Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Dean Acheson Auditorium
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the State Department and welcome to the second Summit for Democracy.
Jen, to you for your remarkable leadership at the White House Gender Policy Council; to Kat, for yours here at the State Department on Global Women’s Issues: We could not have a better team, a more dynamic duo, leading our efforts. And I’m grateful to each of you every day. Thank you. (Applause.)
So we’re joined in-person and virtually by government leaders from around the world, as well as partners from across the United States Government, multilateral organizations, civil society. Thank you. Thank you for all the work that you’ve doing every single day to advance women’s equality and thereby advance democracy. These two things are inexorably linked, as you’ve already heard.
The President has long believed that democracies are strengthened by the active participation of all citizens, particularly women and girls. And since day one, he’s made advancing women’s and girls’ civic and political engagement a top priority of this administration. And that’s why we’re kicking off this session as one of the summit’s first events – because the status of women is indeed the status of democracy.
We all know in this room and everyone who’s listening in the rights of women in many parts of the world are under threat and under attack. Repressive governments are passing targeted laws to restrict women’s fundamental freedoms, including the right to free speech and assembly. Extremist actors are disproportionately targeting women and girls, especially those from historically marginalized identities like LGBTQI+ people, women from racial, ethnic, and religious communities.
But it’s not just in autocracies that women are being denied their full and equal rights. In far too many parts of the world, women and girls still do not have equal opportunities to study and work. Women journalists, advocates, politicians, and others are subject to persistent online harassment and abuse. Women who are victims of violence often do not have equal access to justice. Women are subject to discrimination that often puts them at a disadvantage – whether through double standards they face in the workplace, in access to reproductive rights, or in nationality laws, which can result in barriers to accessing education, health care, and property for themselves and for their families.
But, in the face of these forces, women and girls are leading the charge for their rights and for human rights and democracy around the world. And they’re demonstrating the importance of having women at the decision-making table.
In Afghanistan – in the face of the Taliban’s daily efforts to erase them from daily life – women are still protesting. They’re still finding ways to document human rights abuses. They are still fighting for a brighter future for their country.
In Iran, courageous women are marching in the streets, under great threat to themselves, to call for “woman, life, and freedom.”
The United States stands in solidarity with these women and all who are working for women’s full, free, and equal participation around the world. Through our diplomacy, we’re committed to supporting them and advancing gender equality worldwide.
At the last Summit for Democracy, the United States launched our “Support Her Empowerment – Women’s Inclusion in New Security,” or “SHE WINS,” as the acronym appropriately has it. This initiative, which supports local women and women-led civil society organizations – we’re working to increase women’s political and civic participation in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Papua New Guinea, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.
In partnership with Denmark, we’ve also been leading the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse, a coalition of 12 countries focused on countering technology-facilitated gender-based violence.
Soon, you’ll be hearing from leaders like Poomzeelay Van Damme, a former parliamentarian in South Africa who shared her experiences as a target of online harassment – and who now works to combat this scourge, including as part of the Advisory Group to the Global Partnership.
We’re heartened by the Global Partnership’s initial progress over the past year. We’ve seen some member countries increase resources to combatting this issue at home, including by providing more trainings for those in the legal and justice systems, as well as for advocates working with survivors of online harassment. And it is so vitally important that their voices be heard and fully inform our efforts. Others are beginning to collect data to better measure online abuse and its effects. And as a whole, the Global Partnership has worked to build consensus on shared principles to better identify, prevent, and combat this urgent issue at venues from the G7 to the United Nations.
So today we have an opportunity to recognize some of these successes, but also – also – to recommit to the work that lies ahead in advancing gender equality.
When we succeed, we not only do the right thing, but we also do the smart and necessary thing to make our countries more prosperous, to make them more secure, to make them a little bit more full of opportunity for all of our people. With the group that’s assembled here, we’ve got everything we need to continue making progress toward what is for us an absolutely essential goal.
So to each of you who is here today, to each of you who is listening in, thank you again for what you’re doing every single day to advance this agenda. And thank you for helping us kick off the Summit for Democracy. Again, what we’re doing here today, what we’ll be doing for the next few days, these are fully joined. And I can think of no more appropriate, no more important way, to kick off the summit than with all of you here today.
So welcome to the State Department. I’m looking forward to some great discussions. Thank you, everyone. Thank you. (Applause.)