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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2002 > March

Remarks at Reception to Mark International Women's Day

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Benjamin Franklin Room, Department of State
Washington, DC
March 7, 2002

[listen audio]  [photo]

(6:40 p.m. EST)




I would also like to extend a special welcome to Mrs. Alma Powell, who, through her support -- (applause) -- for numerous charitable and civic organizations, has truly helped to enrich the lives of so many of America's young people, young men, young women.

Under the leadership of President Bush, the advancement of women's issues forms a key component of US domestic and foreign policy. And, Mr. Secretary, you have been a staunch champion of these goals throughout your career, and your steadfast dedication leaves no doubt about the American commitment to women's issues.

Honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, please welcoming me -- welcome -- join me in welcoming the Secretary of State. (Laughter.) If I can get my words out.


Sec. Powell at International Women's Day reception


These wonderful eighth floor rooms that you are located in -- and I hope you will spread out and look at all of the rooms up here on the eighth floor -- are named for America's founding fathers. And this, of course, is the Ben Franklin Room. Wonderful men who served as our nation's earliest diplomats. Of course, we all know that every founding father had a founding mother or spouse, about whom historians have been less prolific. Fortunately, in recent months, historians have illuminated the contributions of one founding mother and wife, a true American heroine, Abigail Adams, wife of John and mother of John Quincy. You remember them as presidents. Both also were diplomats, and John Quincy was Secretary of State.

As a patriot, however, Abigail Adams was no less passionate than her husband. As a revolutionary, she was no less brave. Self-taught, she advocated the right of women to an education. She was an ardent abolitionist. And she famously urged her husband to remember the ladies as he shaped the laws of our new nation.

She also raised four children and managed the farm and family finances during her husband's long absences on matters of state. The young country which Abigail Adams supported with all of her strength, and for which she was just as ready to sacrifice her life as was her husband, that young state, that young country, did not give her the right to vote. It was the same nation whose Constitution counted every African American at that time as representing only three-fifths of a citizen, only three-fifths of a human being, with zero-fifths of the rights of a citizen.

It took a long time, a very long time. But today, America, that same nation, has grown into a country where a Colin Powell can succeed a Madeleine Albright as Secretary of State of the United States of America.


And so the American people have been well served, and the world has seen an example of the perfectibility of a nation that still is struggling every day to become that more perfect union that our founding fathers spoke about. And they can be very proud indeed that the United States of America is a champion of the human rights and well being of women and minorities worldwide.

I very much wanted to host this International Women's Day Reception. I wanted to underscore the fact that the worldwide advancement of women's issues is not only in keeping with the deeply held values of the American people; it is strongly in our national interest as well. In today's world, any American Secretary of State, male or female, must pay attention to the issues affecting the rights and well being of women -- over half the world's population. Women's issues affect not only women; they have profound implications for all humankind. Women's issues are human rights issues. They are health and education issues. They are development issues. They are ingredients of good government and sound economic practice. They go to the heart of what makes for successful, stable societies and global growth. Women's issues affect the future of families, societies and economies, of countries and of continents. We, as a world community, can not even begin to tackle the array of problems and challenges confronting us without the full and equal participation of women in all aspects of life.

Women's contributions are essential, whether it's stemming the HIV/AIDS pandemic, lifting populations out of poverty, or helping regions recover from the ravages of conflict. That is why President Bush is committed and I am committed to ensuring that women's issues are fully integrated into American foreign policy.

And to help us do that, I followed the recommendation of my Under Secretary for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky and strengthened our Office of the Senior Coordinator for Women's Issues here at the State Department. The Office, ably led by April Palmerlee, who you met just a few moments ago, serves as a focal point within the Bush Administration for the development and implementation of our pro-women foreign policy agenda.

Our efforts to help the women of Afghanistan recover their rights and to allow them to participate in the future of their country are only one element on that very active agenda. Together with all of you we celebrate the gains made so far, but we recognize that there is a long road ahead for the women of Afghanistan and for their country as a whole. Fortunately, there is also broad agreement between the Administration and the Congress, among the donor countries, among all concerned nations and with Chairman Karzai's Interim Authority, that women must play prominent roles in the relief, reconstruction and development process in Afghanistan. We all recognize that for those efforts to succeed, women must be planners, must be implementers, and must be beneficiaries alike.

The women of Afghanistan are eager to participate, and they have a great deal to offer. And I've spoken to a number of them here already this evening who are ready, willing and able to get back into the fight. And I congratulate you for that and I applaud you for that.


