Clinton Addresses Women in Public Service

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton addressed “The Women in Public Service Project,” an initiative that pairs public service with the Seven Sisters Colleges to engage and inspire future generations of women leaders on Thursday.

The women were in Washington for the Secretary of State’s Women in Public Service colloquium that aims to bring together policymakers and leading thinkers to highlight the urgent need for women in public services and the resources they need to attain positions of leadership.

Clinton’s remarks:


Thank you so much, Christine. And those words of advice, I think, will be taken to heart by everyone here. I also want to add my words of welcome and thanks to the presidents of the Seven Sisters colleges. You’ll be hearing from all of them throughout the day, but certainly from Barnard and Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley, I thank you all for your vision and leadership, as well as hard work, in developing this Women in Public Service Project. And I have to add a special personal hello to all my Wellesley sisters. (Applause.)


I want a special moment of appreciation for the president of Kosovo, who will also be participating in the program later. (Applause.) President Jahjaga has shown incredible courage and leadership in her time as president of her country, and she recently gave the first-ever speech to her assembly, and in it, she called for the creation of a presidential commission to fight corruption. And I applaud her for that.

To all the members of the diplomatic corps, members of Congress, Cabinet officials past and present, including Secretaries Albright, Sebelius, and Solis, as well as a number of accomplished women from our armed forces who we are very proud to have join us here today – (applause) – there is no greater public service than military service, and you exemplify that to everyone. And I add my thanks to Farah, who’s done a terrific job in everything she’s undertaken here – (applause) – and my longtime friend and indefatigable advocate for women, Melanne Verveer.

And then let me welcome all those who are watching live through watch parties via the web, including from our embassies in Brazil, Canada, and Kosovo, and to all who are here as part of this opening convocation about what we hope will be a continuing commitment that brings many more women into public service around the world.

I have been privileged to travel extensively. I’ve seen the many different ways women contribute. I’ve met activists working to advance human rights from Belarus to Uzbekistan. I’ve met with young women standing up for representative government in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. I’ve watched entrepreneurs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America working to improve their lives, the lives of their children, their employees, and local economies. And today, we are addressing another way that women can make a great contribution through public service.

I have been fortunate to serve in different capacities in my life, and have had the support of so many people. But even with all that support, I remember, listening to Christine, the trepidation that I felt when I was being pushed to consider running for a Senate seat in New York. I had never run for elected office. I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. And one day, I would wake up and say absolutely not going to do it. The next day, I’d wake up and say, well, so-and-so called me, maybe I should reconsider. And I was on this rollercoaster of emotions until I got what I chose to take as a sign. I was at an event promoting a documentary about women in sports, in a gymnasium in a high school in New York City. And we were gathered under a giant banner that happened to be the name of the documentary, which was Dare to Compete. (Laughter.) And – you know where this is going, right? (Laughter.)

So just as I stepped forward, having been introduced by this very incredibly dynamic young and tall woman, who happened to be the captain of the high school basketball team, I went up to shake her hand to thank her, and she leaned over to me and whispered in my ear, “Dare to compete, Mrs. Clinton. Dare to compete.” (Laughter.)

So, soon after that, I decided to enter the race, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. And I tell you that because I appreciate – (applause) – how daunting it is to consider a career in public service in any country in the world. And Christine’s last comments about grinning and bearing it reflects the reality. So it’s not as though there’s been this huge, cosmic change. It still is hard. And that’s more than reflected in the numbers that we see. Women account for more than 50 percent of the global population, but hold less than 20 percent of all parliamentary seats across the globe. And of course, I’m embarrassed to say, in the United States that percentage is even lower. Women make up only 17 percent of our own Congress and only a quarter of the seats in all of our state legislatures.

Now, of course, public service is not only about running for elected office. There are many ways that women can serve. And we recently saw three courageous women being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the work that they have done in Liberia and Yemen. (Applause.)

So you don’t have to be a president or a prime minister or a party leader to serve. We need women at all levels of government from executive mansions and foreign ministries to municipal halls and planning commissions; from negotiating international disarmament treaties to debating town ordinances. And as I will discuss tomorrow at the International Crisis Group, women must also be fully integrated into efforts to negotiate and sustain peace after war and conflict. (Applause.)

That is especially important because in today’s conflicts, women and children are the primary victims, whether they bear the brunt of the actual attacks or whether they’re the ancillary victims, often because of rape being used as a tool of war, or whether they are forced to leave their homes to find their way to refugee camps. So women have a very personal stake in resolving conflicts. And a wonderful movie about the end of the Liberian wars called Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which talked about how women in Liberia finally were tired of seeing no progress in ending the relentless, horrific attacks that were being carried out, basically went to where an all-male peace conference was being held in Ghana, and sat in and would not leave until agreements were reached.

