Introduced: May 17 2012
Secretary of State Clinton, widely respected for her accomplishments in the world arena, answers IWD questions about her dedication to improving the lives of women and children. Since becoming Secretary of State, she has visited more than 95 countries and traveled more than 800,000 miles. When she is not dealing with nuclear threats in North Korea or Iran, leading highly-visible negotiations for a dissident in China, or managing sensitive issues regarding revolutions in Libya -- Secretary of State Clinton has consistently remained interested in women's rights as human rights. IWD also has featured dialogues that touch on these topics, including Arab Women: Roles and Rights. We appreciate Secretary Clinton taking the time to answer these questions posed by IWD members. If you have additional questions, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note from IWD: In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, Secretary of State Clinton's favorable rating stands at 65 percent. It’s the highest for her in the poll’s history and echoes her extremely high job rating by the American public.
1. What several countries do you think currently stand out as making improvements in the lives and freedoms of women?
One of my greatest privileges as Secretary of State has been the opportunity to meet with so many extraordinary women all over the world who are working hard for change each and every day. They may often toil in obscurity or even in great danger, but we are seeing the fruits of their work in just about every corner of the globe.
The revolutions of the Arab Spring could not have taken hold without the women who marched, organized, and put their lives on the line in pursuit of freedom and human rights. In Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen, women will need to play a continuing role in working to create vibrant democracies and strong economies for all their citizens.
Last October, the Nobel Committee shined a global spotlight on the contributions of women by awarding the Peace Prize to three extraordinary women from Liberia and Yemen for their contributions in leading peaceful revolutions for democratic change. As these revolutions transition into new governments across the region, women must work stridently to preserve and expand their rights and participation in these societies. Only time will tell how these countries emerge, but one thing is for sure: democracy without the participation of women is a contradiction in terms. In Afghanistan we have made the participation of women an essential cornerstone of our policy, for unless women are fully participating in the public square, any potential for peace, stability, and increased opportunity will be subverted.
In Bangladesh, women have seen great progress in the areas of political participation, education, and employment. The proportion of parliamentary seats held by women is nearly 20 percent, while school attendance rates for girls are on the rise, and the rate of women’s participation in the labor force is now over 50 percent, and increasingly rapidly. Teenage pregnancy has declined sharply over the past decade, and Bangladeshi women, on average, are now having few children per family. In March 2011, Sheikh Hasina’s government approved the “National Women Development Policy 2011”, which seeks to encourage the promotion of women’s education and participation in governance, expand property rights for women, and provide opportunities for women in employment and business. Similarly, Mongolia has been an emerging leader in including women’s voices in the democratic process. Boasting a relatively low gender gap in literacy and education, Mongolia is working hard with the international community to encourage women’s political participation through a new political party quota system and other leadership building programs.
These are just a few highlights of the progress we are witnessing all across the globe; indeed, I could go around the world and point out the gains women have made in country after country. To be sure, the challenges we face are difficult, but we have made women a priority of U.S. foreign policy, and are focusing on ways to encourage greater political and economic participation. One way is by helping grow the number of women-run small and medium size businesses, which are often the key to unlocking cycles of poverty and disenfranchisement. We have also made major investments in development programs, like Feed the Future, which aim to enhance agriculture productivity, and our Global health initiative has women and girls at its core because women’s health is essential to the health of families and communities.
The 21st century will be remembered as the Participation Age; we are now living in a time where every individual – regardless of gender or other characteristics – is poised to be a contributing and valued member of the global marketplace. Women still face formidable hurdles ranging from access to finance to discriminatory laws, regulations, and practices that we must overcome, but the trajectory is clear and the lessons we have learned unmistakable: when women flourish, families, whole communities, and entire nations flourish.
2. Why should comfortable, secure American women take time to notice and care about the lives of women around the world? Besides the sisterhood we feel, how do countries get better when their women gain more rights, more freedom, and more involvement?
That is a terrific question and the answer is twofold: making these investments is simply the right thing to do, but it is also in our strategic national interest.
Global peace and prosperity both depend upon ensuring that women and girls around the world have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. There is a true mountain of research showing that gender equality is smart economics, and we know from experience that when women thrive, all of society thrives. Indeed, investments in women correlate positively with poverty alleviation and a country’s general prosperity. In an interdependent global economy, this benefits everyone, regardless of our gender or where we live.
Countries with lower levels of gender imbalance also exhibit higher levels of peace and stability. In order to do our part to ensure that more women are present in the negotiations where peace can be brokered, President Obama recently launched the first-ever “U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.” The plan charts a roadmap for how the United States will accelerate and institutionalize efforts across the government to advance women’s participation in preventing conflict and keeping peace. This initiative represents a fundamental change in how the U.S. approaches its diplomatic, military, and development-based support to women in areas of conflict by ensuring their perspectives and considerations of gender are woven into the very fabric of how we approach critical challenges.
In an ever-connected world, we can no longer turn a blind eye to suffering or injustice, whether it takes place down the street or across an ocean. Today no country can possibly hope to move forward if it is leaving half of its people behind – and neither can the global community.