Posts Tagged ‘Women and Girls’

Unfortunately, the notification for this event came into my inbox late,  and the event had already passed, but, for the record, here is the information.


UN Women - United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women


Date: 14 May 2014


After two years of research and many in-depth consultations, on 14 May the World Bank team will launch a ground-breaking report, with Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

The new report, Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity, focuses on freedom from violence, control over sexual and reproductive health, ownership and control of land and housing, and voice and collective action. It shines a spotlight on the value of enabling women and girls to fulfil their potential and of amplifying their voices. It distills vast data and hundreds of studies to cast important new light on the constraints women and girls face worldwide, from epidemic gender-based violence to biased laws and norms that prevent them from making decisions about their own lives. While highlighting gaps, the report equally reviews promising policies and interventions.

Join the discussion about this ground-breaking report and watch the webcast on this page on 14 May at 5.15 p.m. ET.

Hashtag: #WomenCan

– See more >>>>


Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity featuring the Hon. Hillary Rodham Clinton

The persistent constraints and deprivations that prevent many of the world’s women from achieving their potential have huge consequences for individuals, families, communities, and nations. Expanding women’s agency—their ability to make decisions and take advantage of opportunities—is key to improving their lives as well as the world we all share.
— World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, Foreword, Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity

A new World Bank report, Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity, distills vast data and hundreds of studies to cast important new light on the constraints women and girls face worldwide, from epidemic gender-based violence to biased laws and norms that prevent them from making decisions about their own lives. These constraints are not only fundamentally unjust but economically unwise, slowing efforts to end poverty and boost shared prosperity.

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Hillary’s big event today was to introduce this panel discussion.  You can view the video of the panel HERE.


Plenary Session

9:00 AM –

 10:00 AM

Women Decision-Makers in the Global Economy

Investing in women’s employment yields significant gains in the health and education of children, in the prosperity of businesses, and in the economy overall. Despite this, major barriers to entry still exist at all levels—whether women are trying to create small- and medium-sized businesses to compete in the global marketplace, progress as employees in bigger companies, or access the highest level positions in business and finance.

In this session, key leaders from across sectors will share HOW members can:

• support women in overcoming the barriers that limit their access to decision-making positions, whether it is as small business owners or as board members

• discuss whether imposing quotas yields positive results for women, for companies’ profitability, and the economy overall


Hillary Rodham Clinton, Former Secretary of State of the United States


Pat Mitchell, President and CEO, The Paley Center for Media


Irwin Jacobs, Founding Chairman and CEO Emeritus, Qualcomm

Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi , Minister, International Cooperation and Development in the United Arab Emirates

Arne M. Sorenson, President and CEO, Marriott International, Inc.

Halla Tomasdottir, Founder and Chair, Sisters Capital

09-25-13-Z-0709-25-13-R-01 09-25-13-Z-06 09-25-13-Y-01

So proud of what we’ve done and so much more to do. Join me. +20


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As she embarked on her last six months as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, mindful of the limited time remaining,  in every major speech whether at home or abroad, highlighted her signature issue and explained how gender equity has an impact on national economies.   Education for women and girls, fair pay, access to bank accounts and credit, protection from abuse and forced labor were among topics that consistently figured in as platforms for raising economic profiles in a 21st century world where national strength is based on more than military might alone.

When she traveled through Asia last July, it was very clear that she was on a farewell tour.   It was a bittersweet valedictory.  Everyone in every audience knew that they would not be seeing her as America’s top diplomat again, and she knew that her words would resonate perhaps as never before.

This speech in Cambodia last July resounded with its significance to her State Department legacy.  It is classic HRC with many quotable quotes.  These are not “soft” issues, and this speech clarifies the reasons.  Revisiting it seems a fitting way to begin Women’s History Month.

