Remarks by Dr. Madeleine Albright at the USAID Development Forum

Monday, April 2, 2012
Dr. Madeleine Albright at the USAID Development Forum
Dr. Madeleine Albright at the USAID Development Forum
Vanessa Cheeves/USAID

Thank you, I am delighted to be here and to participate in this edition of the development forum.

To begin, I would like to congratulate Administrator Shah and the entire USAID team, both here in Washington and overseas.

During the past half century, USAID has served our nation exceedingly well.

For many years in many places, your agency has been the face of America, and a superb ambassador for the United States.

Your energy and expertise have played an indispensable role in reducing infant mortality, lengthening life spans, fighting hunger, curbing disease, teaching sustainable agricultural practices, and responding to humanitarian disaster.

Given this record, you could have become complacent, but instead you have challenged yourselves to do even more-a summons echoed by our president and secretary of state.

As you know, the foreign policy of the Obama administration rests on four pillars: defense, diplomacy, democracy and development.

All are essential and each reinforces the other three.

And so it is appropriate that we mark today a new milestone on the road to development and that is USAID's updated policy on gender.

The premise that informs this initiative is that gender-based discrimination is neither inevitable nor acceptable; bigotry and chauvinism can be overcome.

In the four decades since the agency first embraced "Women in Development," we have seen a welcome rise in girls' access to education; the availability of reproductive and maternal health care; the scope of workplace opportunities; and the number of women in government.

These gains have contributed to wider prosperity, more equitable legal codes, and a recognition-as Secretary Clinton said in Beijing 17 years ago - that women's rights and human rights are inseparable.

But we also know that much more needs to be done.

There is a direct linkage between extreme poverty and the under-valuing of women; we cannot defeat one without attacking the other.

And even in comparatively wealthy societies, there are habits and stereotypes that should and must be changed.

Accordingly, I applaud USAID for its focus on projects that will add to women's capacity to participate in the economic and political life of their societies.

It is vital, as well, to move forward with strategies to end gender-related violence--whether in the home, on the streets, or within the context of civil strife.

No country can build a healthy and growing economy or establish a true democracy if half its people are held back, pushed aside, left behind, or beaten up.

More than a century ago, Abraham Lincoln declared that a nation divided against itself cannot stand.

Today we can say that a country that denies power to its women will never reach its potential.

With this reality in mind, USAID has decided to move ahead, taking into account the many changes that we have witnessed in recent years.

These include the growing number of partners working on every aspect of human development.

Many such allies are represented here in our audience today.

A few of these organizations are in government, others are not; many are specialized; some take a comprehensive approach; but all are dedicated to enriching and saving human lives.

To make further progress toward that goal, USAID is committed to sharing what it knows and to seeking help from partners wherever that is possible.

The agency also strives to take advantage of innovation, particularly the use of new technologies to expand horizons for everyone, including women and girls.

Obviously, science has been making a difference in our lives ever since the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel.

That process continues today with devices that make it easier to acquire an education, identify a market for handicrafts, generate income while working from home, and mobilize other stakeholders who have the same values and concerns.

In our era, ensuring access to modern technology is a key building block of development.

Another objective of the agency's policy is to shine a spotlight on the damage done to families by violent conflict.

A war, whether between two nations or within one, can have a devastating impact through the destruction of habitat and homes, the displacement of populations, and the abuse of people who are unable to defend themselves.

Development professionals cannot eliminate these problems, but they can help to mitigate them by encouraging preventive diplomacy, empowering women politically, and increasing efforts to help postwar societies get back on their feet.

The issue of gender and conflict was a recurring one during my own years in government, first as ambassador to the UN, then as secretary of state.

In Angola, I saw mothers who had to tie leashes to their children to keep them from wandering into minefields left over from that nation's civil war.

In Burundi, I saw Hutu and Tutsi women working together to resolve ethnic tensions and to prevent a repeat in their country of the genocide that had taken place in Rwanda.

In Central Asia, I met with women and girls who had been forced to flee from violence perpetrated by the Taliban, and in Thailand, with teenagers who had survived human trafficking.

In Bosnia, I met with the widows of the massacre at Srebrenica, and in Argentina, with the mothers of the disappeared.

Too often, the innocent-whether women, children, or men--are forced to play the role of victim, a part they do not choose, but in the absence of power, cannot escape.

The good news is that progress toward freedom, prosperity and justice can be made when democratic countries refuse to accept anything less, when brave people stand together, and when agencies such as USAID receive the backing they need to help.

Before closing, I would like to share two personal aspirations.

First, I hope that in all the controversy over the federal budget, our leaders recognize that development assistance is among the most efficient and valuable tools we have; in the long run, nothing is more expensive than poverty, suffering and war.

Second, I pray that the turbulence we see today in the Middle East will lead-sooner rather than later--to true democracy, with more diversified economies, broader freedom of expression, and increased opportunities for all.

Here again, gender matters.

From Tunisia to Syria, women have played a significant role in organizing opposition to autocratic regimes; if the promise of political openness is to become a reality, they must be allowed a prominent voice in new governing structures.

Finally, I note that USAID's policy is to define gender equality as something different from---and more comprehensive than--simple numerical parity.

I applaud this because the equality that matters most can neither be fully encompassed by statistics, nor based on the idea that women and men are somehow identical, which of course they are not.

In the strictest sense, equality is an insufficient goal because equality in misery is still misery; we seek a better life for everyone - and we believe that the kind of equality that respects the rights and dignity of all, regardless of gender, is essential to accomplish that.

We are, of course, mindful that progress in ending discrimination occurs step by step and that each victory becomes a platform upon which the next may be built.

Our shared task is to keep building until we have raised enough platforms high enough to transform the very horizons of the Earth.

That will be good for human development in all its dimensions - and it will be fitting tribute to the men and women who have done such outstanding work for so long, here at USAID.

Thank you very much, and now I look forward to our discussion.

Ronald Reagan Building Washington DC

Last updated: July 18, 2014

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