Now, there are many benefits of bringing more women into government service, whether they are elected or appointed, whether they work in the public eye or more quietly for the public good. The World Bank has found that women tend to invest more of their earnings in their families and communities than men do. That in turn makes societies stronger and economies more likely to grow. At the government level, those are the kinds of instincts and priorities we would all like to see.

If you’re trying to solve a problem, whether it is fighting corruption or strengthening the rule of law or sparking economic growth, you are more likely to succeed if you widen the circle to include a broader range of expertise, experience, and ideas. So as we work to solve our problems, we need more women at the table and in the halls of parliament and government ministries where these debates are occurring.

This is not just about fairness, as important as that is; it is about expanding the pool of talented people to help tackle our biggest problems. Now, women are graduating from universities and graduate programs in ever greater numbers and, in fact, in greater numbers than men in most places. So we would be foolish to ignore that growing resource. And we only need to look at India to see what a dramatic effect it can have.

Now, of course, different countries pursue this goal in different ways. But what matters is the result, that more women have the opportunity and the opening to bring their talents to governance and public service. In 2003, a constitutional amendment mandated that one third of all seats for council leaders in Indian communities should go to women. And over a very short period of time, studies showed that women in these positions started investing more in public services, from clean water to police responsiveness, than their male counterparts had.

And there were other benefits. With more women installed as council leaders, more women spoke up in council meetings than ever before. And in a nation where the under-reporting of crimes against women is widespread, more women came forward to file complaints about abuse, because they were more confident that the police would take action.

And in household surveys done in India conducted among both women and men in these villages, a majority agreed that conditions had improved, that they had to pay fewer bribes to get heard, and that they believed women made capable leaders. And over the course of two election cycles, men cast a growing number of votes for women. Now, that is a huge shift in the political landscape of the world’s largest democracy.

What happened in India is just one example of what can happen when more women join the ranks of public servants. So we need to create more opportunities in more places. But first, we need to take on the barriers that stand in their way. That means ensuring that governments, schools and, yes, parents work to help young girls grow up believing in their odds of success in any profession, including – and perhaps, especially – the ones traditionally associated with men. By ensuring women have more opportunities to study business, law, economics, science, engineering, and information technology, we can give them both the tools and the confidence to aspire to and serve in government.

Now, we also have to acknowledge that, even at this point in the 21st century, there are cultural barriers that continue to hold women back, including, in too many places, men who think women belong at home and also women who think that women belong at home. Imagine my reaction yesterday morning as I was getting ready for my day to hear an interview on our National Public Radio about a woman running for the Republican nomination, Michele Bachmann.

Now, whether one agrees or disagrees with the position she has taken, she should be judged on her merits, I think we would all agree. And there was an interview with a woman in Iowa who said, “You know, I’m still just not comfortable supporting a woman for president. I just don’t think a woman could be president.” So it’s not only in other countries that attitudes need to be addressed. It is even in a country like my own. (Applause.)

But as the example in India proved, the best way to turn the tables is to put more women into government and show what a difference it can make, and therefore, we need to create more opportunities. I hope that the experiences, the knowledge, the networking that will occur at today’s colloquium, the panels, and the working groups that will take place will inform and inspire the initiatives of the Women in Public Service Project as well as a major educational program that we will be unveiling next summer. We’re very excited about this.

In June 2012, we will work with the Seven Sisters colleges to launch an annual summer institute to train emerging women leaders from around the world. A working group of academics and experts are developing a curriculum that will tackle the various issues facing women in public service. And I am pleased that the founding Sisters colleges will join together to launch a foundation that will continue to support, coordinate, and sustain these initiatives.

And I’m very proud that my alma mater, Wellesley College, will host this inaugural institute, which will rotate to each of the founding Sister colleges in the following years. The State Department will support the travel for 40 emerging women leaders from the Middle East and North Africa to go to Wellesley this summer to gain skills in public speaking, coalition building, networking, and mentorship. We hope they will learn more about our democratic systems and the rule of law, that they will have a chance to interact with American students, and gain the confidence and inspiration they need to advance in their public service careers at home.