Remarks to the Lower Mekong Initiative Womens’ Gender Equality and Empowerment Dialogue


Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Sofitel Hotel
Siem Reap, Cambodia
July 13, 2012

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Minister Phavi, for that introduction and also for describing the results of what has been, by all reports, an excellent meeting. And I thank all the heads of delegations who are here and all of the attendees. I want to welcome all our partners from the Lower Mekong nation and from the Friends of the Lower Mekong. And I want to commend the Government of Cambodia for its leadership in the Lower Mekong Initiative and for co-hosting this conference.

We launched this organization three years ago to expand cooperation on issues that affect the daily lives of people across the region. And I’m getting some feedback. I’m hearing the Cambodian translation at the same time. (Laughter.) I wish I spoke Cambodian, but I don’t. So I was having a little trouble, but thank you for that.

We launched this organization three years ago to expand cooperation on issues that affect the daily lives of the people across the region, from protecting the environment to managing water resources to improving infrastructure, education, and public health. And now with the inclusion of the government in Nay Pyi Taw we are poised to make even greater progress together.
Yesterday in Phnom Penh, I announced that the United States is easing sanctions to allow American businesses to invest there. And today I am pleased to add that we are also launching a new partnership with the nonprofit Abbott Fund to invest one million dollars in the health and education for women and girls.

I am delighted that the Lower Mekong Initiative is now also focusing on the rights and opportunities of women. At the ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh this morning, we adopted a joint statement by all of the countries represented that will integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment through the LMI agenda. I like what the Minister said about how we came together to care to share and dare to dream, and I think that’s a very good description of what you have been doing here.

As Secretary of State, I make these issues about women and girls a priority everywhere I go. Because when women have the chance to participate in the economic and political lives of their communities, not only do their lives improve, but the lives of their families do as well. Commerce flourishes, instability declines, and you see a general uplifting of societies and nations. And I have met women all over this region who are living this truth every day – educators in Hanoi, entrepreneurs in Bangkok, democracy activists in Yangon, garment workers here in Siem Reap, women like all of you who are working hard for progress throughout the Mekong region.

Unfortunately, as you know so well, outdated legal and social barriers continue to limit women’s participation in business and politics. According to the World Bank, more than 100 countries have laws that restrict women’s economic activity, whether it is opening a bank account on their own, signing a contract, owning land, or pursuing the profession of their choice. And millions of women here in Southeast Asia are trapped in the informal economy, laboring in fields and factories for very low wages with very few protections. And of course, some have it even worse – victims of forced labor, forced prostitution, or other forms of modern day slavery.

Now, too often, discussions of these issues are on the margins of international debate. We have separate parallel conversations about women’s rights, about alleviating poverty, and then we have another conversation about international economics. But I once asked an economist in Africa, after spending the day traveling through an African country seeing women working in the fields, women working in the markets, women fetching fuel, women carrying water, women tending children – I asked, “Don’t you think it’s time we count women contributions to the economy in some way.” And he responded, “No, what they do is not part of the economy.” And I said, “Well, if every woman working in the field, in the markets, in the homes were to stop working for a week, I think every economist would learn they are definitely part of the economy.” (Applause.)

All these issues are related, and we need to start thinking about them in an integrated way, because in the end, what is an economy for? An economy is a means to an end. It is not an end in itself. An economy is to enable people to make more out of their own lives as well as to make a living. And therefore, the best economic systems are ones which give the most opportunity to the greatest number of people. And what we have to do in the 21st century is to take a hard look about what we can do, not just in Southeast Asia but around the world, to make sure that economies are working for people and not just people at the top, but people throughout society. Because, after all, most people don’t live at the highest, elite level of any society. That’s a very small group. And if the results of people’s hard work in any society is not spread across all the people but instead goes up to the top, you will not see the kind of progress that is possible.

So as I traveled across Asia this week – from Japan to Mongolia, to Vietnam, to Laos, and now Cambodia – I’ve been talking about the mutually reinforcing role that economics and human rights play in not only your lives, but in America’s engagement in the region – what is sometimes called our pivot to Asia. Labor issues promoting workers rights, improving labor conditions, supporting women’s economic participation, protecting people from modern day slavery is all part about how you build prosperous, peaceful societies.

