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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Remarks at Women Enhancing Democracy Event in Lithuania *updated*

June 30, 2011

Notice all the women leaders in attendance, including Presidents. And the U.S. likes to think it’s so advanced. At this rate we may be the last country in the world to overcome that glass ceiling.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite attend the international conference "Women Enhancing Democracy: Best Practices" in Vilnius on June 30, 2011 AFP PHOTO PETRAS MALUKAS

I still can’t find a video of her remarks but here’s a short news segment prior to the event:

Here’s the transcript:

In progress) and thank you for your patience. I appreciate greatly being here for this important conference as part of the Community of Democracies beginning its second decade. And I want to acknowledge those who are on the podium with me. Thank you, Wendy, for that introduction; and Margot Wallstrom, thank you for the work you’re doing; and my friend, the president from Finland who has been a great leader in so many of these issues for so long; and my friend and our host and our ally in this important conference, Dalia, thank you so much for everything that you have done.

It is such a pleasure for the United States to be co-chairing the Community of Democracies Working Group on Gender Equality and the Promotion of the Rights of Women with a trailblazer when it comes to women in politics. And I am delighted to see in the audience so many distinguished leaders from across the world. In addition to the presidents of Finland and Lithuania, we have also Mongolia, Kosovo; I know Cathy Ashton will also be part of this important conference. And I’m also told by our global ambassador for women’s issues, Melanne Verveer, that the conversation has already been very productive.

I think this is an important time for us all to pause and take stock of where we are as democracies and whether we are fulfilling the promise and potential that we so believed in over the last decades. When the Soviet Union collapsed here in Europe, we knew that there was a lot of work to be done to build democratic institutions, to ensure the rule of law, accountability, transparency, protection of minorities, a free press, an independent judiciary, and so much else. But we also knew that if democracy did not deliver in tangible ways, in improving the lives of people, there would be great disappointment. And it was essential that women, half the population, needed to be given the opportunity to fully experience the benefits of freedom.

I’m not sure we could have foreseen even 10 or 11 years ago how much progress has been made. Just look at Lithuania today. Not only has it conducted a very successful chairmanship of the Community of Democracies, but it is setting a high standard for the rest of us – a female president, a female speaker of parliament, a female finance minister, and a female defense minister. Why, pretty soon, they’re going to start comparing Lithuania to Finland. (Laughter.) (Applause.) And what Central and Eastern Europe have proven is that democracy without the full rights and responsibilities guaranteed and the full participation welcomed of women is a contradiction. And so we can look at this region and see an enormous amount of progress. But let’s be very honest with ourselves – there is still a long way to travel.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, 20 percent of seats in parliaments worldwide are now held by women. I would add that’s a higher percentage than in my own country. And with one-half the population, there is simply no reason women should only be represented at one-fifth of the seats at the table. In too many places, still today, and in too many discussions affecting the futures of entire societies, women’s voices, their vital voices are underrepresented or absent altogether.

But as we look at new democracies taking hold, from Latin America to Africa and the Middle East and Asia, I think there are so many lessons that can be learned and applied from what happened here in Europe.

Think about the Polish women who ran a shipyard’s newspaper that helped bring about a revolution that truly did change the world. Think about a woman like Nasta Palazhanka of Belarus, who joined a youth protest movement at age 14 and continues to devote her life to bringing freedom and human rights to her country. Or think about a woman like Zane Olina, who returned home from a Fulbright Scholarship in America and created a corps of volunteer teachers to serve in poor Latvian communities, and she calls her program Mission Possible. And of course, we see it in the President of Lithuania, who as an economist and now as president, has helped to put and keep Lithuania on the path to prosperity.

So if we are looking for examples of individual leadership, of results, we have many we can share from Europe. Today, it is North Africa and the Middle East experiencing its own season of change, and we especially have to work together to ensure that all people – women, as well as men – are part of that change.

Across the region, we have seen on our own television screens how women have stood on the frontlines of the struggle for freedom and human rights. They have more than earned their place as equals in the democratic societies they have struggled to create, but we know that transitions to democracy are difficult. And we know that they come from the soil of preexisting cultures, and so we have to be sure that democratic change doesn’t leave women behind. We need to, for example, ensure that the new democratic Tunisia embraces and reaffirms its commitment to women’s equality.

