March 8, 2017
(As prepared for delivery)
Today, I want to talk to you about the State Department’s commitment to promoting women’s rights through U.S. foreign policy, especially since 1995 when we established the Global Office of Women’s Issues. For over twenty years, this office has worked to ensure that women’s issues are considered in formulating and conducting our foreign policy. It’s rooted in the idea that empowering women politically, socially and economically helps promote stability, peace, and development internationally.
In partnership with other agencies, the White House, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Defense and also with the private sector, the Office of Women’s Issues has helped launch global initiatives that promote women’s development; integrate women into peace and security building; address and prevent gender-based violence; address the particular challenges of adolescent women; and, promote women’s robust participation in civic and political life.
It was under the Global Office of Women’s Issues that Secretary Condoleeza Rice established the annual Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award in 2007 to mark International Women’s day at the U.S. Department of State. This award honors women worldwide who have exemplified exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for human rights, women’s equality, and social progress. It has been granted to women from every level of society who often, at great personal risk, make efforts to improve conditions for others.
Honorees have included lawyers defending women in institutionalized gender-discriminating circumstances, doctors and healthcare workers addressing violence against women, to journalists and reporters who’ve uncovered stories and insisted on transparency and freedom of expression in threatening conditions, to creative small and artisanal businesswomen who’ve founded cooperatives and other programs to secure economic independence for marginalized people.
The recipients are rarely well known, wealthy or celebrated. They tend to be women who quietly and diligently work passionately to improve conditions for others in challenging circumstances, and would not be encouraged or supported were it not for this recognition.
Another example of our efforts to support women through diplomacy is the “Empowering Women and Girls Through Sports Initiative” launched in 2012 under Secretary Clinton. This was aimed at increasing the number of women and girls involved in sports worldwide; building self-esteem, strength, teamwork and confidence. A cornerstone of this initiative was a successful sports mentorship program that connects sportswomen across the globe with American counterparts not only online but live at competitions, trainings and meets to which girls and women have often had no access or funding for participation.
Again the point of incorporating these programs into our diplomacy (our use of soft power) around the globe is the simple fact that when women do better, countries do better. Yet in many, many countries, women and girls continue to face unique challenges that hold them back from meaningful participation in all parts of society.
I am gratified and proud that the U.S. State Department has shown a commitment to advancing gender equality and promoting empowerment of women and girls through U.S. foreign policy because we recognize how essential it is to global security, peace and prosperity.