And so today, I want to focus on the rights of workers here in Southeast Asia and in our modern global economy. It’s important that we understand fair labor standards for men and women can spur economic growth and widen the circle of prosperity. And governments, businesses, and workers all have a responsibility to make that happen.

So let’s begin with rights. The international community and international law recognize that workers everywhere, regardless of income or status, are entitled to certain universal rights, including the right to form and join a union and to bargain collectively. Child labor, forced labor, discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or other factors, should be universally prohibited.

So defending these labor rights and improving working conditions is a smart economic investment, but it’s also a very important value. Now back in 1999, my husband was president of the United States and the entire world was fiercely debating what we should be doing to deal with what is called globalization. Well, my husband gave speeches at both the World Trade Organization and the International Labor Organization. And he delivered the same message to each audience: To deny the importance of core labor issues in a global economy is to deny the dignity of work. The belief that honest labor fairly compensated gives meaning and structure to our lives.

Well, that was true then; it was true when I was a little girl and I watched my mother working in our home, and I watched my father working in his small business; and it is true today. Standing up for workers’ rights and high labor standards is both right and moral, but it is also smart and strategic. Just look at the progress that has taken place here in Cambodia.

In the late 1990s, this country was emerging out of years of war and economic ruin. Nearly 80 percent of Cambodians made a very meager living by subsistence farming. And the new government was looking for ways to boost growth and connect to the global economy. In the United States, my husband’s administration was convinced that trade incentives could be used to strengthen workers’ rights around the world. The result was an agreement – an agreement between the United States and Cambodia that opened American markets to Cambodian textiles in return for tough new monitoring programs in local garment factories. Now that agreement wasn’t perfect – no agreement ever is – and there are certainly, as I have heard, problems in garment factories across the country. But compare where Cambodia was in 1999 and where it is today. Working conditions have improved. Wages have risen. It has become easier to form a union, and instead of scaring off investors, the fact of these reforms actually attracted them.

Multinational clothing companies saw a chance to clean up their supply chains and improve their reputation. So they started buying more and more Cambodian products, and exports soared. Where there was once just a handful of state-owned textile and apparel factories employing only a few thousand people, within 10 years there were hundreds of new factories providing jobs for more than 350,000 Cambodians – mostly young women, who migrated from poor rural communities to earn wages far above the average of what otherwise would have been available to them.

Research conducted by the International Labor Organization and other institutions tell us that this is not an isolated example. Respecting workers’ rights leads to positive, long-term economic outcomes, including higher levels of foreign direct investment. And bringing workers, especially women, into the formal economy has ripple effects: Inequality declines while mobility increases, taxes are paid, countries and communities are stronger and better able to meet the rising expectations of their people.

Now the flip side of that is also true. Denying workers their universal rights costs society dearly in lost productivity, innovation, and growth, as well as undermining the rule of law and creating instability. So we should pay attention to these findings.

I do hope that decision makers around the world, including in my own country, actually look at evidence, because evidence matters. Whether you’re a scientist looking at research or a government official looking at analysis, look at the evidence. Here in Southeast Asia, economies have grown rapidly by attracting foreign investors looking for low-cost labor and material and by exporting affordable goods to more developed markets. But this export-driven model can only take a country and a region so far.

In the wake of the global financial crisis and worldwide recession, Asian countries can no longer count on endless demands from Europe and the United States. And by the same token, American manufacturers may be looking for new customers in new markets, especially in Asia. That’s why developed nations, like the United States, will need to build more at home and sell more abroad. And developing countries, in Asia and elsewhere, will need to grow a larger middle class that will fuel demand for both domestic and imported goods and services. Henry Ford, back at the beginning of the 20th century, when he started building cars in Detroit, Michigan back in the United States, paid his workers the unheard salary of $5 a day. And all of the other employers came to him and they complained that he was paying his workers too much and that would raise the wages of all the other workers in all the other businesses. And Henry Ford said, “If I don’t pay my workers, who will buy the cars that I am making?”

