MRS. CLINTON: Good evening, everyone. (Applause.) This is such a wonderful occasion that we’re here. It’s the 12th such gala event for Vital Voices, and the most successful financially thanks to all of you. And it’s wonderful for me to be here because all those years, I’ve only missed one time – last year – and to be back again is such a great privilege and honor.
Remarks at Vital VoicesApril 2, 2013
I want to thank Jean (ph) for her introduction, but much more than that – for the wonderful work that she is doing on behalf of women and girls. And I want to thank Vital Voices for honoring one of my dear friends and a personal heroine. We saw the short film about Inez McCormack. She never stopped working for peace, and her legacy now stretches far beyond Northern Ireland, inspiring people across the globe. And I’m so pleased that her beloved husband, Vinny, and her right-hand woman, Claire, could be with us tonight as we celebrate her life and legacy.
Well, that’s also true for the honorees. We’ve already met some of them, and more are still to come. Starting with that brave, young woman who stood up to the Taliban and insisted that girls have a right to attend school; a doctor in Somalia who saved the lives of countless refugees and stood up against al-Shabaab when they attempted to stop her and her doctors from doing their lifesaving work; an entrepreneur from Palestine who is helping women start and grow businesses; a crusader for land rights in Cambodia, a young woman we just met who I had to call several times as Secretary of State to get out of prison because she stood up for a fundamental right that people everywhere should have: a title to their homes, property rights that give them the same stake in the future which everyone deserves to have; and the police chief from Brazil who is developing new ways to stop violence against women, and you could tell from listening to her is determined that she will continue to make progress. And you will meet three brothers fighting human trafficking in India.
Now, each of them is a remarkable example of how much can be achieved when courage and compassion meet. So I am particularly pleased that we are here at Vital Voices to recognize their efforts. And I am delighted that Vice President Biden will be able to join us tonight. Vice President Biden and I have worked together on so many important issues, and one that is particularly close to his heart is the fight against (inaudible) and violence. And I know what a personal victory it was for him to see the Violence Against Women Act reauthorized last month. (Applause.)
Now, let me also remind (inaudible) the friends and colleagues and advocates and extraordinary women and men who understand the importance of this work. Many of us have worked and traveled together for decades; we’ve shared struggles and successes and even some foxholes over the years. It’s a little bit like a family reunion, which is why it feels absolutely right for us to be honoring a woman who is like a sister to us all: Melanne Verveer. (Applause.)
For more years than either of us cares to admit, Melanne and I have had both a mutual admiration society and a mutual inspiration society. (Laughter.) She has devoted her entire career to helping others live up to their own God-given potential, especially women and girls, starting as a student at Georgetown – (applause) – as a staffer on (inaudible), at People for the American Way. Her energy and intellect has been simply unstoppable.
And Melanne has been a part of Vital Voices since the very beginning. She was there with me and thousands of the (inaudible) activists in Beijing in 1995. The Chinese authorities didn’t want to hear what we had to say, but the voices of all those amazing women could not be denied: Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights. (Applause.)
Melanne worked for this organization every step of the way – never tiring, always ready to board another plane, visit another country, meet another aspiring and inspiring leader, forge a new partnership, break another barrier. And more than one person – probably many of you in this auditorium have wondered, why does she do it? Why does she give so much of herself for all of us? In other words, what makes Melanne, Melanne?
Well, I have (inaudible) up close for years now. And I don’t have the answer. (Laughter.) I’m constantly amazed. I’ll say to her, “Melanne, we’re having a meeting on Monday about X, Y and Z; can you be there?” And she’ll pause and she’ll say, “Well, I’m going from Bangladesh to Sweden, and then probably to Colombia, but yes, I’ll be there.” (Laughter.)
I remember when Melanne was my chief of staff in the White House, and we often had meetings in a place called the Map Room, where FDR used to track the progress of our armies in World War II. We thought it was an appropriate place for the women of the White House to meet. (Laughter and applause.) It occurred to me that maps can tell us as much about ourselves as about the world around us. Now, you can look at a map of the world and see nothing but problems as far as the eye can perceive. And that is especially true for those of us committed to the struggle for women and girls. We see too many countries where women still face violence and abuse; too many political systems that treat women like second-class or even worse; too many economies that deny women the chance to participate and prosper.
