On this 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, it is important to recognize that women globally have made significant gains. Despite the progress, vast inequalities persist.
The potential of women to contribute to economic growth and prosperity, social progress, peace, and good governance is still untapped in too many places. Gender-based violence not only destroys the lives of individual girls and women, families, and communities, but also robs the world of the talent it urgently needs.
As the world marks International Women’s Day, Secretary Hillary Clinton will participate in a celebration in Washington, D.C. with First Lady Michelle Obama to announce the International Women of Courage Awards to 10 honorees from around the globe.
The recipients represent the women who work in their countries against corruption and injustice, and who fight for human rights, good governance and economic opportunity. They are agents of change. Overcoming poverty, discrimination, and violence, the honorees not only champion the rights of women and girls, but also serve as an inspiration to us all.
If we are to build a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world, we cannot leave half the population behind. We cannot successfully tackle the challenges that confront us in relation to the environment, security, economics, development, and more, if women are not engaged at every level of society.
The Government of Rwanda has made great strides in engaging women. Rwanda has the highest proportion of female parliamentarians in the world and Rwandan women serve in leadership positions at every level, from imidugudu to the Cabinet, including those elected in your just-concluded local elections.
The government-funded Women’s Council serves as a forum for women’s issues, and the Minister of Gender and of Family Promotion heads government programmes that address women’s issues. Legislation protects women from gender-based violence and sexual harassment and allows women to inherit property. However, the challenge in Rwanda and throughout the world is to make sure that practice catches up with legislation and that the reality in every village, on the street, and in the workplace matches our legal and moral principles.
Achieving that goal is everyone’s job and we look forward to continuing to work with Rwanda to do just that, in government and private initiatives, both here, in the region, and around the world - in places like Haiti and Darfur.
Under the Global Health Initiative, the U.S. is investing in efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality and avert millions of new HIV infections, among other goals. We are activating a diverse range of public-private partnerships to help meet critical goals.
Our global food security programme is a major commitment to strengthen the world’s food supply, so farmers can earn enough to support their families and food will be more broadly available.
Women are integral to this mission. Women grow, harvest, store, and prepare most of the world’s food, often in extremely difficult conditions.
The U.S. is committed to the empowerment of women not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is the smart thing to do. When women make progress, countries make progress.
A mountain of research shows that investments in women correlate positively with alleviating poverty and increasing prosperity. The education of a girl is the most effective development investment that can be made with enormous positive consequences for her future and her family’s future.
Circumscribing women’s participation and leaving their potential untapped, shortchanges women and shortchanges our world. We vitally need women’s talents, experiences, and leadership.
Today we celebrate the contributions of women. Everywhere they are making a difference. Many do so with great courage and often at great personal risk. They are changing the world for the better. Today, we salute all Women of Courage.
Stuart Symington is US Ambassador to Rwanda