The United States was disappointed to see only two Tunisian women appointed to the Transitional Government, but there is also some good news. In April, the commission responsible for drafting Tunisia’s new electoral code ruled that there must be full gender parity on election candidate lists and not just at the bottom of the lists, but from the top down. And for our part, we are supporting on-the-ground efforts to increase women’s participation in the political process.

In Egypt, we have seen steps both forwards and backwards. Women played an absolutely critical role in carrying out Egypt’s revolution, and yet Egypt’s constitutional committee does not have a single female member. When women marched to celebrate International Women’s Day, they were harassed and abused. As one woman put it, “The men were keen for me to be here when we were demanding that Mubarak should go. But now that he has gone, they want me to go home.” So the United States supports efforts like the Charter of Egyptian Women. Nearly 500,000 women and men and 500 NGOs signed on to a set of demands for the political, social, and economic rights of women in Egypt. And we will be funding a wide variety of programs to help Egyptian women as they exercise their roles as community leaders, business owners, and citizens.

And today, we are pleased to welcome women from across the Arab world, including Hoda Badran of the Alliance for Arab Women. It’s a sign of how important the relationships are between old, young, and new democracies that they have taken the time, as their countries undergo dramatic change, to be here with us today.

We also need an active effort to ensure that women are safe from violence in the political process, on the streets, in their homes. And we were very troubled by reports of sexual violence used by governments to intimidate and punish protesters seeking democratic reforms in some Middle Eastern and North African countries. We urge all governments to conduct immediate, transparent investigations to hold those responsible accountable.

Just this past week, the United States and the United Nations came together, as we often have, to once again stand up against violence that affects women and girls. We are particularly concerned about the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have committed more than $30 million to combat sexual and gender-based violence there. And we salute the Lithuanian parliament for making it clear that there is absolutely no safe space, in public or in private, for violence against women. This is not a private a concern. It is a matter of public interest and human rights.

I think we also have to remember, as we meet in this beautiful hall, talking about women and democracy, how many tens of millions, hundreds of millions, of women and girls in the world today don’t yet even have the basic necessities of life – deprived of education, deprived of health care, deprived of an opportunity to live up to their own God-given potential. And we will campaign for their rights, and we will work for the changes that are necessary.

But I also want to remind us to keep our eye on what happens every day in their lives, and look for ways we can make a difference. For example, the World Health Organization considers smoke from dirty cooking stoves to be one of the five most serious health risks affecting people in poor and developing countries. And who’s mostly hunched over those stoves, breathing that dirty air, harming their health, shortening their lives? Who mostly is wandering for hours looking for fuel, either trees and twigs or dung? Who is it that really bears the brunt of the work that is done day to day in most places in the world? Well, it is women and girls. And in an effort to try to provide clean cookstoves in 100 million homes by 2020, the United States, along with many other countries, led by the United Nations Foundation, is part of the Clean Cookstoves Global Alliance.

Because we think changing the conditions of women and girls must go hand-in-hand; their economic, political, and social empowerment must be addressed simultaneously.

This January, as a commitment to the Community of Democracies, the United States brought together more than 120 women from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus who own or wish to start small to medium-sized businesses to kick off the Invest for the Future Initiative. We want to help women across the world to train, network, and connect so that they too can start businesses to support themselves and their families, and eventually, employ their neighbors. And we will be expanding this program into Central Asia, the Balkans, Moldova, Belarus, and Ukraine.

We are especially appreciative of the work that has been done by so many of the European leaders represented here. We thank all of you for that support. I particularly want to thank the Scandinavian countries for the work you do to integrate refugees into your societies by giving women access to work and education, and by protecting women from the scourge of human trafficking. I want to acknowledge the programs that The Netherlands are running to train civil society leaders and business women in Afghanistan. And I want to thank Lithuania again for your support for women entrepreneurs in Georgia, Afghanistan, Belarus, and Ukraine.

We want to do more to figure out what it is women themselves want, because we don’t want to be in a position of imposing or trying to sell ideas that may or may not be responsive to the needs that women themselves have. Through the Gender Equality Working Group, we partnered with The Netherlands to put together dialogues with female civil society leaders. The first meeting was in Tunisia in May; it brought together women from Tunisia, Morocco, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon.

So our work is to help empower and enable, to convene and then to support. Our struggle is not just about the choices people make in the voting booth, it’s about all the choices that should be available to women today – to study, to take out a loan, to inherit money, to win custody of children, to start a business, to drive.

