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Remarks at the Women Leaders Working Group

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
New York City
September 25, 2008

SECRETARY RICE: Good morning. Good morning. First of all, I would like to thank you all for coming and I know that a number of people had to brave the New York traffic this morning, and so you have really made an effort and I want to thank you for coming. It’s really an honor to be here.

I am particularly honored to be with the four presidents who are beside me: Liberian President Johnson Sirleaf, Finnish President Halonen, Chilean President Bachelet, and of course, Philippines President Arroyo. I want to thank them for joining us and for serving as wonderful role models for people across the globe – not just for women, for people across the globe.

I’d also like to thank all of you who have helped to make this possible. We started this group with a number of women foreign ministers, several of them at this table. I’d like to thank also Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli, who – without whom we would not be here. Shirin has embodied the vision of creating a very, very special platform, so thank you, Shirin. When we – (applause.)

When we first met in September of 2006 to launch the Women’s Leaders Group, we understood the need and bonded in our common belief that when women are empowered, societies can be more prosperous and entire communities can be changed together and for the better. It was an example of transformational diplomacy in its purest form, recognizing that the rights and opportunities and well-being of women are directly related to the capacity of states.

Poverty is more rampant when women lack education and economic opportunity. Justice is more easily thwarted when women are denied the right to play a political role in their nations. Disease can spread more widely when women’s perspectives are not taken into account in prevention and treatment. And in today’s world, no country can achieve lasting success, stability, and security when half its population is sitting on the sidelines.

Each of you around this table has been a force for a change across the globe. And together through this group, we have traveled the globe to share our vision – meeting in New York, in Vienna, in Brussels, in Athens, and very soon, Madame President, in Monrovia. You have been pivotal in our efforts to stop traffickers who prey on innocent women and children. You have been critical to our work to highlight the need for women to have access to education. And you have been instrumental in fighting to ensure that all women are empowered and that the glass ceilings are shattered, whether here at the United Nations, or in our respective countries.

I am particularly proud that we were able to achieve the reinstatement of a woman to be the Special Representative of the Secretary General, Ellen Margrethe Loj of Denmark as the SRSG to Liberia, and I would like to note that the Secretary General has committed personally to us to continue improving the record of the UN itself in this regard.

I want briefly to report on what the United States has done since last year’s meeting. This May, the Department of State launched a public-private partnership called the “One Woman Initiative” that focuses on justice, opportunity, and leadership. With a $100 million infusion of cash from private donors and the federal government, this international women’s empowerment fund is based on the premise that the world benefits when even one woman is empowered. And with a duration of five years, the fund is initially focused on women in countries with significant Muslim populations. I am particularly proud to note that the first grants will be awarded in November.

On the issue of Women and Justice, we convened the State Department’s first Senior Roundtable for Women’s Justice this past March. It focused on violence against women and access to justice. This remarkable forum brought together U.S. judges with those from 20 countries to exchange ideas and best practices, and I was delighted that Sandra Day O’Connor was the keynoter for that.

I’m also pleased to announce that this fall, as a direct result of the roundtable, the United States will provide training to 23 federal judges of Malawi on issues relating to violence against women. And it should be noted that the Women and Justice Center is being created at Cornell University’s Law School to serve as a comprehensive resource center to create a network for judges around the globe.

Finally, I want to note that one of our most life-changing efforts came this past June with the passage of UN Security Resolution -- Council Resolution 1820, which seeks to end sexual violence against women during armed conflict. The resolution goes a step further by noting that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or an act with respect to genocide.

And so we have been doing a lot of work in the United States, but I know that you have each been doing a lot of work in your countries. And so I look forward to sharing our experiences, sharing our best practices, and making certain that we institutionalize this platform so that it can go forward to empower women, to educate women, and perhaps most importantly, to inspire women. I truly believe that we can support women worldwide in achieving positive changes for themselves, but that, in turn, will achieve positive changes for their societies.

With those remarks, I would like to ask President Bachelet of Chile to open our session. Thank you.

Released on September 25, 2008

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