I want to say one special word about some of the skills that might be needed. Over this last year of tumultuous change around the world, I have met with women in Egypt, in Libya, in Tunisia, and, of course, many other places, but let me just focus on those three anchor countries of the Arab Awakening. In each place, the women were instrumental in making their voices heard in the effort to move toward a new form of governance, a democratic transition where people’s votes would be counted and their voices would matter. But they had no experience in politics, and for many of them, politics was still a kind of dirty word. Do you really want to be involved in the electoral process? Do you really want to work on behalf of party politics? Isn’t it just enough to get the transition begun?

And my point was if you don’t make your own transition from having been part of this extraordinary historic revolution to actually doing the hard, and yes, sometimes boring difficult work of politics, you may not realize the gains and the hopes that you had demonstrated for. You could end up having one election, one time, that did not fully empower women or minorities, or people whose values and views were very different from what kind of future you sought would be highly organized and very successful in being elected, and over time, you would not be able to participate.

So politics is the way in democracy, as maddening as it can be for all of us, where decisions are made, compromises are accomplished. And so I hope that as we think about public service we also recognize that you are in service to the public, but in a democracy, that means everyone has a stake in who the leaders are and what policies they adopt.

Now, all the students who attended the breakfast, whom I met earlier – hosted by State Department and USAID alumni from women’s colleges – saw how important we believe mentoring and networking are. And we want to build partnerships globally and forge these networks with institutions everywhere, including with Bangladesh’s Asian University of Women, which will host a summer institute for women from South Asia, including Afghanistan.

Now, empowering and training young women to become public service leaders will be a focus of the State Department’s exchange programs. In the audience today are 40 women who have been selected by our embassies around the world to come to the United States for leadership training. (Applause.) They have spent the last 10 days visiting with public servants and civic activists in cities across the United States as part of our International Visitors Leadership Program. And I’d like to ask these 40 emerging women leaders to stand so that we can recognize them. (Applause.)

In the coming months, the State Department will be inviting 20 women college leaders from Mozambique to Mongolia to spend five weeks learning about leadership, engaging in community service activities, and interacting with their American peers on two U.S. university campuses.

Now, I think we can make a strong case about why more women in politics and government is a good thing. But we need more data to support this. That’s why I mention the data from India. So we’re encouraging scholars and universities around the world to take on this critical research. And we will be offering grants to support rigorous research on women in public service.

Securing business sector support for this initiative is crucial, and I am delighted to announce today that Dell has agreed to serve as the technology partner to the Women in Public Service Project. (Applause.) Dell will provide hardware, training, and other support for the summer institutes and the greater Women in Public Service Project. And Ogilvy Worldwide has assisted in providing public relations and information support.

Now, I know there are many more colleges and institutions, corporations, and foundations here today who are eager to join. And we are especially excited that Agnes Scott, Mills, Mount Saint Mary’s, Scripps, and Spelman colleges are stepping forward, and we welcome them to this. (Applause.) I hope even more institutions – both public and private – will join with our founding partners to leverage each of your individual strengths and resources to build a truly large, unprecedented global movement to bring more girls and women into public service through leadership training, mentorship, and networking.

Now we recognize this is just one initiative. We’re hoping that more governments, corporations, and universities – at all levels and in all regions of the world – will also make it a priority to find their own ways to support bringing more women into governance. We think there are lots of ways to make a contribution. Political leaders can do more to recruit women, offer them the mentoring and support that they need. Business leaders can expand efforts to track gender gap inequalities. They can all make that list, like Christine Lagarde said, so they can offer names when there are openings. They can also form public-private partnerships that work internationally to mentor, nurture, and empower young women. And governments and businesses, universities, and other partners can do a lot to open doors.

But, ultimately, it is up to all of you – and millions more like you around the world – as to whether you walk through those doors, if you decide to serve; if, in fact, you dare to compete. I believe doing so offers deep and lasting rewards. I believe you can and will make positive differences in people’s lives. That is the essence of public service. It is, for me, really an easy question: Are people better off when you stop than when you started? Have you expanded the circle of opportunity, have you helped to create conditions where everyone – man and woman – has a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential? Have you brought the world closer together as opposed to either allowing it or pushing it apart?

We know what counts for good public service. I see it when I travel, and I see the opposite. I see in too many places where there isn’t the leadership or the urgency to make sure that health care and education and other services are made available, to reform economies, to fight corruption so that hard working businessmen and women can realize the benefits of their hard work.

So there’s a lot to do. It’s an exciting journey, and if you decide to take it, you don’t just have my blessing, you have my – and more importantly – my country’s strong support. We are going to stand behind this initiative now and for years to come, and we, too, hope to see the benefits of what can come when more young women decide that they want to serve their people.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

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