Sometimes dignity means nothing more profound than to walk safely to fetch water or visit a friend without fear that you’ll be beaten, harassed, or kidnapped. But for too many women in too many places, even these most basic rights remain a distant dream. Whether you are a woman in downtown Cairo or a mother in a small Indian village or a girl growing up right here in Vilnius or in New York City, we have to send a clear, unmistakable message that young women, just like young men, have the right to their dreams and their dignity in the 21st century.

When you look back at the last 300 years of history, you can see a pattern. You can see that the 19th century, the great human rights struggle was against organized slavery; the 20th century, the great struggle was against totalitarianism; the great struggle of the 21st century is to ensure that women are fully given the rights they have as human beings – in their families, in their societies, and in the world.

So let us work together, day by day, to make sure that when we meet again 10 years from now, we will be able to look back on progress, not only continuing progress in my country, which someday, perhaps, will match Finland and Lithuania with having a woman president – (laughter) – but in every country everywhere – (applause). And particularly, let those of us who enjoy the benefits of freedom, for whom legal restrictions and barriers have been broken down, and what remains are more internal, more psychological – let us be sure that we keep opening doors for those elsewhere. We cannot take any solace in our own freedoms when women elsewhere are denied those same rights.

So this is a great opportunity for us to come together and acknowledge that women’s progress is essential for global progress, and the United States stands with all of you as we make that progress together. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

President Dalia Grybauskaite, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga, speak at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, Thursday, June 30, 2011, after the Women Enhancing Democracy Conference. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to Finland's President Tarja Halonen in the conference 'Women Enhancing Democracy: Best Practices' in Vilnius, Lithuania, June 30, 2011.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2011 8:49 pm

    Change the foundation text or change nothing – another opportunity lost to expose the reason why from generation to generation women continue to be deemed worth less and the terrible outcomes which flow from this foundation text informing ethics-ideas-motivation-action (religious and secular policy outcomes and even violence against women) – please please next time – if you really want change.

  2. Carolyn-Rodham permalink
    July 1, 2011 12:02 pm

    For those who don’t want to read the entire speech (which is wonderful), take a look at these few excerpts and think about the implications of what Hillary is saying:

    “Just look at Lithuania today. Not only has it conducted a very successful chairmanship of the Community of Democracies, but it is setting a high standard for the rest of us – a female president, a female speaker of parliament, a female finance minister, and a female defense minister. Why, pretty soon, they’re going to start comparing Lithuania to Finland.” (Laughter.) (Applause.)

    “According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, 20 percent of seats in parliaments worldwide are now held by women. I would add that’s a higher percentage than in my own country. And with one-half the population, there is simply no reason women should only be represented at one-fifth of the seats at the table. In too many places, still today, and in too many discussions affecting the futures of entire societies, women’s voices, their vital voices are underrepresented or absent altogether.”

    “The United States was disappointed to see only two Tunisian women appointed to the Transitional Government, but there is also some good news. In April, the commission responsible for drafting Tunisia’s new electoral code ruled that there must be full gender parity on election candidate lists and not just at the bottom of the lists, but from the top down. And for our part, we are supporting on-the-ground efforts to increase women’s participation in the political process.”

    “In Egypt, we have seen steps both forwards and backwards. Women played an absolutely critical role in carrying out Egypt’s revolution, and yet Egypt’s constitutional committee does not have a single female member. When women marched to celebrate International Women’s Day, they were harassed and abused. As one woman put it, ‘The men were keen for me to be here when we were demanding that Mubarak should go. But now that he has gone, they want me to go home.’”

    And finally:

    “When you look back at the last 300 years of history, you can see a pattern. You can see that the 19th century, the great human rights struggle was against organized slavery; the 20th century, the great struggle was against totalitarianism; the great struggle of the 21st century is to ensure that women are fully given the rights they have as human beings – in their families, in their societies, and in the world.”

    Without this blog, stacy, I fear Hillary’s voice would be vastly underrepresented or absent altogether in the media and even the blogosphere.

    I will really miss that voice when it’s gone, too.

