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Remarks at the UN General Assembly Debate on the Promotion of Gender Equality

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
New York City
March 6, 2007

Your Excellencies. On behalf of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, I am delighted to be here today to address the vital issues of promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. I thank the United Nations General Assembly President, Her Excellency Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa for organizing this forum.

With International Women's Day approaching, we have an important opportunity to underscore that women's rights, and women's political and economic empowerment, are fundamental building blocks of free, peaceful, and prosperous societies. Countries in which half the population lacks a strong voice will not be able to reach their full potential and flourish. And no country can fully thrive in today's global economy when half of its human capital is neglected. The protection of women's rights, and the empowerment of women with education and opportunities, respect and preserve the inherent dignity and worth of every person. They also promote strong families, civil society, responsible government, and economic development. By empowering women, we help bring about a brighter, more hopeful, more peaceful future.

The United States is strongly "committed to advancing the equality of women," as President Bush has emphasized. Strengthening women's rights and empowering women are key foreign policy priorities of the United States, and we are pursuing numerous concrete initiatives to help bring about real results for women around the world, including many innovative, cooperative partnerships.

One crucial area is education. As First Lady Laura Bush has said, "An educated woman is better able to provide for her family economically. . . . She has the knowledge and the skill to find new ways to improve life in her community. She's prepared to be an active participant in society and . . . even a national leader." Studies show that even slight increases in years of schooling for girls generate considerable economic benefit. With substantial backing from a number of countries, more than five million children, a third of whom are girls, are now attending school in Afghanistan. In 2002, President Bush launched a five-year Africa Education Initiative to augment funding support for Africa's education programs by $200 million, and to provide 250,000 girls with scholarships. We strongly support the efforts of UNESCO in the field of education, especially in literacy for women and girls.

We pursue the empowerment of women across a broad spectrum of areas in addition to education, and with a wide range of global partners. The Millennium Challenge Account promotes economic growth and reduces poverty in developing countries that "govern justly, invest in their people, and encourage economic freedom." Many participating nations have designed and implemented specific projects to empower women economically, including ensuring that women have equal and secure rights to own and inherit property, and encouraging the establishment of micro-enterprises.

Through the Middle East Partnership Initiative, we work together with the private sector and civil society to expand education and training opportunities for women in the Middle East. The Initiative has set up the Arab Women's Legal Network, which provides training, mentoring, and a resource directory; the Women's Campaign School, which builds the capacity of grassroots women's NGOs through advocacy and outreach skills; and the Business Women's Network, which organizes an annual business internship program for young professional Arab women with Fortune 500 companies across the United States.

The U.S.-Afghan Women's Council supports public-private partnerships that benefit thousands of Afghan women in education, health, business, and political opportunities, and legal rights. We are also collaborating with partners to fight the scourge of HIV/AIDS, which has disproportionately affected women in sub-Saharan Africa; to counter gender-based violence; and to focus on improving the lives of the most vulnerable, especially refugees.

Every day, around the world, women demonstrate courage by pursuing, on behalf of all, an equal voice and opportunities. Such dedicated women inspired Secretary Rice to establish the Secretary's Award for International Women of Courage. Tomorrow, she will pay tribute to 10 women hailing from every region in the world. They show us the power of the individual to change her own life, her country, and the world for the better. We can help empower women across the globe. I look forward to hearing the results of this forum, and to working with you to pursue concrete projects that advance the role of women worldwide. Thank you.



Released on March 6, 2007

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