So if you begin to pay your workers more, they then buy more goods, which actually helps more businesses. And that is the next phase of growth in Asia, as well as the future of the global economy. We should not be in a race to the bottom. We should be in a race to see how we raise income, raise standards of living, and raise the sharing of prosperity. So for this to happen, we will have to make sure that women have the opportunity to move from the informal economy to the formal economy with employment. We will have to make sure that migrant workers are respected and protected, that people in modern-day slavery are free and rehabilitated. In effect, how do we transform the workforce to create more opportunities?

Well to begin with, governments will have to modernize labor laws to respect workers’ rights and ensure that men and women have fair, safe working conditions and can earn a living wage. And governments will have to get serious about enforcement, cracking down on unscrupulous recruiters, criminal traffickers, and abusive employers.

Now, strengthening the rule of law will not just protect workers, it will also attract investors and make it easier for everyone to do business. And multinational corporations, like those in America, will have to insist that every link in their supply chain meets international labor standards. Now, of course, I know there’s a price tag that comes with that. But it is an investment, and it’s an investment that will pay dividends, because it can be very attractive to consumers in my country, in Europe, and elsewhere to know that the goods they buy are being produced in conditions that really help people improve their own lives. And then, of course, workers will have to keep pushing for their own rights, organizing and advocating.

Now, it took decades of struggle for workers in America to form unions strong enough to protect their rights and secure changes like the eight-hour day and the minimum wage, but it helped to create the great American middle class. And we are now adjusting our economy to the new challenges, but we certainly were advantaged by all of the changes over the last one hundred years.

I think the nations of Southeast Asia are at the beginning of your own journey. I know that there are still many problems and a lot of poverty. And I have been now in every country in the region, and I know there’s a (inaudible). There are still too many people who are terribly poor, too many children who don’t get the healthcare and the education they need, too many government officials that are not really serving the people. But there is good news as well.

And I want to commend the Government of Cambodia for their draft new trade law that could be a model for the region. It would extend rights and protection to domestic workers. It would allow people to join unions. And if this law is passed and enforced, it will set a very strong standard for the rest of the region.

Similarly in Vietnam, where I was a few days ago, there is still – there is also encouragement despite continuing problems. At the start of the year, a new anti-trafficking law came into effect. After reports of abuses on coffee plantations in Lam Dong Province, officials called for greater inspections and stricter punishment for illegal labor brokers. And Vietnam is working with the International Labor Organization to improve conditions in garment factories.

And the prospects for progress are even more dramatic in Burma, which for many years was one of the most repressive and closed societies in the world. I saw with great interest reports of the government in Nay Pyi Taw rolling back the restrictive and exploitative labor rules. Workers are beginning to organize, although they still face penalties for joining unregistered unions. There will be a lot of challenges, but I hope that we see continuing progress there.

Now, for our part, the United States is putting in place protections to ensure that the increased investment we would like to see advances the reform process. Because after all, what we want to do is make workers rights, rising wages, fair working conditions the norm everywhere. And we will be working with all of the countries represented here.

We’ve also made workers rights a centerpiece of a new far-reaching trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We are working with Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, Mexico, and others in these negotiations.

We are also throughout Southeast Asia supporting training and workshops on international labor standards for union organizers, employers and government officials. We’re sponsoring exchanges so labor academics can learn from each other, and we’re helping police and prosecutors go after trafficking and other abuses.

We’re working with ASEAN to deal with the migrant worker problem. We have so many people across borders looking for better opportunities and are often exploited and abused. Now, after visa requirements among ASEAN countries becomes easier, then we need a framework on the rights of migrant workers by 2015.

We’re also working with labor ministries, and we’ve signed agreements with Vietnam and China that provide exchanges and technical assistance on a range of labor issues, from mine safety to social security.

America is a Pacific nation, and our futures and our fortunes are bound up with each other. So we want to work with all of you, and particularly on behalf of women and workers, because we think that holds the key. The World Bank has done some excellent research showing that if the barriers to women’s participation in the formal economy were eliminated, growth rates in every country would rise, and some would rise dramatically.

