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Interview With Deborah Fine of iVillage

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Via Telephone
May 31, 2007

SECRETARY RICE: It's Condi Rice. I'm sorry, we had some trouble connecting.

QUESTION: Hi, Secretary. How are you?

SECRETARY RICE: I'm fine, thank you. I'm on my way back to Berlin so I'm going to be landing here in about 15 minutes.

QUESTION: All right. Well, we'll talk quickly. I just want to tell you both personally and professionally, having worked so closely with Dina Powell for a long time and being a Fortune mentor, this is just a great privilege.

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, well, it's great to talk to you, too. You've done a great job with iVillage. You really have.

QUESTION: Oh, thank you. Well, I've got three quick questions and hopefully I can ask them to you before you hit the ground, if I may.

SECRETARY RICE: It sounds good.

QUESTION: Good. I know you're obviously just off of the Women's Empowerment conference and, Secretary, I would love to know what you see are the biggest issues impacting women as we speak.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that it very much depends on where you are. For women who are in the areas that we spent most of our time today, talking about conflict areas, the Middle East, it can be as important as basic political rights. Women are not able to express themselves and to express their views and their desires unless they can vote. And so we talked about advocating for women's political rights and their ability to serve in government and to be elected to office.

Secondly, women's economic empowerment, which I think is an issue in a broader range of countries because even in the most advanced societies it's the case that women are not always economically empowered. And so we talked some about the importance of that area.

And then finally, we talked about the key to all of that being education, starting with girls' education and going through women's education, because unless you have education you can't take advantage of any of the opportunities for either educational or -- for economic or political empowerment.

So those are the areas that I would cite, but we also talked about the importance of changing attitudes, particularly in traditional societies, about the roles that women can play, which is sometimes an impediment even in the most advanced societies.

QUESTION: Absolutely. Well, that's a perfect segue to my second question, which I believe you know that it was a personal mission of mine to launch iVillage Cares in the spirit of being able to mobilize 17 million women through iVillage to do good. It has become our platform of advocacy and a very large umbrella under which all things good and the issues that face women today can live. And so I would ask you, Secretary, two questions. What are the issues you care about most personally and what are the issues that you care about on behalf of women?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the issue that -- it may sound strange for a Secretary of State to say because obviously there are a lot of issues that I'm concerned about in my own area, but I'm more concerned than anything about freedom for people. I believe that individuals are only able to completely reach their potential in societies that are free and societies that are tolerant. And I have also come to believe that in places where you have an absence of freedom, you're going to have the emergence of extremism. And that then comes back to haunt us in terms of security, whether it's a place like Afghanistan from which al-Qaida came to haunt us on September 11th or what could happen in Iraq if we do not see through the task there of helping to secure a foundation for freedom there. I think freedom is very much at the core of both what is right and what makes us more secure.

On behalf of women, and I think on behalf of all people but particularly on behalf of women, I am just a tremendous advocate of educational opportunity. And I mean broad opportunity, not just to sit in a classroom and learn math and science and languages, that's very important, but for instance opportunity in sports, to have the team-building skills. I'm a big advocate of Title IX. I think it's made a huge difference in our society. And since -- I graduated from college in 1974 and Title IX is a '74 -- came about in 1974, the next fall. And for somebody like me who had to be a part of a gymnastics effort that had to have a bake sale in order to be able to go and compete --


SECRETARY RICE: -- you know, what Title IX now means. And I see it; it's cascading from universities into high schools and into elementary schools. And I used to love watching the Stanford women's teams play because these young women were confident and they were confident in themselves as women and confident in themselves as athletes. So when I talk about educational opportunity, I mean broadly opportunity to pursue extracurricular activities like music and sports as well.

QUESTION: Right. If I may do so, just in the spirit of iVillage Cares, I know from a personal point of view that you and your family obviously were touched by breast cancer at a very young age and that is something (inaudible) so many women.


QUESTION: Could you emote a bit, Secretary, about breast cancer in the spirit of what it's meant to you, your point of view, and how it impacts women across the country?

SECRETARY RICE: Of course. Well, my mother had breast cancer. She was first diagnosed when I was 15. That was in many ways in the dark ages for breast cancer. It would have been 1970. And she had very few choices. You know, I remember that she was diagnosed on a Friday night. I was picked up from school and told that she had been diagnosed as probably having cancer. She was in surgery by Monday morning. You know, no second opinion, no effort to think about alternative treatments, what was specific to her.

And now, of course, the ability to tailor treatments, to take time to make your choices and decisions, it's like night and day. But for me, the fact that my mother at least lived an additional 15 years until I was 30 made all the difference. And so I'm grateful for that. I would urge women, as I do, to make sure that you're getting -- particularly if you have a risk factor like I do, to make sure that you're getting the proper screening and have worked out a screening regimen with your doctor. Because now there are a lot of additional options.


QUESTION: Hi, this is still Deborah, Secretary.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Did you get that? Good.

QUESTION: Yes. No, I did. And my own grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer twice, so I can hugely relate.

