T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E

International Women's Day

Help Site Map Text Only

First Lady

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 12, 1997


Dean Acheson Auditorium
TheState Department

MRS. CLINTON: We are gathered today to celebrate International Women'sDay in the heart of the State Department. And we do, as Americans, havemuch to celebrate, starting with a Secretary of State who, yes, broke abarrier by virtue of her own gender, but who much more importantly iscommitted to defending the rights not just of Americans but of citizensaround the world regardless of gender.

Not only has Madeleine Albright broken many a glass ceiling,she has brokered many a peace. Not only has she opened many doors, shehas opened many minds. And since she mentioned it, I would say that in mylast conversation with Mrs. Roosevelt (laughter) she told me how pleasedshe was that her husband had appointed the first woman to the Cabinet inUnited States history, and how pleased she was that my husband hadappointed the first woman Secretary of State. (Applause.)

I thank Secretary Albright for her leadership, her courageand, on a personal note, her friendship. And I am delighted that she hasagreed to serve as the new chair for the President's Interagency Councilon Women, ably assisted on the issues by Teresa Loar and Tim Wirth andothers of you here.

We all know that countless responsibilities face our newSecretary of State and all of us. Our foreign policy does not lack forchallenges. We must continue to reduce weapons of mass destruction. Wemust realize the century's dream of a wholly united, democratic andpeaceful Europe. We must work to capture new opportunities in Asia, toseize opportunities for peace in the Middle East and other areas that arestrategic not only to the United States but to the entire globe. We mustwork with our partners in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere to build aninclusive and expanding global economy. We must safeguard our people fromthe threats of terrorism, extremism, international crime, drugs, andenvironmental degradation.

While all of these require our attention and commitment,today I have come to advance a simple idea. That is the seamlessinclusion of girls' and women's needs in American foreign policy. Despitethe work they do, the families they raise, the communities they holdtogether, too many of the world's women, particularly in developingnations, live on the outskirts of opportunity and equality. But let me beclear: This challenge is not confined to the developing world. We stillhave plenty of work to do here in the United States and in other advancedeconomies of the world to ensure that women have a full stake indemocracy. One goal in every country should be to see that all citizens,regardless of race or gender or ethnicity or religion, have a full placeat their society's table.

If you'll forgive just a slight diversion yesterday I was inArkansas. I visited people who had been hit by a terrible tornado in themorning. Even before that disaster struck, these were people alreadyworking overtime to build good lives, to reach their aspirations. Thefull benefits of American society were still a long way away for them. After this tornado, all that they had worked for, all they had hoped forseems lost.

Later that day I spoke at an event that helps raise funds tosend single parents, primarily women, to college or vocational school. Iheard stories from five women who told us what it had meant that theirsociety, in the form of those who had raised these funds, reached out andtold them that they could make something of their own lives, they could goto college, they could support themselves and their children. They hadheard the message that is even still too often conveyed in America: thatthey weren't worth very much, that nobody really cared too much aboutthem.

As one young woman said, five years ago I was in a batteredwomen's shelter in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I had nothing. I not onlydidn't have a car, I didn't have a driver's license, and my face looked asthough it had been run over by a truck. All of a sudden there were peoplethere who convinced me that I could make something of myself and care formy ninemonthold son. I thought to myself, how can these people believe inme, that I could go to college, that I could support myself? How couldthese people care about me when my own husband didn't care about me?

Those stories, as I heard them, reminded me of stories that Ihave heard around the world. As women in Bangladesh or India or Nicaraguaor Chile stood up and told me what it meant to them to have someonebelieve that they, too, could make a living for their family; that theskills they had would be valued in the marketplace; that their children,especially their daughters, could have a better life. The women lastnight were helped to return to school. And today they are citizens of theUnited States in the fullest sense of that word.