So when I talk to government officials who I can tell are not really interested in women, which I do from time to time – not women officials but the other kind, as you know – (laughter) – and I make the case that women’s rights should be protected and women’s opportunities should be advanced, sometimes I see their eyes glaze over. (Laughter.) And they say to themselves, I’m thinking as I look at them, well, she says that all the time. She goes around in the world talking about women’s rights, and that’s fine and I’ll listen to her, but I’m not really that interested.

But when I say if you will change your laws so women can open up bank accounts or women can have access to credit, so women can start new businesses as easily as men, so that women can have fair wages when they move into the formal economy, your GDP will rise, all of a sudden I see them waking up. (Laughter.) Because it’s true that I have spent many years of my life talking about how important it is that women be given the same rights as men and the same dignity so that they can fulfill their own God-given potential.

But the argument I’m making today and I’m making around the world is that you are losing out if you do not empower women as economic beings. Because I’ll go back to the experience I had in Africa. Now, I don’t think the economist I was talking to was prejudiced against women. I just don’t think he thought of all the things women do without being paid, that all of us do, have done, and continue to do to keep families and communities and societies and economies going.

And so therefore any country that wants to maximize their economic growth in a sustainable, inclusive way will be leaving money on the table if they don’t include women and do everything they can to show respect for what women can do for themselves as well as their countries.

So this is an exciting time to be a woman in Southeast Asia, because if we work over the next years to realize the potential that this conference demonstrated with all of the excellent recommendations that the ministers have told us about, then we will see Asia grow even faster and more successfully, and most importantly we will see more girls and boys having the opportunity to fulfill their own God-given potential.

Because after all, I think as a mother, what we want for each of our children and what we should want for every child is that chance to be all he or she can be. Because talent is universal, but opportunity is not. So for every child who is not educated, we may be losing a scientist who would solve multi drug-resistant malaria. We may be losing a great activist. We may be losing a great academic. Who knows? But one way for sure to maximize the chance of every society to do even better is to be sure we give women the chance to compete and to demonstrate what they can contribute to us all.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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Video Remarks for “Stand Up For Malala-Stand Up for Girls’s Right to Education”


Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
December 10, 2012

Today, we stand together with Malala and the millions of other girls and women who are risking their lives to get an education.This is essential for their own futures.  Girls with secondary schooling are far less likely to become child brides.  They are more likely to earn better incomes when they begin working.  They will have smaller families, and their children will be healthier.

So getting an education is important to the future of every individual girl.  It is also important for all of us collectively.  Because when men and women have the same opportunities to an education, societies are better off…economies flourish…public health improves…and democracies become more stable.

The evidence is clear and the debate should be over.  Closing the education gap is a powerful prescription for economic growth.

But all over the world, girls still face enormous obstacles to an education.  In fact, most of the children who are not in school are girls.  And the numbers are especially high in developing countries and countries torn apart by conflict.

That’s why the United States is supporting the UN Secretary General’s Education First initiative and the goals of Education for All, so that more girls receive a quality education, and become active citizens in their societies.

On behalf of Malala and countless other girls who share her dream, let us continue to champion their right to an education – and let us expose those who would deny it.  Together, we can build a world where opportunity and education remain a powerful force for progress.

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives at the commencement for Barnard College, in New York U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the commencement for Barnard College, in New York U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flanked by Debora Spar, President of Barnard College, and Anna Quindlen, Chair of the Board of Trustees, before delivering the commencement address, in New York U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flanked by Debora Spar, President of Barnard College, and Anna Quindlen, Chair of the Board of Trustees, before delivering the commencement address, in New York


Reuters Pictures

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C) is flanked by Debora Spar, President of Barnard College, and Anna Quindlen, Chair of the Board of Trustees (R), before delivering the commencement address, in New York, May 18, 2009.

Here’s the address followed by the video.

