Women in the World Summit 2015 Keynote Address

Date: May 30, 2015
Location: New York City, NY

Oh, thank you. Wow.

Hasn't this been an extraordinary conference? I mean, all of the amazing people!

I want to thank Beatrice [Biira]. I have known Beatrice for a number of years. I know the story of her and her family, and how one goat helped get her on her way.

But then I have watched her make it through college, and graduate school, and just demonstrate all those qualities of grit and grace that really are there within so many people if they're just given a chance. And particularly women and girls, who just need that extra bit of encouragement. Who need to be surrounded by people who believe in them, that lift them up and help them find their paths as well.

If you're interested in Beatrice's story, there's a book - a children's book - about Beatrice and her goat. I highly recommend it. It's in my collection to read to my granddaughter.

Well, today, it's wonderful for me to be back here at Women in the World. I wanted to be here regardless of what else I was doing.

And, as usual, Tina [Brown] has done a masterful job planning three days to inspire not just awareness, but action.

And every one of you proves that no matter who you are, or where you come from, you too can be a champion for change.

It doesn't matter whether you're a student or an artist, a journalist, and ambassador, maybe even a future president. We all have our stories.

We all have those moments where it just falls into place. When we realize we can't ignore the world around us. When we have something to say, something to do, and we can name the people who have inspired us to be able to take those risks. To care about what's going on in the world around us.

For me, the earliest inspiration, and really, still today my guiding light, was my mother. She had a childhood that none of us would want. Abandoned. Mistreated. First by her parents, then by her grandparents. Starting to work on her own by fourteen as a housemaid and a babysitter.

I didn't know this when I was growing up. I just knew she was my mom. And she believed in me, and she encouraged me, and set high standards for me.

And then as I got a little older, and I learned about her story, I was stunned.
I mean, there I was in our house. Secured, cared for, and I said to her, "How could you...how could you have survived? How could you have built a family of your own? Taking such good care of your children?"

And she told me about those moments of kindness that kept her going. The teacher who realized she had no food, in the first grade classroom where they all ate at their desks. And without embarrassing her, without condescending or patronizing her, said one day, "You know, Dorothy? I just brought too much food to eat. Would you like to share what I have?"

And my mother said it wasn't until she was an adult, thinking through all those stages along her life when things could have gone so terribly wrong, that she realized there were people who reached out to her.

And when I was old enough to understand the challenges that my own mother faced, that lit a spark.

No one deserves to grow up like that. Everyone deserves the chance to live up to his or her God-given potential.

Those core values inculcated by my family and reinforced by my church and the people that I met in my experiences in public school and so much else.

And that's been the common thread, and it's really connected to what this conference is about. Because you're here understanding that there is a movement, a necessary movement that requires you to be involved in advancing the rights and opportunities of women and girls, here at home and around the world.

This work is far from finished, and every one of us, every single one of us, can make our own contribution.

Some of you, I know were with me in Beijing back in 1995 at the United Nations 4th World Conference on Women. Representatives from 189 countries came together to declare with one voice that human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights, once and for all. And finally, the world began to listen.

And in the years that followed, we have seen change. We passed laws prohibiting violence against women. Women elected to lead communities and countries. We made significant strides in closing gaps in health and education for women and girls around the world. And last month, the Clinton Foundation and the Gates Foundation unveiled a sweeping new report that gathers twenty years of data from around the world to document how far we have come and how far we still have to go.

All the evidence tells us that despite the enormous obstacles that remain, there has never been a better time in history to be born female. Think about that.

A girl born twenty years ago in Tanzania could not hope to one day own or inherit property. Today she can.

If she was born in Nepal, there was a tragically high chance that her mother, and even she, would die in childbirth. Today, thankfully, that is far less likely.

A girl born twenty years ago in Rwanda grew up in the shadow of genocide and rape. Today, she can be proud that women led the way out of that dark time, and now there are more women serving in her country's Parliament than anywhere else in the world.

But the data leads to a second conclusion, that despite all this progress, we're just not there yet.