And I know you're getting close to landing. I have to ask you the one question on behalf of 17 million women. As I believe you know, we polled our user base to really understand the immediacy of what is on the minds of our users today. And it begs the question -- I guess it's a two-part one. That you are just an extraordinary role model, you know, we are 17 million strong, many of whom are mothers, mother of whom have daughters, obviously for whom you are a role model. And the question came up, multiple times over again, of course would you run for President and is the country ready for a female President? And we'd love your candid response to that.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, sure, I think the country's more than ready for a woman to be President. I believe that we will be able to make that decision based on the things that people have chosen for presidency, which is does that person share my values, is that person going to make good decisions, do I think that person has the right base of experience. I myself am not somebody who believes that I want to do that. And I have great respect for people who run for office, but it's not for me. But there's no doubt in my mind that America can -- is ready for a woman to be president.

QUESTION: In that spirit, I guess I'll sneak in one more question which is to say -- you know, in the spirit of public service for women, very much in the spirit of giving and in the spirit of our village cares, the advocates in believing in the local village impact of women doing good all across the country and all across the globe, so what advice would you have, which is a bit more grassroots for American women? What advice would you have about that local village impact that you think American women can really have collectively as a movement?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, women can have an enormous impact. You can have a local impact and it can be something as important as just noticing that maybe there's a young girl who looks like she's not quite fitting in and maybe needs a little mentoring by a big sister that doesn't exist and so reaching out to that girl. Or going and volunteering with a girls' sports team where the ability of girls to define themselves is, I think, very important and where meeting women from different walks of life can be important.

Some friends and I started an after school and summer academy out in East Palo Alto. It's a poorer part of the Bay area where -- not too far from where I live. It wasn't just for girls, but it was for after school activities, math, science learning but also instrumental music and the arts. And you can get together and start activities for kids. I think really the big changes and the big support is very often at the local level.

The most important people in my life were my parents. But the next most important people to me were the people in my community, my teachers, the people who lived in my community and made sure I got home safely at night and the people who, you know, who were just very much a part of my life and still are. Some of those people I still stay in touch with and that's what communities can mean.

QUESTION: I was actually going to ask who is it that you -- you are obviously personally such a role model for so many women and their daughters. Who, aside from your parents and the people in your private life, who else out there would you cite as a role model?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, there are lots of them for me. And, you know, I -- it's funny, I think I have different role models for different parts of my life. I tend to -- since you always wish that you could have been the one thing that you weren't. And since I loved athletics and I was a pretty good athlete, but would have loved to have been a great athlete, I think to me somebody like Althea Gibson who broke through barriers or Billie Jean King who broke through barriers, you know, that's for me just extraordinary because they had to breakthrough not just the barriers of -- you know, did they -- should women be doing that, but in areas where for a long time there just weren't that many opportunities. And so I've got lots of role models. But I would just say one thing to people who are looking for role models: They don't always have to look like you; you can find role models in all kinds of people.

QUESTION: That's actually a great segue, if I can. You know, so many of the role models that you cited made a lot of small decisions along the way and then ultimately had a big break. Do you view your own path to success as a series of small decisions, or was there one, if you will, defining moment -- sort of a moment of influence, if you will?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh I absolutely see it as a series of small decisions. And I see it as a lot of serendipity too -- (laughter) -- because people have asked me, well, what plan should I have for my life? Especially my students at Stanford would say, well, how do I become -- and then they would say whatever, you know. And I would always say I'm not a great planner. If I had followed my plan, I would be a concert musician some place and probably playing piano bar because I probably wasn't good enough to play Carnegie Hall. And somewhere along the way, I took a course in international politics. I loved it and decided that the study of the Soviet Union and things Russian were my passion. And so following your passion is the best advice I can give to anybody.

QUESTION: I heartfully describe -- subscribe to that theory myself, as you might have heard from Dina Powell.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, absolutely. And we're going to miss Dina, by the way. She has been superb.

QUESTION: Oh, absolutely. Well I look forward to us continuing to work together. And I guess just in closing, I would ask you, you know -- you have just demonstrated so many strengths through so many disciplines over your life. What advice would you have for so many women that we touch every month, in terms of managing through adversity?

SECRETARY RICE: Well I think in managing through adversity, obviously if you've got great family and great friends as I have had throughout my life, that helps a lot. I'm also someone who has great religious faith. And I am a great believer that being able to draw on what the Apostle Paul once said in Romans 5, which is that you have the glory and tribulation also, because with tribulation grows perseverance, and out of perseverance, hope. And I think sometimes we -- when, in times when life is easy, we don't appreciate enough the people who support us and care about us and love us, and our religious faith. And when things get tough, we have to rely on them. And so every time you go through a tough period, I think you're just making yourself a stronger person.

QUESTION: Well I guess in that spirit, you know, you have been a female leader, as I have as well, in a largely male-dominated world. What might you emote on about that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well I have always considered myself, you know, kind of a package. I'm black and female. I've been asked, you know, did you find this harder because you're a female, because you're -- I really don't know because I don't know how the world would've reacted to me in some other package. So I just try to continue to do what I'm doing and to try to do it well. And I've been fortunate in my life to be able to marry what I'm passionate –

(Audio Ends)


Released on May 31, 2007

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