Remarks At Barnard College Commencement Ceremony

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
New York, New York
May 18, 2009

Thank you so much. I am thrilled to be here and to participate in this important commencement of this great university – this great college, because I, too, am a graduate of a women’s college – (applause) – and I think it’s the best investment that I and my parents ever made. It is my honor, therefore, to join you in celebrating. And I want to congratulate all of the student speakers, who I thought did an excellent job in expressing the feelings and the aspirations of this class. (Applause.)

I am honored to be in the company of my fellow honorees, each of whom has so well deserved this medal. And I want to congratulate your president on a brilliant first year as the head of Barnard. (Applause.) And I want to thank another woman who has had not only an impact on this college over the years, but on me personally, and that is the wise and wonderful Anna Quindlen. (Applause.) Her writing has helped to shape the public debate on issues affecting women, families, and all Americans. Her final column, which ran this week, was about making way for the next generation. And as always, Anna’s message rings true, especially as we honor this class of graduates.

We are meeting at a time of unprecedented opportunity and achievement for women. As you’ve already heard, women are serving at the highest levels of government here in the United States and around the world, in business, in academia, in the professions. We are presiding over companies and colleges, running philanthropies and laboratories, and breaking new ground as artists and activists and athletes.

We’re even seeing gender barriers broken at the racetrack. (Applause.) I don’t know about you, but I personally felt vindicated when Rachel Alexandra won the Preakness, went where no filly has gone in 85 years up against 8 stallions. I can’t say I exactly identified with her – (laughter) – but I was very pleased that she brought home the Black-Eyed Susans.

Today, we are celebrating a class and an institution that is always ahead of the rest. This is a milestone of 120 years of educating women, of furthering scholarship, and serving the City of New York, and the people of the world.

Now, it is easy to forget that when Barnard first opened its doors in 1889, higher education for women was viewed with great suspicion. And many women and men labored for years to make this college possible. And even after Barnard finally came into being, they had to spend even more years convincing the world there was nothing to fear about women’s education and that the work being done here was truly a good thing.

Now, rumors still flew for decades about what exactly went on at Barnard. (Laughter.) Finally, in 1912, the New York Times decided to investigate. It had published a long interview with the great dean of Barnard, Virginia Gildersleeve, which ran under the headline – and I quote – “College Girls Are Healthy, Normal American Girls.” (Laughter.) I’m sure that the readers of the Times found that reassuring. And a few decades later, the editors and reporters did as well.

In fact, Dr. Gildersleeve made a persuasive case for why Barnard – and women’s education in general – is actually crucial to our society. She talked about how the college broadened its students, exposed them to new ideas and perspectives, introduced them to people from different backgrounds. She said that was a force not only for good for these women but for their communities. As she put it, “We do not teach manners. But we do teach manner. Poise, interest, tolerance and understanding – these are the things that college life teaches.”

Now, the context may have been different then, but the vision behind it is much the same. Just as those early Barnard students were being prepared for a world beyond their personal horizons, you have been prepared for global citizenship in the interconnected world of the 21st century.

You are coming of age at a time of unprecedented challenges: war and terrorism, climate change and economic recession, extreme poverty and extreme ideologies, the proliferation of disease and nuclear weapons. These challenges transcend borders and oceans, politics and ideology, and they affect us all. But the same interconnectedness that amplifies these global challenges also makes it possible for us to solve them, and for you to help lead us to the solutions.

When I graduated from college, diplomacy was mainly conducted by experts behind closed doors. They were primarily men. And very little of what they did was really visible to the rest of us. Today, diplomacy is no longer confined to the State Department or to diplomats in pin-striped suits. In this global age, we are engaging in 21st century statecraft, and it is carried out beyond the halls of government – in barrios and rural villages, in corporate boardrooms and halls of government as well, but also church basements, hospitals, union halls, civic and cultural centers, and even in the dorms and classrooms of colleges like this.

The diplomacy of this age is fueled by personal engagement and interpersonal connections. And that’s where all of you come in. With new tools and technologies and with the first-rate education you’ve received, you now have the capacity to influence events in ways that no previous generation ever has.

