased to support this through APEC. It brought together nearly 100 girls from the Americas writ large, and they learned directly from experts from major companies. When asked about the barriers that women and girls face with respect to science and technology, Miriam was very confident about the future.

And here is what she said. She said: “I am a representative for girls everywhere. Everything I learn I will share with others. I have a responsibility to succeed in STEM and let other girls know that they can do it too.”

That’s the spirit. That’s what begins to happen. And that’s why the work that we are here to support today is so vital. Each of us has an ability to be able to help break down those barriers. It means breaking down barriers that restrict the ability of women to be able to start a business, to be able to find the capital, the credit that is necessary, to be able to take advantage of modern technology, and to be able in the end to pursue successful careers because of that.

So let me emphasize that backing gender equality is not really a choice of take it or leave it. It’s a fundamental responsibility; it’s a duty that we really have to ourselves and to generations to come. And that is why for the past five years the United States has been investing in the APEC initiatives that are designed to level the playing field so women everywhere have an opportunity to have the access to the opportunities that they deserve. That’s why we launched the Women and the Economic Dashboard to help us track the critical indicators for women’s economic success – the female labor force participation, and also financial literacy and educational attainment. And you run the list, I mean, there are a whole series of categories which are really key indicators to the capacity to move forward and break down the barriers. We are now setting very clear benchmarks for women’s participation in the economy, for monitoring progress, and for supporting efforts to enable women in business to be able to lead and to inspire others as Miriam does at her very young age.

We also launched the Women’s Entrepreneurship at APEC or the WE-APEC initiative. People ask me all the time, “How can you support women entrepreneurs? Where do you find them? How do we leverage their talent?” WE-APEC is answering those questions, and it’s doing it by helping to connect more than 600 organizations across the region that are working to expand and strengthen the opportunity for women entrepreneurs.

We’ve also the launched the Healthy Women Healthy Economies initiative, which focuses on workplace safety, on gender-based violence, and on other health-related barriers that prevent women from being able to get into the marketplace. And we’ve developed a framework for APEC for increasing women’s participation in fields in which their contributions are sorely needed, including transportation, science, technology, engineering, and math.

So my friends, we’ve made a good start. There’s obviously still a lot that we need to do, and it’s going to require sustained engagement by all of the us – people in the private sector, people in the public sector. That’s why I’m very pleased to announce that we are working with Chinese Taipei to create a new sub-fund on women and the economy in order to ensure that this work continues over the next five years. And I think that’s an important marker to lay down. I hope other economies will join us in supporting this important effort. We want to make sure that whatever happens with transitions in administrations and other such things, this project is going to continue, and I’m confident about that. (Applause.)

Governments have, obviously, a critical role, but I want to just say the private sector also really needs to continue to be fully invested and engaged in this effort. Healthy Women Healthy Economies, the toolkit or the support that many of you provide to STEM, the camp – all of these things are critical. And I know that some partners are going to be announcing additional commitments in the course of this morning’s program, and I encourage all of you to consider what more you can do to support women in your companies and to share those practices with APEC.

Young women like Miriam who – and my fellow speaker, the incredibly talented economist, the vice president – all of our participants here today are working in support of an extremely important cause which really has tentacles that connect everywhere in the world, which is what makes this very exciting. As Secretary of State I have been so honored to travel the world and to see these programs in effect. I will never forget one of my earliest trips to Afghanistan where I met with 10 women entrepreneurs, each of whom had started a major business and were doing extraordinary work. But you have to imagine how difficult in some societies it is for women to stand up against threats, prejudice; cultural, historical barriers of many, many centuries. It’s not easy in some places. Some people can walk into a room and do this really easily in one country, but for someone else it may mean acid in the face or a bullet in the head. It is not easy.

So these efforts that we’re making here today really ripple out all across borders, my friends. It’s remarkable what happens. And I am convinced that with the commitment that you all are showing, we’re going to build this mighty force all across the planet that changes things.

Robert Kennedy, when he went to South Africa in 1968 to address the challenge of apartheid, talked to an audience that was skeptical and jaded, cynical, even, about the possibilities and he said to them, “The greatest of all dangers is futility, the sense of futility.” That there’s nothing that one man or woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills. But he said, “Each time a man or a woman strikes out against injustice or works to improve the lot of others, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope that crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Believe it or not, what we’re doing here today is a continuum of that commitment, of that vision, and I’m proud to be here with all of you. And I look forward to continuing this work even when I’m not Secretary of State. Thank you so much. (Applause.)