Yes, we've nearly closed the global gender gap in primary school, but secondary school remains out of reach for so many girls around the world.

Yes, we've increased the number of countries prohibiting domestic violence, but still, more than half the nations in the world have no such laws on the books, and an estimated one in three women still experience violence.

Yes, we've cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth.

All the laws we have don't count for much if they're not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will, and deep seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.

As I have said, and as I believe, the advancement of the full participation of women and girls in every aspect of their societies is the great unfinished business of the 21st century.

And not just for women, but for everyone. And not just in far away countries, but right here in the United States.

We know that when women are strong, families are strong. When families are strong, countries are strong. So this is about more than just unleashing the full potential of women.

In our country, women moved into the workforce in large numbers over the past forty years. That helped to drive unprecedented economic growth.

In fact, the average American family earns $14,000 more today, and our gross domestic product is about two trillion dollars larger, because all those women went to work, and brought home a paycheck.

But if we close the gap that remains in the workforce between men and women, our economy in the United States would grow by nearly ten percent by 2030. Think about what that would mean in terms of rising wages and more opportunities.

But unfortunately, there are still far too many policies and too many pressures that make it tougher for parents, men and women alike, to work at a job, to go to school, while also raising a family.

The lack of quality affordable childcare, unequal pay, work schedules that are not only far from predictable or flexible, but also simply unfair, fall disproportionately heavily on women.

It is outrageous that America is the only country in the developed world that doesn't guarantee paid leave to mothers of newborns.

When I was at the hospital with Chelsea, while she was there to give birth to my most amazing, fabulous, unbelievable granddaughter, I was talking to some of the nurses. And one of the nurses said to me, "Thank you for fighting for paid family leave." She said, "I see so many women who have their babies who are just distraught."

At a time that should be so exciting and joyful, they have to immediately go back to work. They don't know how they're gonna manage. They don't have any kind of childcare, let alone quality affordable childcare.

It's hard to believe that in 2015, so many women still pay a price for being mothers.

It is also hard to believe that so many women are still paid less than men for the same work, with even wider gaps for women of color.

And if you doubt what I say, look to the World Economic Forum, hardly a hotbed of feminist thought.

Their rankings show that the United States is 65th out of 142 nations and other territories on equal pay.

Imagine that.

We should be number one.

And this isn't just about women. So many of our families today depend on two incomes to make ends meet, and forty percent of all women are now the sole or primary breadwinners. That's a fact of life in the 21st century.

So when any parent is shortchanged, the entire family is shortchanged, often by thousands of dollars a year. Real money in your pockets that could mean a better home to rent or even buy. Or a little more food on the table, or something in a college savings account or your retirement fund. So you'd have a little less worry, and more means to be able to meet your needs.

Now when I talk to men about this, which I frequently do, I remind them, "If it was your wife, or your sister, or your daughter, or your mother getting taken advantage of at work, you would suffer, your kids would suffer, your family would suffer, and you'd want to do something about it."

Well, that's the point.

When women are held back, our country is held back. When women get ahead, everyone gets ahead.

And it's important to realize that it's not just in the economic arena that women are held back.

When women of any age, whether on college campuses, or on military bases, or even in their homes, face sexual assault, then no woman, no woman is secure.

Every woman deserves to have the safety and the security they need.

That means we have to guarantee that our institutions respond to the continuing scourge of sexual assault.

America moves forward when all women are guaranteed the right to make their own health care choices, not when those choices are taken away by an employer like Hobby Lobby.

And it's not just enough for some women to get ahead.

We need to make sure that all women, no matter where you live or who you are, and particularly, African-American and Hispanic women, who've worked their entire careers, can retire with dignity.

I was at a roundtable discussion at a small factory in Keene, New Hampshire the other day, and one of the people sitting at the table with me was an older woman. And she said she had worked at the factory for a number of years and she had retired.

And I thought, "Well, that's nice. They asked a retiree to come back to be part of the discussion."