But of course with that opportunity does come responsibility, because this new era of diplomacy requires a new commitment to global service – a continuing effort from each of you to help us tackle the most urgent problems we face. Just as we have special envoys for climate change or peace in the Middle East, so too must each of you be a special envoy of your ideals. Use your skill and talent with these new tools to help shape and reshape the future.

I want to talk about a particular area where I think you can, you should, and you must make a difference. It’s important to me personally and it’s especially important in my new job, and that is the plight of women and girls around the world. As women with strong voices and strong values, you are in a unique position to support women worldwide who don’t have the resources you do, but whose lives and dreams are just as worthy as yours and mine. I have concluded after traveling many miles and visiting many places in the last decades that talent is universally distributed, but opportunity is not. The futures of these women and girls will affect yours and mine. And therefore, it is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing.

Although not always acknowledged by governments, businesses, or society overall, women and girls bear a disproportionate burden of most of the problems we face today. In the midst of this global economic crisis, women who are already the majority of the world’s poor are driven deeper into poverty. In places where food is scarce, women and girls are often the last to eat, and eat the least. In regions torn apart by war and conflict, women are more likely to be refugees or targets of sexual violence.

And just yesterday in a column by one of the former honorees by Barnard, Nick Kristof, we learned that one of the most dangerous places for women to be in the world is in childbirth. Meanwhile, in some places, girls are deliberately denied an education, even subjected to abuse and violence if they attempt to go to school, as we have seen too frequently over the last weeks in Afghanistan.

Now let me be clear: women around the world lead varied lives, and for many women, religion and culture are important sources of spiritual growth, identity, and pride. But the retrograde regimes around the world that pervert religion and culture to perpetuate violence and stand in the way of freedom and make women their primary targets are a different story. The subjugation of women – the denial of their rights as human beings – is not an expression of religion or of God’s will. It is a betrayal of both. (Applause.)

And women’s progress is more than a matter of morality. It is a political, economic, social and security imperative for the United States and for every nation represented in this graduating class. If you want to know how stable, healthy, and democratic a country is, look at its women, look at its girls.

When I went to the United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing back in 1995, I made the point, which seemed to me to be pretty obvious, that women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights. Well, I was gratified but somewhat shocked at the reaction it produced. And as I have traveled in the years since, I have met so many women who took such heart from that simple statement. They understood deep in their gut that they had to be supported, that their struggles had to be acknowledged for them to gain a foothold, to gain that space, whether it be on the subway or back in a marketplace.

There are signs of hope and progress. Just this weekend, the people of Kuwait elected women to their parliament for the first time in history. (Applause.) This did not come easily or quickly. Starting in the 1990s, I supported the women who were brave enough to stand up and say women should be able to serve. It took a long struggle. But the election of four women this Saturday is a major step forward for Kuwait, the region, and I would argue, the world.

And yet the marginalization of women and girls goes on. It is one of humankind’s oldest problems. But what is different today is that we have 21st century tools to combat it. Think of the women in Eastern Congo, a place of such violence, despair and chaos, who are using radio airwaves to warn other women and to send out the message to the world how this war, these militias are destroying their communities. Think of the women in Afghanistan who, against such great odds, started a single school that has grown into a network of schools, or the domestic violence center they began, which now serves thousands of women and girls. Or the women in Cambodia who were sold into sex slavery as girls, but who escaped and are now organizing raids of brothels throughout Southeast Asia to rescue girls and give them a chance at an education and a new life.

Some months ago here in New York, I had the privilege of meeting a young girl from Yemen. Her name is Nujood Ali. When she was nine years old, her family offered her into marriage with a much older man who turned out to be violent and abusive. At ten years old, desperate to escape her circumstances, she left her home and made her way to the local courthouse where she sat against a wall all day long until she was finally noticed, thankfully, by a woman lawyer named Shada Nasser, who asked this little girl what she was doing there. And the little girl said she came to get a divorce. And thanks to this lawyer, she did.

