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Joint Press Availability With EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Remarks After Women Leaders Working Group
Brussels, Belgium
March 6, 2008

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MODERATOR: (In progress) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner. The two ladies are going to make some short introductory statements, and we have time for two questions afterwards.

COMMISSIONER FERRERO-WALDNER: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Let me say that I’m very, very happy today because we had a very interesting conference, a conference of women stabilizing an insecure world. And Condoleezza Rice has joined us now, just coming from NATO, also made her statement. And I think the most important that I would like to say is you know that normally women are very often the most vulnerable, disproportionately affected parts of society, particularly affected by threats; old threats, I would say, that is, of course, poverty and that has come up in the conference, but also by wars, by crises, but there are also new threats. And the new threats are particularly climate change, there are all the questions of terrorism, fundamentalism that are there.

But this is only one side of the medal, but the other side of the medal is, of course, there are also women leaders and it was a great gathering of women leaders of the world today here. And we think that women can play a much bigger role because they do play a role locally with regards to peace-building, institution-building, trying to bring societies together after the crisis. But we think the same should be done also on the regional, national, and we think also on the global level.

And the third important topic of today’s conference was the question of Security Council Resolution 1325. You know, it already exists. Everything is there. It’s about protection of women in difficult situations, in armed conflicts, but it is also about women leaders. Only the thing is, it’s not yet totally implemented. Therefore, we have a lot to do and I will then go back to the conclusion session of the conference where I’m sure we will come up of the idea of having further meetings, follow-up conferences, and maybe a review conference of this 1325 at United Nations in 2010. This was a suggestion and I could imagine that this suggestion will be supported by everyone.

It’s great to have you here. Thank you again, Condi. I pass on the floor to you immediately.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, thank you very much, Benita, and I just want to thank you for arranging this wonderful conference. I want to say that Benita and I have been partners now in various efforts to bring together women leaders to work on women’s empowerment. You’re a great partner and friend in that, Benita, and this conference has collected really an extraordinary group of women to have these very important discussions to which you referred.

I just want to note that we are all people who want to see the human condition improve. And if there is one underlying theme, it is that the human condition will not improve unless the conditions for women improve. Because very much, women are the most vulnerable in conflict, they are the most vulnerable to hunger and famine, they are the most vulnerable when states cannot protect them from trafficking in persons, they are the most vulnerable when the state, in terms of internal security, cannot protect them from rape and from violence and from victimization.

And yet, on the other hand, women have such tremendous potential because we know that when women are fully integrated into a society, when they are able to engage in commerce and in entrepreneurship, then societies do better in terms of prosperity. When women are educated and girls are educated, those societies are the ones that are truly progressive. And when women are able to fully exercise their political rights, those are the societies that are going to be most likely to be able to protect human rights.

And so on all of those scores, we – I believe and Benita, I know that you share this view, that when we talk about the empowerment of women, it is important to have the examples of courage and the examples of leadership that we can mobilize, but it’s important also to go to the very core of it. When women are empowered, societies are empowered, the human condition is better, and given that all of us are interested in that betterment of the human condition, we cannot help but be interested in the empowerment of women. Thank you.


MODERATOR: The first question goes to our guests. Anne. Do you have – Anne, you have a microphone in your seat. Just lift it up. Yeah, and push the button.

QUESTION: I apologize. This is a question off-topic, but Madame Secretary, can you address the reports today of meetings between Egyptian officials and Hamas and possibly Islamic Jihad in Egypt about a truce in Gaza and whether or not this is something the United States supports or whether it gives you any pause that it legitimizes Hamas as a negotiating partner?

SECRETARY RICE: Anne, I can’t speak to specifics about meetings. I talked with the Egyptians and we fully expect the Egyptians to carry out the efforts that they said that they would carry out to try to bring calm to the region, to try to improve the situation in Gaza. As you know, Egypt is a good ally in this effort to help the Annapolis solution come into being, and I trust that what the Egyptians are doing is exactly in that course, but I can’t speak to the specifics.

It is extremely important that there be an effort to bring calm there, it is extremely important that the negotiations continue, and I’m pleased that the parties said yesterday that they want to resume the negotiations. It’s also important, as I said yesterday, that there be progress on the other pillars of Annapolis. That means improvement on the ground, particularly in the West Bank, and improvement in terms of roadmap obligations. And we’re working toward all of those ends and we have a very good partner in Egypt.

MODERATOR: Second question down here.

QUESTION: Frank Hofmann, Deutsche Welle Television. I’d love to come back to the subject of your meeting today. Secretary, a couple of years ago, I met one of your former students from Stanford in a train from Paris to Brussels, and he said, “She’s very much a person that stands her ground like a man.” A young man told me this, even -- he was not older than in his mid-20s. Today, we learned that it’s not about women -- that’s in English -- like to stand her ground like a man, but that women can have an impact on change, and because they have different qualities than men have. How long do we have to wait until everybody’s going to understand this?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I hope you won’t have to wait very much longer. You know, it’s very interesting; I’ve always found it odd that people say, well, she stands her ground like a man or women have these special characteristics. Women clearly have special characteristics. And I think that the issue is can -- who can bring leadership. Sometimes, women are able to bring leadership on issues that are broad and that are not precisely concerning women’s issues and men have to bring leadership on issues that are broad and that relate to women. For instance, I just talked about the importance of empowerment of women in education and economies and so forth. I certainly hope that we can’t only have those issues be on the front burner for countries that are led by women. Those issues have to be on the front burner for countries by whomever they are led.

So I’ve always said, look, I’m a package. All right? I was born in Birmingham, Alabama. I’m slightly over 50 years old. You can do the math. I was born in 1954. I am a woman. I am black. I bring all of those experiences to my role as Secretary of State and to the roles that I’ve been able to play.

But I do understand one thing, and that is that had it not been for somebody along the way, in my case several somebodies along the way, who said, yes, you are a girl, but your horizons should be limitless; don’t let people define you in terms of your gender, you have an opportunity to do whatever you want, I would not be standing here. And I do know that the signals that sometimes go to girls and to women about what is possible for them are signals that are different than go to men about what is possible for them. And one reason that I’ve been so involved in these women’s empowerment meetings and working groups and efforts that we’ve had is that we’ve got to get to the place that we’re sending the same signal to boys and girls about what is possible for them.

I’m very proud of the fact that at the end of my term, the United States will not have had a white male Secretary of State for 12 years; perhaps the most powerful country in the world, not a white male Secretary of State for 12 years. That means that different signals are being sent about what is possible in America. And I think that meetings like the one that Benita has held today, where we sat with the Foreign Minister of Liberia, who works for the first African female president on the African continent, sitting next to businesswomen, sitting next to Josette Sheeran, who runs the World Food Program, women who are in "non-traditional" roles, says that the horizons are limitless.

But in order to make that true, it has to not just be a statement; it has to be an effort to really remove the barriers that prevent that from being true. And that means educating girls, it means protecting girls, it means giving them political -- it means giving political rights to women, and that's why efforts like this are really important. If that means standing my ground, I'm standing my ground like a woman. (Laughter.)

COMMISSIONER FERRERO-WALDNER: Thank you very much sir. We don't have time for any further questions. Thanks for your patience.


Released on March 6, 2008

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