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Women: Women's Education is Women's Empowerment

Reta Jo Lewis
Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs 
U.S. Mint Federal Observance of Women's History Month
Washington, DC
March 22, 2012

Good morning everyone. Thank you ­­Deputy Director Peterson (U.S. Mint) for the kind introduction and thank you Michele Satchell (EEO Program Manager, U.S. Mint) for asking me to deliver today’s keynote address as the U.S. Mint observes and celebrates women’s history month.

I also would like to thank Treasurer Rosie Rios (U.S. Treasurer and head of U.S. Mint) for her leadership here at the U.S. Mint. I know that she is especially passionate about supporting women in finance.

I feel honored to have been asked to speak to you today and to be in the presence of such a talented and dynamic group of women who, through their careers, have been and will continue to be role models for women in their fields and communities.

I look forward to the opportunity to discuss what the U.S. Department of State is doing to help empower women, particularly women in state and local government, not only through education, but also by helping them to foster and leverage connections with their foreign counterparts around the world.

But first, I would like to answer a question that is likely in many of your minds this morning. Why do we set aside an entire month to observe and honor women’s history? Why should all of us care?

The answer is that we celebrate Women’s History Month not only to celebrate the great women leaders who have paved the way for women’s suffrage and equal rights and opportunities, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to remember that we still have a long way to go.

Let me share some startling statistics with you that I think explain and shed light on why in 2012 we are still talking about why we must work together to empower women:

o Currently, 12 FORTUNE 500 companies are run by women, down from 15 in 2010—that is a problem.

o In 2012, women hold 90, or 16.8%, of the 535 seats in the 112th U.S. Congress.

o And, at the state level, 72 women hold statewide elective executive offices across the country. That is 22.7% of the 317 available positions, including Attorneys General and State Treasurers and Auditors, for example.

These statistics paint a clear picture of the work that remains to empower women to seek leadership positions alongside their fathers, brothers, and sons not only in the United States but also around the world.

Challenges and the Work to Overcome Them

The theme of today’s events at the U.S. Mint, “Women’s Education is Women’s Empowerment,” is timely and significant. Today, the world faces a unique set of challenges—economic, social, and political—that will require collaborative innovation and determination of ALL our world’s best minds, before they can be tackled.

Global, inclusive partnerships, which put aside personal philosophies and focus on solutions, will be the way to solve, together, the most complicated problems on the planet.

A lot has happened in the last year which has highlighted both the challenges and opportunities that women face around the world, from revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, to renewed debates over social issues in the United States this past month.

And these challenges and dialogues have only reinforced this Administration’s conviction of the need to seize this moment, meet this challenge, and lay the foundation for sustained global leadership for decades to come by working with new and diverse partners. Chief among these partners are women.

Integrating gender dimensions into policy dialogue can reduce gender barriers, unleash the productive potential of women, and broaden both the economic impact and sustainability of policy interventions.

As Secretary Clinton and officials across this Administration have stated repeatedly, the major security, governance, environmental, and economic challenges of the 21st century cannot be solved without the participation of women at all levels of society. That is because when women are at the table much more can be accomplished.

Over the past decade, much attention has been brought to the role of women in conflict prevention and peace building. A growing body of evidence shows that women bring a range of unique experiences and contributions in decision-making on matters of peace and security that lead to improved outcomes in conflict prevention and resolution.

And, engaging women as political and social actors can alter policy choices and make institutions more representative and better performing.

The U.S. National Security Strategy recognizes that “countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity.”

Research indicates that investments in women’s employment, health, and education, are correlated with a range of positive outcomes, including greater economic growth and children’s health and survival.

As women progress, everyone in society benefits, including men. Tapping into the limitless potential of women is not only the right thing to do but it is the smart thing. That is why the United States government and our international partners are invested in a historic effort to empower women globally.

Organizations such as The White House Project have been committed to this mission for over a decade working to advance women’s leadership in all communities and sectors by filling the leadership pipeline with a richly diverse, critical mass of women with the goal of making American institutions, businesses, and government truly representative.