Whatever disparities of wealth exist in our country andaround the world means that people are left by the side of the road,detoured off the Information Highway, unable to take advantage ofdemocracy's opportunities. What America must do for its own sake, as wellas for the sake of its leadership in the world we are in today and that weare entering tomorrow, is to promote democracy and civil society in everynation, so that all citizens every man, woman, and child can live up totheir Godgiven potential.

But one may ask, well, it's fine for me to care about thewomen of Arkansas, but why should I or any American care about women indeveloping countries and around the world? Why should women, as SecretaryAlbright just eloquently explained, be a concern of ours and our foreignpolicy here in the United States? Well, what the Secretary said and whatthis administration believes is that if half of the world's citizens areundervalued, underpaid, undereducated, underrepresented, fed less, fedworse, not heard, put down, we cannot sustain the democratic values andthe way of life we have come to cherish.

If as a nation Americans care about opening foreign marketsfor American goods and services, if we care about making our countrysecure in the face of new threats, if we care about widening the circle ofpeace and prosperity, then we must address the conditions andcircumstances of the world's women.

You in this room know better than anyone else that our worldis in a time of great transformation, heralding ever more democracies,leading, we hope, to ever more peace. But the great promise of this timeis not without its challenges. Global competition, the informationrevolution, the rapid pace of change all create pressures on everysociety, from governments down to families. And these pressures poseunavoidable questions for us as we approach the 21st century. How do wefigure out ways to balance individual and community rights andresponsibilities? How do parents raise children in the face of theinfluences of the mass media and consumer culture? What do we make ofwhat seems to be a conflict in many instances between personal identityand the work available in an age of globalization and high technology? What about the roles of women in society? How will people preserve theirethnic pride and value their national citizenship? And how will nationsprotect their sovereignty while cooperating regionally and globally withothers?

Thinking about these questions and how a free nation likeours will respond to them, we may need to be reminded that democracy isnot just about legally protected rights, elections, or free marketeconomies. It is about the internalization of democratic values inpeople's hearts and minds. It is about how, in the absence of either hotor cold wars, democracy is rooted in people's everyday lives.

Given the changes that are going on around us, we can nolonger gauge our interests around the world solely through power blocs andvast arsenals. Across the globe, here at home, at the end of the ColdWar, we have been free to focus on issues that edge right up to our ownfront doors. How do we educate our children? How do we ensure thatfamilies have proper health care? How do we ensure that democracies andfree markets produce citizens, not just consumers?

I have said before that at this time of challenge around theglobe, we know we will continue to cope with what is often thought of asthe traditional balance of power among countries. But I would also arguethat we must now add to that balance of power equation, often calledrealpolitik, the idea that reallife politik may be just as intimatelyconnected with whether or not democracies survive and flourish.

These issues that we speak of today should not be consideredwomen's issues. But certainly it is fair to say that women often, bynecessity, become the world's experts on the hazards and vicissitudes oflife. And they, therefore, often understand and appreciate more clearlythat they have a vested interest in ensuring that their societies andgovernments address these reallife challenges.

I have seen for myself on continent after continent thesolutions that women are forging new mothers in JogJakarta, Indonesia, whogather every week to learn about family planning and better nutrition fortheir children; doctors and nurses in Belarus and Ukraine who are caringfor the children of Chernobyl; women from Santiago to San Diego who areworking on issues as diverse as education, crime, and the environment. These issues are central to our global democratic interests. For whatdistinguishes democracy is fair and genuine participation in every aspectof life.

It should be too obvious to point out, but unfortunately itisn't, that giving women a stronger voice and fuller say over theirfutures is intimately related to the health of democracies because womenare the majority in most countries and the world over.

America's credo should ring clearly: A democracy without thefull participation of women is a contradiction in terms. To reach itsfull potential, it must include all of its citizens. Clearly, whether wesucceed in strengthening democratic values around the world is of specialconsequence to women, who in our country and elsewhere are still strivingto attain, and even define their rightful place in government, theeconomy, and civil society, and to claim their rightful share of personal,political, economic and civic power.