  3. Carolyn-Rodham permalink
    July 1, 2011 12:12 pm

    I’m going to say something provocative:

    While I appreciate the importance of keeping up resistance to US foreign policy vis-a-vis Israel and while I have joined the ranks of those who want to see justice done for the Palestinian people, I have to say that the issues Hillary has outlined in this speech are nearest and dearest to my heart, and are NO LESS IMPORTANT than the rights of Palestinians. And yet, I rarely see comments here from my liberal-minded brothers-in-arms applauding Hillary’s initiatives for women’s rights — even when Thain and other guys were still frequenting this blog! It’s like, women’s rights, ho-hum, move on. I am absolutely sure, if asked, fellow male bloggers here (I don’t want to single you out, Thain! love ya!) if asked would of course express their total support for the causes Hillary espouses. But I don’t see that support expressed much in virtual ink. I don’t hear the same indignation and oitrage as I do in their posts about Israel. And I frankly don’t get it. It smacks of something I heard Ted Kennedy said to Hillary when she was exploring a run for the Presidency: “Wait your turn.” I’m sick of “waiting our turn” for women’s rights to be first on the agenda.
    I’m with Hillary: Now is our time.

    And goddammit! I’m so distraught she’s not running again because there goes our last best chance in my lifetime.

    • thainjacobs permalink
      July 1, 2011 12:56 pm

      Right Carolyn. I don’t care about women’s rights as much as other issues, which is why I said this in response to Stacy’s post recently about feminist foreign policy:

      When she is no longer SOS this will be missed- who is going to continue to focus on women’s rights in such a high profile way in diplomacy and foreign policy? Can you see John Kerry doing this? Holding Townterviews? Going to DRC to speak with survivors of rape and torture? Not on your life

      I frequently comment on Hillary’s work on behalf of women’s rights, gay rights etc.

      The fact that Israel-Palestine is a particular interest of mine and clearly also of some others here doesn’t mean I care less about women’s rights. I can’t speak for anyone else. My reasons for my interest is personal. But you are making a bit of a straw man argument that I hear all the time. People will say to me on blogs or on Twitter “well why aren’t you speaking out for Syrians or for the Chinese” or for this or that group as though intense interest in one area means one doesn’t give a shit about the others. But it’s particularly common with Israel and Palestine because it REALLY pisses people off that some of us insist on challenging the status quo and speaking up for people no one really gives a damn about, including the Obama administration. Those people who say “why do you only care about that issue?!?” are usually saying that because they are defensive and angry that someone would dare challenge them and because they are hypocrites.

      But you know what? These issues aren’t totally unrelated. You asked why you don’t hear some of the same indignation as you do with Israel-Palestine? Well, I can only speak for myself but what gets me riled is when we forget that among the group we call “Palestinians” are women and children and they get totally ignored. So despite our feminist foreign policy if women happen to be from certain areas of the world or a certain background, we sort of ignore them. Women in Bahrain, too. Whoever has Hillary speaking up for them is very, very lucky because she brings a lot of needed attention to a lot of important issues and women’s rights is chief among them. Props to her. But I also worry about the people who are on the fringes of the fringes of society- the people who powerful people don’t speak up for because it’s not politically expedient. So I don’t feel the need to apologize for my selective outrage.

      Maybe I sometimes take women’s rights for granted because I’ve grown up entitled in a society where there is still sexism and discrimination but nothing like in other areas of the world. It’s easy to think things are not so bad here. So you are right, maybe there is a bias there that I need to work on.

      I might also point out that war is a feminist issue but we seem to want to have it both ways- we love every fucking war that comes down the road but where’s the discussion of what it’s doing to women? Everybody loves to be a self-righteous hawk and scream “we have to do something!!” without any discussion of the impact. We like to claim that our wars are to “help” people but lets be honest, we’ve destroyed tens if not hundreds of thousands of women’s lives in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. There are still women and children in Iraqi prisons from when we first invaded. Who is talking about them? Oh, but that war was just because of 9/11 so we won’t talk about things like women and children whose lives we’ve destroyed. But would it be fair of me to look at you Carolyn and say “well Gee, Carolyn doesn’t care about the toll war and armed conflict takes on women because she doesn’t get very outraged about it and talk about it a lot.”? No, it wouldn’t really be fair.

      So I’ll be more mindful of a blind spot I have but I still don’t think you are really being fair. I also feel no need to apologize for being interested in Palestinian rights.

      • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
        July 1, 2011 3:32 pm

        Thain, I apologize. I honestly don’t know why I singled you out because you’ve always demonstrated a concern for woemn’s rights. Maybe it was because you decided to quit this blog because of your understandable disgust about our Israel-Palestine policy. We need your voice here, even if you’re angry about some of the policies Hillary seems to endorse! But that’s your choice, of course. Your points are well taken.