Secretary Clinton has made women and girls a priority. She regularly delivers policy addresses on the role women and girls should play in public service, economic growth, and peace and security, as part of what will be a robust legacy of her work to promote gender equality and advance the status of women and girls across all of the Department’s work.

As the Secretary stated in her confirmation hearing before Congress, “If half of the world’s population remains vulnerable to economic, political, legal, and social marginalization, our hope of advancing democracy and prosperity is in serious jeopardy. The United States must be an unequivocal and unwavering voice in support of women’s rights in every country, on every continent.”

This commitment led Secretary Clinton to launch a platform to engage a new generation of women committed to public service, create an infrastructure of support, training and mentoring, and help enable more women to enter public service and political leadership.

This platform, the Women in Public Service Project, was launched by the U.S. Department of State, in collaboration with the Seven Sisters women’s colleges, aiming to increase the number of women in public service at the local, national, and international levels.

The initiative envisions a world in which political and civic leadership is at least 50% women by 2050. With your help, I see no reason why we will not meet this goal.

Yes, it will require every single woman in this room to make a commitment to support their peers and seek new opportunities, but it is possible. To invoke the motto of The White House Project, “Add women, change everything.”

As a woman who has worked extensively in both the private sector and in government, I understand how important it is to promote inclusive policy dialogues.

I also understand that many times the first step is to empower women to become voices in their communities– and to invest in their futures and the futures of their families through higher education.

As a student, I worked as hard as I could to excel—affording me opportunities that eventually paved the way for other women to know that they too have equal opportunities to pursue what they put their minds to.

And as a professional, I have had the opportunity to bring women’s issues to the forefront of policy conversations while serving as Chair of the District of Columbia’s Commission for Women and as a member of the International Women’s Forum.

It is essential that women leaders in communities, industry, and government not only support each other but also support young women and emerging women leaders by working to create a support system through professional women’s networks such as the Organization of Women in International Trade and the Women in Logistics and Delivery Services.

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion on this very subject, “Leveraging the Power of Women’s Networks to Affect Change,” a few weeks ago in Geneva, Switzerland in honor of International Women’s Day.

From that experience, I again saw how effective these networks and support systems have been in empowering women to reach their goals and have a voice and influence in their organizations and industries.

The Role of S/SRGIA

Building these peer-to-peer relationships can be invaluable. I am sure that many of the women in this room can attest to its benefits.

Unfortunately, this value is often ignored within government and in foreign policy when in fact peer-to-peer relationships between state and local elected officials have a tremendous effect on foreign policy.

To put it simply, not enough work is being done in this area, and this is why, as Secretary Clinton’s Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs, I have been tasked with serving the global needs of U.S. intergovernmental officials, their subnational counterparts, and the entities they represent.

Building these relationships and encouraging this engagement at the subnational level has limitless potential as a public diplomacy tool.

Peer-to-peer relationships give state and local leaders around the globe an intimate glance into the American way of life, and more importantly, into our democratic institutions and system of governance. Even at a more basic but equally important level, these interactions develop trust—an attribute essential to developing strong bilateral ties.

American leadership must be as dynamic as the challenges we face. We have to be ready to adapt and innovate, and that means leveraging new partners to work on specific issues such as sustainability, governance, and the economic and political empowerment of women.

Secretary Clinton has stated time and time again that in the 21st century addressing the global challenges we all face requires us to work with new partners to collaborate and innovate the way we engage globally. At the Department of State, this has meant making a transition to 21st Century Statecraft where we engage all the elements of our national power and leverage all forms of our strength.

Secretary Clinton has made it a priority to engage our subnational leaders and utilize them as an extraordinary source of innovation, talent, resources, and knowledge. After all, it is the states and cities that are the engines of growth at the ground level where the transition from policy to practice becomes most visible.

Therefore, a little over two years ago, Secretary Clinton created the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs emphasizing the utilization of our local leaders as a key component in the much needed widespread and deep-rooted efforts to take on our world’s greatest challenges—a key part of that charge is empowering women to lead their states and communities.