But that’s not all the map shows. It’s not what Melanne and I see. When we look at the map, we do see progress because we know people are making that progress against the most extraordinary odds, every day, everywhere. We see the opportunities that are there to be seized. We see and hear those vital voices. Melanne and I have always believed that women who lack opportunity – whether it is the opportunity to go to school, own land, start a business, run for office – should not be viewed as society’s problems but rather as solutions, agents of change, drivers of progress, makers of peace. All it takes for them to have a fighting chance. Our unwavering faith in the potential, the untapped potential of women and girls is at the heart of the work we’ve done together over these many years.
So when I became Secretary of State, I was determined to weave this perspective into the fabric of American foreign policy so that our diplomats and policymakers would see a map of opportunities as well as challenges. And I asked Melanne to serve as the first-ever Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, and I’m delighted that President Obama has officially made that high-level position permanent, and that (inaudible). (Applause.)
We were adamant from the start that it would not be enough to preach to the choir; you had to reach out to men, to leaders who on the face of it might not have seen our perspective, and I’m pleased that Vital Voices has done the same. Because we knew how to make the case to the whole world that creating opportunities for women and girls directly supports everyone’s prosperity and security. That was a case that could be made based on hard data and clear-eyed analysis. So that’s exactly what we did. We relied on the economic research that shows that when women participate in the economy, everyone benefits, and when women participate in peacekeeping and peacemaking, we are all safer and more secure.
So we did put women on the agenda and made it a centerpiece of all that we did. We launched global and regional initiatives to translate our arguments into results. And Melanne tirelessly traveled, making the case.
People have always said that Melanne is indefatigable. Well, her work and her travel have produced results. We promoted initiatives like the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program to provide access to training, markets, finance and credit. We started something called Young Women, which is working to shrink the global gender gap in global phone access by 50 percent in just three years. And in the spirit of Vital Voices, Melanne spearheaded the launch of a new project to support women in public service. To focus our entire government on the contributions women can make, we created a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. And I’m thrilled that Melanne will be continuing this work in her new role at Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security.
Now, because secretaries and ambassadors come and go, we had to make sure that the importance of this issue did not leave with us. And that’s why Melanne and I worked with colleagues at every level of the State Department and across our government, and with President Obama and his team in the White House, to ensure that it does remain a priority for the future. And we both remain committed to doing all we can outside of government to continue making this case.
So the next time you see a map of the world, ask yourself: How did Melanne see it? Not as a set of intractable problems, but as a roadmap of opportunities to serve, to solve, to empower.
So, Melanne, thank you. Thank you for everything you’ve done for Vital Voices and for the women in the world. Thank you for showing us what leadership looks like and helping so many to find it in themselves.
Please join me in saluting a courageous woman, a fearless champion, and a great friend – Melanne Verveer. (Applause.)
MRS. VERVERR: (Inaudible) every single aspect of this evening, and tonight (inaudible). (Laughter.) And this is the major co-conspirator. (Laughter.) So I want to thank Hillary from the bottom of my heart, and to Vital Voices.
It’s wonderful for me to be back with the Vital Voices family. I have been privileged to travel around the world and I have seen firsthand the respect that this organization enjoys and the good that it does. But it really is I who owe a deep debt of gratitude to Secretary Clinton and to President Obama for giving me the extraordinary honor to represent our country in this new position.
It was almost 20 years ago – hard to believe – that Hillary made that historic speech in Beijing, at the women’s conference, for all the world to hear when she said that women’s rights were human rights. And she sparked a movement for women’s progress everywhere: from her years in the White House as First Lady, giving voice to those who were on the front lines of change around the globe, to building and growing Vital Voices to what it is today, and most recently, to making women and girls the cornerstone of the United States’ foreign policy. And I have been privileged to be part of this extraordinary commitment of hers, and for that I am extraordinarily grateful.
One day, in Kabul, after a meeting with a group of Afghan women leaders, they gave me a bouquet of plastic flowers which I still have, and they told me it was to remind me of them, and that there was an Afghan saying that said that one flower does not make a spring, but many flowers blossoming together do. And they, in one of the most challenging, harshest environments, like so many other women around the globe and those we honor here tonight, are ushering in a new spring – one of possibility and opportunity, one of peace and progress. And each and every one of you, and I include my two young granddaughters who are here tonight, each of you is helping to make that spring possible by supporting Vital Voices around the globe.
After all, as Hillary often says, this is not just the right thing to do; it is also the smart and effective thing to do. And that’s why our journey must continue.
Thank you all so very much. (Applause.)