But she quickly said, "I had some big house repairs, and based on what I was getting in Social Security, I couldn't afford it. I had to come back to work."

When we deny women access to retirement that is secure. When we continue, as we do, to discriminate against women in the Social Security system. We are leaving too many women on their own. And those women do the very best they can under really difficult circumstances.

We move forward when gay and transgender women are embraced as our colleagues and our friends, not fired from good jobs because of who they love or who they are.

We move forward when women who came to this country in search of a better life can earn a path to citizenship.

Right now, they are being forced to work outside the formal economy, often being subjected to discrimination and even worse.

You know, our mothers and sisters and daughters are on the frontlines of all these battles, but these are not just women's fights. These have to be America's fights and the world's fights.

We have to take them on, we have to win them together, and we have to have leaders who recognize that the time has come.

Yet there are those who offer themselves as leaders who take a very different view.

Who offer themselves as leaders who see nothing wrong with denying women equal pay.

Who offer themselves as leaders who would defund the country's leading provider of family planning, and want to let health insurance companies, once again, charge women just because of our gender.

There are those who offer themselves as leaders who would deport mothers working to give their children a better life, rather than risk the ire of talk radio.

There are those who offer themselves as leaders who even play politics with the nomination of our nation's chief law enforcement officer and victims of human trafficking.

Finally, finally, Loretta Lynch will be able to assume the position she has trained her lifetime to hold.

These are not the way to move America forward.

It isn't leadership.

It's not going to create a single job, raise anyone's wages, or strengthen our families.

I have been so struck by meeting women who have, like my mother, dealt with tough odds, far tougher than anything I've had to face.

Last week, I met a woman in Iowa named Bethany. A single mom of three. She recognized that today, education is more than an opportunity, it's a necessity. So she enrolled in the local community college, thanks to Pell Grants and work study.

Now she's juggling a job, school, and raising her kids. But she is determined to see it through.

Of course she's worried about piling up debt. But she hopes to earn that two year degree, and then go on to a four year degree. And she is looking forward to her daughter starting at the same community college next fall.

She's not content to just get by any longer. She wants to get ahead and she wants to stay ahead.

She doesn't expect anything to come easy, but she did ask me, "What more can we do so it isn't quite so hard?"

The answer is, We can do a lot. If we do it together.

That's what this conference is all about. It's why we're here today. Because we believe that we can build a future where if you do your part, you can, in fact, get ahead.

And we know that the future would be in our reach.

And we can't get there unless women are empowered, not only on behalf of themselves, but others.

We have seen women all over the world become agents of change, drivers of progress, makers of peace.

I've seen penniless women in India and Bangladesh banding together to secure micro-financed loans and start their own businesses.

I've sat with Catholic and Protestant women in northern Ireland who finally have the courage to reach across ancient divides.

I've met the women in Liberia who forced an end to a bloody civil war and then took their place in government to forge a better future.

Here in the United States, just this week, we saw fast food workers marching in the streets, asking for nothing more than a living wage and a chance at the American dream. (Applause)

So what I ask all of you is to recognize that by coming here and being part of this extraordinary gathering, you now must be an agent of change as well.

Because it's up to all of us - women, men, business leaders, policy makers, people of faith, community leaders - to be part of the progress we want to see.

My mother was born before women had the right to vote, and she never graduated from college.

But she was determined to make the most of her own life, and to give me and brothers opportunities far beyond anything she had known.

Now, when I look at my own granddaughter, I feel that same determination.

It's not just what I want for her, because her family will do whatever we must to make sure she has every chance to go as far as her hard work and talent will take her.

It's not about her that I worry. It's about what we need to do to make sure that every child, every single child, has the same chance at equality and opportunity.

That's the dream we share. That's the fight we must wage.

We are so close, closer than we've ever been.

I'm grateful that there is now a new burst of energy around the rights and opportunities of women and girls.

There is still much to be done in our own country, much more to be done around the world.

But I am confident and optimistic that if we get to work, we will get it done together.

Thank you all very much.