If we take a step back once again to look at the data on women leaders at the state level, it is clear that much work remains:

o In 2012, only six U.S. Governors are women;

o only 11 women hold the position of Lieutenant Governor;

o And the position of Secretary of State is held by only 11 women.

These statistics point to a real problem—clearly women are facing obstacles to reaching high level statewide elective executive offices. And until we meet this challenge at the subnational level, we will never achieve equal representation in our national elected offices.

Empowering Women

As you can see, despite the progress in the empowerment of women embodied by Women’s History Month and this celebration of women leaders, women continue to face obstacles such as limited educational opportunities, lack of individual confidence, and setbacks unique to women trading their goods and growing their businesses.

Nevertheless, by providing women with the tools to overcome and eliminate these hindrances, we can empower a new generation of business contributors, community leaders, and policy makers.

Secretary Clinton has said that the empowerment of women in business and government represents “perhaps the most consequential long-term opportunity to promote sustainable development, democracy, and economic growth.”

Embracing this vision, my office has worked closely with women governors, mayors, and other state and local elected officials individually and through our work with organizations such as the National Governors Association and U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Although women account for more than 50 percent of the global population, they hold less than 20 percent of all parliamentary seats.

Based on the statistics I shared with you earlier, you know that this is a concern in the United States and abroad. Women hold only 90 of the 535 seats in the 112th U.S. Congress.

Similarly, 1,745, or 23.6%, of the 7,382 state legislators in the United States are women.

Therefore, our office has worked closely with the National Foundation for Women Legislators (NFWL) to assist them with their international initiatives and global outreach to women elected officials all over the world.

Last August, my office spoke to the NFWL’s International Committee at their annual conference and put forward a Resolution in Support of Strengthening Cooperation and Coordination Between Women Elected Officials and the U.S. Department of State to Foster Economic Development by enhancing the U.S.’s International Ties and Increasing U.S. Exports Abroad that was passed.

There are a number of nations who could benefit from collaboration among women leaders whether in the public or private sector.

With the support of corporate leaders and through public- private partnerships, the Department and my office are seeking to collaborate with many countries to build the capacity of women local elected leaders and state and local governments.

Women’s issues are being integrated in Strategic Dialogues with China, India, and Pakistan, and through efforts such as the Community of Democracies, the Iraqi Women’s Democracy Initiative, and bilateral and multilateral outreach, the United States is working to ensure women’s voices are heard in emerging democracies and governments, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As a follow-up to Secretary Clinton’s participation in the 2011 U.S-India Strategic Dialogue, I traveled throughout India to promote U.S. -India state-to-state partnerships essential to building bilateral ties between the United States and the world’s largest democracy.

I was impressed at the measures taken by the Government of India to include women in governance through requirements for one-third representation of women in the legislature and one-half representation in their local governing bodies, panchayats.

There, I interacted with numerous women business, state, and local leaders who are empowering women through Self-Help Groups, and using their leadership to highlight women’s issues, such as cervical cancer.

I met with Chief Minister Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu who was very supportive of our efforts to connect Indian state leaders with their U.S. counterparts.

Looking beyond government, women are key drivers of economic growth. Secretary Clinton has launched efforts to spur economic growth by strengthening women’s entrepreneurship and creating opportunities for women to participate fully in the global economy.

In China, women represent only 20% of Chinese entrepreneurs.

Despite the dominance of state-owned enterprises in a number of major industries, China’s future prosperity will depend in large part on the growth and innovation generated by entrepreneurs, especially in services.

Therefore last June, my office engaged Women Corporate Directors in China in a discussion of their role in leading their country forward. Women will be important drivers of China’s entrepreneurial class, which will spur more job growth and lead to more balanced economic output than China is enjoying today.

Another effort to support the role of women in the global economy debuted at the recent APEC Women and the Economy Summit.

The U.S. is working with all Asian/Pacific economies to remove barriers to women’s economic participation.

The 21 economies of APEC are among the most dynamic in the world. Together, we represent more than half of total economic global output, and more than 60 percent of women in the APEC economies are part of our formal workforces.

To ensure local involvement and support of the U.S. role as host for APEC 2011, my office worked closely with state and local officials in Washington, D.C., Montana, San Francisco, Oakland, and Honolulu.