Raising the status of women and girls and investing in theirpotential means insuring that they have the tools of opportunity availableto them. Education, health care, credit and jobs, legal protections andthe right to participate fully in the political life of their countries. And that is why the United States must continue its bipartisan traditionof supporting initiatives that move our world closer to these goals.

Today, more than 600 million women worldwide are denied theopportunity of an education. Women make up twothirds of those who canneither read nor write. Yet the single most important investment anydeveloping nation can make is in the education of girls and women. We arediscovering that in country after country the benefits of educating womengo far beyond the classroom and the schoolhouse. They go to strongerfamilies, better health, nutrition, wages, and levels of politicalparticipation.

I have seen how the support of the United States for theeducation of women and girls worldwide is paying off. I have seen howsimilar social investments, also many supported by the United States, canmake a difference in countries as diverse as Brazil, the Philippines,Nepal, and Pakistan.

Certainly, as I travel around the world and as many of you dolikewise, we have seen with our own eyes that investing in girls and womenhelps to transform communities which in turn can transform societies. Women will not flourish and neither will democracy if they continue to beundervalued inside and outside the home.

I have had many experts in economic development around theworld say to me that women's work is not part of the economies ofcountries, that women do not participate in the economic markets ofcountries. And yet I have seen with my own eyes as I've traveled throughurban areas and remote rural ones that women are bearing often the bulk ofthe load of the work that must be done to plant crops, to harvest them, tomake it possible for small enterprises to flourish in market stalls. So Iknow that women are working. Their contributions may not be counted inthe gross domestic product of their societies, but they are of value. Ifall the women in the world tomorrow said they would not work outside thehome, the economies of every country would collapse. And it is time(applause) it is time that we honored and counted the contributions thatwomen make, both in the home and outside.

Investing in women also means investing in their health and,in turn, in the health of their families. I am especially pleased thatthe United States has provided assistance through the United States Agencyfor International Development to assure that women, children, and familieshave access to a full spectrum of lowcost, highyield health care servicesfrom safe birthing kits for expectant mothers, to basic immunizations forinfants, to oral rehydration therapy to treat children suffering fromdiarrhea.

I want to say a special word about family planning and itsimportance in this larger effort. Family planning is fundamental toletting women take responsibility for themselves and their children. Right now, however, roughly 100 million women worldwide cannot get or arenot using family planning services because they are poor, uneducated, ordo not have access to care. Some 20 million women will seek unsafeabortions. Of these women, some may become disabled for life, some willhave other health problems, but fundamentally, the rate of unsafeabortions is in itself a tragedy. High abortion rates do not representwomen's equality; they represent a failure on all our parts to help womenprevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. If we really care aboutreducing abortions and fostering strong families, we must not back awayfrom America's commitment to family planning efforts overseas. (Applause.)

If we really care about making women equal partners insocieties the world over, we must do everything in our power to fightviolence against women, whether it is a hidden crime of domestic abuse ora blatant tactic of war.

No single social investment is a panacea for women or for developingcountries. Nor should every just cause of the world be America's toembrace.

But I do believe that as long as discrimination andinequities persist in a broadscale way against women, a stable, prosperousworld will be far from a reality.

Taken together, our investments in social development arevital to strengthening free market interests, spreading our democraticideal and enhancing our security.

Over time, America has learned that our ideals and interestscannot be divorced from the political, economic and social crosscurrentsswirling around us. I hope we have also learned that engagement with theworld represents opportunities at home as well as obligations abroad.

Let me just give you one modest example. I spoke recently ata conference sponsored by USAID called Lessons Without Borders. At theconference, Baltimore's Mayor, Kurt Schmoke, told how government leadersfrom his city had gone to Africa to learn about simple, lowcost strategiesused on that continent to encourage parents to immunize their children. Now similar programs are in place in Baltimore, with community clinics, avaccination van, doortodoor visits and the resulting higher immunizationsrates for children under three.