Now in another time, the story of her individual courage and her equally brave lawyer would not have been covered in the news even in her own country. But now, it is beamed worldwide by satellites, shared on blogs, posted on Twitter, celebrated in gatherings. Today, women are finding their voices, and those voices are being heard far beyond their own narrow circumstances. And here’s what each of you can do. You can visit the website of a nonprofit called Kiva, K-i-v-a, and send a microloan to an entrepreneur like Blanca, who wants to expand her small grocery store in Peru. You can send children’s books to a library in Namibia by purchasing items off an Amazon.com wish list. You can sit in your dorm room, or soon your new apartment, and use the web to plant trees across Africa through Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt movement.

And with these social networking tools that you use every day to tell people you’ve gone to get a latte or you’re going to be running late, you can unite your friends through Facebook to fight human trafficking or child marriage, like the two recent college graduates in Colombia – the country – who organized 14 million people into the largest anti-terrorism demonstration in history, doing as much damage to the FARC terrorist network in a few weeks than had been done in years of military action. (Applause.)

And you can organize through Twitter, like the undergraduates at Northwestern who launched a global fast to bring attention to Iran’s imprisonment of an American journalist. And we have two young women journalists right now in prison in North Korea, and you can get busy on the internet and let the North Koreans know that we find that absolutely unacceptable. (Applause.)

These new tools are available for everyone. They are democratizing diplomacy. So over the next year, we will be creating Virtual Student Foreign Service Internships to partner American students with our embassies abroad to conduct digital diplomacy. And you can learn more about this initiative on the State Department website.

This is an opportunity for all of us to ask ourselves: What can I do? I’m heading off to my first job or I may be going to travel for a while or I have some other ideas that I’m exploring. But no matter what you’re doing, you can be a citizen activist and a citizen diplomat. You’ve already begun to make the connections and partnerships that will give you support throughout your lives. And therefore, I invite you to forge those connections beyond this class.

You’ve learned here at Barnard that in spite of our differences, we are all connected. And we need to be looking for ways to find inspiration from our daily lives. Just a few weeks ago, I read President Spar’s column in the Wall Street Journal, in which she bravely attempted to write her own application essay for Barnard. She described a typical day in her life, one that involved coordinating her kids’ carpooling, fixing dinner, answering emails, dealing with a mischievous cat, writing a speech on – what else – women and leadership. As I read about the controlled chaos of your president’s life, I thought this sure sounds familiar. And as I look out in the audience today, I see a lot of mothers and grandmothers and fathers and grandfathers and family members and friends, and I know that you too have had these experiences.

But no matter how we come to this commencement, we leave knowing that another class of extraordinary young women, who will have the manner and the education to go and not only pursue their own dreams but help bring along others as well, has occurred within this remarkable institution. We all have an opportunity today to do so much more than I even dreamed possible when I sat where you are sitting all those years ago.

As I was listening to Sarah Besnoff’s address and how she was talking about her mother, I had to smile because I often say that in my next life I’m going to come back as my daughter. And I felt a remarkable kinship with Sarah’s mother and with other mothers of my generation and those who came before, like my own mother, who was born before women could vote, that no matter how satisfying our lives have been, how we have put together pieces that add up to a whole that is so important to us and has given meaning to this journey we are on, we look at young women and we think to ourselves: This is a future that women in the history of the world have never been able to imagine, that you leave here empowered in a way that women and girls have never been before. It’s exciting, but it’s daunting. But I know you’re up to it.

Serving the people of the world does not have to be your life’s calling, but I urge you to make it a part of your life, to include it in whatever you decide to do as you start out on this adventure. You are certainly well-prepared, and I wish for each and every one of you an adventure that gives you the same sense of meaning and purpose that you are looking for, and an understanding of how much more you can do with the gifts you have been given, and to decide that you too will try to be those special envoys of the ideals that you believe in.

Godspeed and congratulations. (Applause.)

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