    • July 1, 2011 12:57 pm

      Caryoln I fear that I do see a woman president it’s gonna be someone like Bachman. I am not that worried about 2012 but I fear for 2016 cause if Obama wins reelection I think there is no way we are getting a dem president in 2016.

    • Tovah permalink
      July 1, 2011 5:40 pm

      @Carolyn- you think so? I think most people here give Hillary lots of props for her speaking out on women’s issues and also gay rights. Yeah, people talk a lot about Israel-Palestine but this is also a foreign policy blog.

      I agree that Hillary’s work on behalf of women gets short shrift from the media and many of her critics but I don’t think I’d say that just because some people get outraged about the treatment of certain people in different parts of the world, that they aren’t outraged about the situation with women’s rights.

      I think there is a certain frustration with the Obama administration’s policies and I’ll admit that sometimes I can’t even tell what our foreign policy is. I know I’d like to see a bit more consistency from this administration. Women in Egypt, Africa and Libya certainly deserve having their rights promoted by the US but so do women in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

      I do worry that when Secretary Clinton is no longer heading up the State Dept this focus on women will go by the wayside like it always does- and that’s a tragedy.

  4. Steve permalink
    July 1, 2011 6:54 pm

    The media and pundits don’t give Hillary enough credit and many foreign policy experts don’t either. I think the idea of “soft power” scares them. The language of Washington DC foreign policy circles is tough talk, geared towards think tanks and special interest groups. Can you see Henry Kissinger talking about clean cookstoves? Jesus, not in a million years.

    Remember when Hillary first became SOS? The media and pundits, including former diplomats like Aaron David Miller and that bonehead Les Gelb, were all saying she was a “good” SOS but not a “great” one- they said she wasn’t like Kissinger or Baker, as if every damn SOS has to be like those two! But that shows you the hawkish bias that exists in our media and in the elite foreign policy establishment, ie. WINEP, CSIS, CFR, AIPAC, and even Brookings. That Hillary has the guts to demand talking about the importance of soft power and the national security implications of gender discrimination is incredible. I give her a lot of credit for that and I think I’ve made that clear on this blog. At least I hope I have.

    Yes, some of us have hijacked the conversation at times and steered the discussion to Israel and that wasn’t fair and I guess it took the emphasis away from some of the things Hillary was doing and it also opened up a can of worms where people would express their criticism of the administration and since Hillary is the public face of Obama’s foreign policy, that meant Hillary at times has been criticized too. Unfortunately if one believes in a just solution to the I-P conflict then one is destined to be eternally pissed off at our leaders no matter WHO they are because AIPAC always wins. So really, it’s a no-win situation for Hillary because even if she totally wanted to tell Bibi to go screw himself, she can’t and we all know she can’t.

    I will say that just because I have long been a Hillary fan doesn’t mean I’m going to pretend to agree with something that I don’t agree with even if I don’t know where Hillary personally stands. Obviously we can only go by what she says publicly and she’s speaking on behalf of the administration. For all we know she may disagree with Obama on somethings, or not. That is sort of it’s own little frustration to be honest because I really sometimes I wish I knew where she stood. Like with the gay marriage issue- I really believe she supports it but feels she can’t come out and say so right now but I really have no idea at all what she believes about it. But with human rights I’ll admit I am less forgiving no matter who the leader is. I know diplomacy is tricky but this administration’s human rights policies are damn near incomprehensible and I just have a hard time keeping quiet about it.

    • July 2, 2011 11:37 am

      No the media don’t give her enough credit. Just go back to how they covered what she was doing in her first year as SOS. The MSM focused on, and was WRONG about, the following:

      1. Hillary had no access to the POTUS. WRONG

      2. Hillary had no real influence in foreign policy in the same way Kissinger and Baker did. WRONG

      3. There was a big rift between the State Dept. and WH. WRONG.

      4. Hillary was kept hidden “in the shadows”. Remember Tina Brown’s Burka comment? WRONG

      5. Hillary was unhappy at the State Dept. WRONG

      I’m waiting for their apology- particularly from Ben Smith and Tina Brown but I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath.

      • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
        July 2, 2011 11:45 am

        At least as disturbing to me as aspects of our FOPo — and that’s plenty disturbing — is how the media distorts and shapes (makes up) the narrative. Put the two together, and it’s 1984 (the novel).

  5. August 23, 2013 5:14 pm

    she’s a real amazing lady

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