The APEC ministers and senior government officials at the APEC Women and the Economy Summit, along with private sector leaders, adopted the WES San Francisco Declaration that reaffirmed gender equality is central to economic growth and social development. The APEC leaders expressed their will to work together to improve women’s access to finance, education, training, employment, technology, and health systems by promoting entrepreneurship and greater leadership for women in business and government.

This promise, however, is not being embraced evenly across our globe, and laws, customs, and the values that fuel them provide roadblocks to the full economic integration and inclusion of women.

In the United States and in every economy in APEC, millions of women are still unable to find a meaningful place for themselves in the formal workforce. And many women already in the workforce are confined by restrictions that limit their potential, and ability to reach most senior positions.

Another State Department program focused on the empowerment of women entrepreneurs, which I have been involved with and that is reaching women business owners around the world, is the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP).

Estimates show that women contribute to over one-third of African countries’ GDP, and the Goldman Sachs’ 2008 Global Economic Report found that narrowing the gender gap in employment could push income per capita up by as much as 14 percent for 2020 global baseline projections.

Therefore, this program reaches out to women from African countries to provide them with information, tools, and networking opportunities to further their businesses and take advantage of new economic prospects.

In support of the AWEP program, I hosted two local level government advocacy sessions for women in business in both Washington, D.C. and Kansas City, Missouri.

In many countries around the world, women in business are playing an increasingly significant role in their local economies, and yet face more obstacles than their male counterparts. These obstacles can be exacerbated by limited government policy and funding to ameliorate issues facing women in business.

Other contributing factors include limited opportunities, lack of individual confidence, and lack of concrete data to validate the roles women play in business.

The AWEP sessions provided a review and discussion of key aspects of local level government advocacy to support the unique needs of female entrepreneurs in Africa.

The barriers and restrictions, which are eroding women’s abilities to participate fully in their economies and government, represent a global problem we must join together to solve.

Closing Comments

Secretary Clinton has said that “in the 21st century, the most important players in international affairs will be the ones who make things happen, who get results” –state and local officials are the leaders in policy implementation and thus we view them as partners in addressing our global challenges.

But even more important than their role is their make-up. It is essential for governing bodies around the globe to be inclusive and representative. To put it simply, women around the world must be a voice for their communities, states, and nations.

I challenge you all here today to leverage your networks and play an active role in empowering women to have their voices heard, to pursue leadership positions in their workplaces, and to seek higher education, so that they have an equal place at the table whether that be in the public or private sectors.

Each of you here today has a role to play in empowering women not only in the United States but also around the world.

You can share the message I have shared with you today with your friends and colleagues.

You can become a mentor to young women seeking careers in public service and leadership positions in your fields.

And, you can become involved with one of the amazing organizations committed to this cause which I’ve shared with you today.

I cannot say enough about the incredible work of The Women in Public Service Project, which is an amazing organization uniting government and universities to empower women hitting squarely on today’s theme of “Women’s Education is Women’s Empowerment.” Their goals not only echo today’s program but are essential steps for us all to take in order to empower women globally:

o Challenge the world community to identify, create, and advance a new generation of women committed to public service;

o Bring together thought leaders, educators, and public servants from around the world, as well as members of the private and non-profit sectors, who wish to take up this challenge;

o Identify and address the obstacles that prevent more women from committing to a life of public service and political leadership;

o Explore creative solutions that will increase the number of young women who aspire and are empowered to pursue a career in public service; and

o Make recommendations for implementing those solutions at all levels of political involvement around the world.

Let this be a call to action for us to join together recognizing the work that needs to be done and moving forward together to tackle the challenges ahead of us.

The integration of all of our work allows us to bring our competencies together to maximize our success. It is important for us to share our experiences and let our peers and colleagues know that they do not stand alone.

By implementing these partnerships and acting in a collective, concerted manner, we can add value to both our individual and shared goals, while also promoting the strategic interests of our nations, and enhancing what we can achieve together.

Thank you once again for celebrating Women’s History Month with me today—now let’s get to work!