Secretary Clinton has noted that “What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations will flourish.” These words have particular relevance as we celebrate International Women’s Day around the world and as we continue to make strides for a better future for women and girls.
In December, President Obama released the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, charting a roadmap for how the United States will accelerate and institutionalize efforts across the government to advance women’s participation in preventing conflict and keeping peace. This initiative represents a fundamental change in how the U.S. will approach its diplomatic, military, and development-based support to women in areas of conflict, by ensuring that their perspectives and considerations of gender are woven into the fabric of how the United States approaches peace processes, conflict prevention, the protection of civilians, and humanitarian assistance.
International Women’s Day is also an opportunity to renew the call for action, investment, and commitment to women’s equality. We are at a moment of historic opportunity. Secretary Clinton has referred to this era as “the Participation Age.” This is a time where every individual, regardless of gender or other characteristics, is poised to be a contributing and valued member of their society.
Around the world, we are witnessing examples of the Participation Age. In Kenya, strong women participate in important ways. Kenyan women sit in Parliament, head companies and NGOs, and are active in public service. They are educators and administrators, doctors and nurses, journalists, entertainers, and hold their place proudly among the world’s elite athletes.
Many Kenyan women inspire me to believe that women are the future. I look at Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, an environmentalist who woke the world to the importance of ecological preservation. I look at Woman of Courage award winner Ann Njogu, Executive Director of Centre for Rights Education and Awareness and human rights activist of extraordinary bravery. I look at Susan Mboya, a top executive of Coca-Cola who also runs an NGO to help Kenyan girls get a university education in the U.S. I look at Vivian Cheruiyot, an extraordinary athlete who consistently reminds the world that some of the best athletes are not only Kenyan, but are also women.
I have had the honor to meet Kenya’s new generation of women who are saving lives and making a strong impact on their communities. Wamaitha Mwangi is only 28 years old and has dedicated her life to Kenya’s most vulnerable citizens. Wamaitha founded the Angel Centre for Abandoned Children, to give babies love, affection, medical care, good nutrition, and a place to call home until they find long term families. Alice Odera is the Director of Beauty Logic and the First Impressions In-School program to give young girls guidance on the importance of image, personal branding, grooming and career choices. Alice is also championing the Decade of Action Road Safety Campaign. Catherine (Sonnie) Gitonga is the Founder and CEO of Scars To Stars Foundation, giving hope by counseling, providing school fees, and motivating young adult orphans to achieve their dreams.
Women are a cornerstone of America’s foreign policy because the simple fact is that no country can hope to move ahead if it is leaving half of its people behind. Women and girls drive our economies. They build peace and prosperity. Investing in them means investing in global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for everyone—the world over. As we honor them today, let us renew our resolve to work for the cause of equality each and every day of the year.