I commend our Congress for the speedy enactment of the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act, which President Bush signed last December, and I applaud those of you in the audience who have helped us develop strategies targeted to empowering Afghan women. During Chairman Karzai's visit in January, we announced an important public-private partnership: the US-Afghan Women's Council which will help mobilize resources and technical expertise for the education and training of Afghan women and girls. That Council is led by Under Secretary Dobriansky and her co-chairs Afghan Women's Minister Samar and Foreign Minister Abdullah.

For the first time in years, the women of Afghanistan have reason to look to the future with hope. Our wide-ranging efforts on behalf of Afghan women illustrate a larger point that effective women's programs can and must be carried out in conflict and post-conflict societies all around the world. Such programs not only ease the suffering of women; they also help nations, whole nations, get on the road to recovery, to stability and to prosperity.

Women are the most vulnerable group when conflict erupts and social structures break down. We have seen it painfully again and again -- from Cambodia to Sierra Leone, from Colombia to Bosnia. In societies torn by violence, maternal and infant mortality rates skyrocket. When the men and boys go off to fight, the women struggle to care for the family members left behind, and to find ways to provide for their basic necessities. Women are most likely to be the victims of landmine accidents because they tend to be the collectors of firewood and water and do the heavy fieldwork. Rape is often deliberately used as a horrible, violent, ugly instrument of war. Some 80 percent of the world's refugees and displaced are women and children.

For all of these reasons, much of our crisis response activity is geared to meeting the needs of female victims of conflict, and we make a point of involving the women who are on the receiving end of our assistance in the shaping and carrying out of our relief programs. These include special food programs, psychosocial trauma counseling, mother-child care, and women's and girls' education.

But if women are prime victims of conflict, they are also key to a society's recovery from that conflict. And so, for example, we make assistance to women's organizations and ministries of women's affairs -- they make these organizations and these ministries part of our post-conflict strategy of promoting civil society, representative government and sound economic policies.

Perhaps most important of all, women play far-reaching roles in the prevention of conflict by helping to create conditions that are healthy and stabilizing over the long term. That is why women are major beneficiaries of our development assistance, child survival funds, economic support funds, and high-impact programs in the areas of healthcare, HIV/AIDS, education and micro-financing.

It is not just popular opinion, but plain fact: countries that treat women with dignity, that afford women a choice in how they live their lives, that give them equal access to essential services, give them an equal opportunity to contribute to public life -- these are the countries that are the most stable, viable and capable of meeting the challenges of the new centuries, and these are the countries that we will be supporting.


The Bush Administration is committed to working in cooperation with other governments, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental groups, the private sector, and individuals to improve the political, social and economic standing of women. Fundamental to that effort is the defense and promotion of the human rights of women worldwide, rights that our founding fathers told us are inalienable, God-given, and are truly universal.

And in that context, let me say that brutality against women, the mutilation of women, trafficking in women and the rape of women can never be justified, whatever the circumstances, whatever the creed, whatever the country, whatever the culture.


As President Bush has said, we have a great opportunity during this time of war against terrorism to lead the world toward the values that will bring lasting peace. We have no intention of imposing our culture, but America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity, including respect for women.

As we in the State Department continue to pursue our diplomatic efforts on behalf of women all around the globe, we look forward to working closely with all of you. We welcome your insights, your ideas and your expertise. And we will keep you updated on what we are doing in every way possible. One way is through the new web page hosted by our International Women's Issues Office, and you can find it very easily through the state.gov website. Come to my website. You'll see a picture of me. Dump me quickly and go to her website, which is right off my website. (Laughter.)

And so it is a great pleasure to welcome you all here this evening. I hope you will enjoy the rest of the evening. And to all, I extend greetings for you in celebration of International Women's Day. I renew our pledge that women's issues will be a strong component of our foreign policy, and I wish all of you many successes in our joint struggle on behalf of the women of the world and the years ahead. Thank you so much.

Despite my advanced age, I can still get women slightly confused. (Laughter.) It is a great pleasure to welcome you all here this evening to the State Department, and I am very pleased, along with Alma, to be able to host International Women's Day and this reception. Thank you, April, and good evening to all of you. The many distinguished guests gathered in the room this evening I think really testifies to the importance of women's issues around the world. We are very pleased to have with us now -- and also up to 8 o'clock, I'd say, we will have a number of Cabinet secretaries, we have a number of ambassadors here, Members of Congress. And I would also like to especially welcome -- we have many heads of women's organizations and the activists here. We would really like to welcome you. Good evening. I'm April Palmerlee. I'm the new Senior Coordinator for the Office of International Women's Issues here at the State Department, and I'd like to thank you all very much for coming here this evening to celebrate International Women's Day with us. We are very pleased to have with us The Honorable Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Global Affairs.

Released on March 8, 2002

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