We can learn from our neighbors around the world. And manyof the lesson we can learn, we will find, are lessons that have beenhelped to be taught by our own foreign policy engagement less than onepercent of our budget, yet countless lives can be improved and we canimprove lives here at home.

Before I close, I want to say a word about my forthcomingtrip to Africa. I was very honored to be asked to make this trip becauseI think that America's engagement in the world must include an engagementwith subSaharan Africa. Contemporary history is a story that citizens andcountries are writing. And there is a new story that must be told. Everyregion is contributing its own chapter.

Africa has a remarkable story if we will only pay attentionto it. It is moving toward democracy. In the last six years, the numberof democracies have jumped from five to 23. Africa is growingeconomically, moving from suffocating statecontrolled economies to openmarkets that can give full life and scope to human endeavor.

Last year, 30 countries reported positive economic growth. Africa is beginning to forge a new relationship with the United States onebased not just on aid but on shared ideals, mutual responsibilities,integration into the world economy, and partnerships designed to resolveconflicts and to meet common challenges. To be sure, many of the Africandemocracies are new and therefore fragile. Hope remains tenuous. Toomuch of the continent continues to be riven by disease, malnutrition,poverty, injustice, corruption, perilous conflicts and their terribleaftermath, refugee crises that trap women and children especially in livesthat go from bad to worse.

And yet and yet, in spite of these challenges, for the firsttime, we can say that, at this moment in history, there are in Africagrounds for far more hope than despair. And with the support of theUnited States, we can solidify that hope.

I will be privileged to visit Senegal, South Africa,Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda and Eritrea. And I am pleased that so many ofthe ambassadors from those countries and other countries in Africa arewith us today.

I hope to witness first hand and to highlight each country'sefforts to build democracy and a strong civil society. I will focusparticularly on grassroots initiatives and on efforts that affect womenand children.

I hope this trip will give the American people a renewedsense of the importance of our commitment to Africa. I hope it will layout exactly why we must do our utmost to support democracy and socialinvestment in Africa and to strengthen Africa's place in the community ofnations.

And I hope it will show that American engagement must bemeasured not just in aid dollars or humanitarian efforts in the wake oftragedy and crisis, but in the democratic values we reinforce, in thehuman rights we defend, and in the conflicts we help resolve preventively.

There are, to be sure, issues of America's national securityat stake. Instability in Africa, whether it is rooted in war, interrorism, in organized crime, in disease, in environmental degradation orpoverty, it touches us too.

There are also economic issues at stake. Right now, theUnited States holds only 7 percent of the African market of 600 millionpeople. By forging stronger economic ties with Africa, we will do much tosecure the prosperity of our own people as well.

But finally, our greatest reasons for engagement with Africaare built on a positive foundation. Africa is on the move, with a newgeneration of leaders, the fresh air of political reform, and thrivingmultiethnic societies.

As we look at the future for America's engagement around theworld, we can see that wherever we help to seed the ground for democracy,wherever we reach out to people out of mutual respect to help them helpthemselves, wherever we understand clearly that in this time ofinterdependence and interconnection that we all have a stake in thesuccess of the other, we will make progress together. Whether it comes toassisting and working with our friends in the new democracies in Africa,or understanding the importance of our commitment to women and girls,America's interests are at stake.

But far more importantly, America's values are at stake. Ifwe act upon those values, we will help to lead the world into the kind ofnew future we envision as possible for our children and all the childrenaround the globe.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House
White House for Kids | White House History
White House Tours | Help | Text Only

Privacy Statement

March-April 1997

International Women's Day

Women, Human Rights and Democracy, University of Capetown

Women and Democracy, Kampala, Uganda

White House Conference on Early Childhood Development

Women's Leadership Forum

Corporate Council On Africa

Rwandan Women's Roundtable

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

65th Anniversary Folger Shakespeare Library