March 08, 2012

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2012

Mr. President, let me thank Senator Murray for her comments and let me concur in her objection observations. What we’ve seen on women’s health care issues here in this body. Some are trying to turn back the progress we have made. I was listening to my colleague talk about the ultra sounds. Well, Virginia just enacted an ultra sound bill this week. We talk about big government, government mandating ultra sound for pregnant women. This is outrageous and something that on International Women’s Day, it is right that we bring this to the attention of our colleagues. We’ve seen the type of action taken against family planning, those who want to repeal Roe v. Wade. We need to stand with women’s health care issues as we lead in the international community.

Around the world, International Women's Day is an occasion to honor and praise women for their accomplishments. This International Women's Day, I stand here with my colleagues to celebrate women who are making a difference, both here in America and around the world in countries where they lead the fight for justice, equality and fairness for all women.

All of us–women and men alike–can help by supporting women’s efforts to claim their legal rights, to be free from violence, earn a decent income, get an education, grow food for their families, and make their voices heard in their communities and beyond.

I believe in the power of women to change the world. And to help them hasten that change, U.S. international assistance policy should address and remove barriers between women, women’s rights and economic empowerment.

Empowering women is one of the most critical tools in our tool box to fight poverty and injustice. Integrating the unique needs of women into our domestic and international policies is critical.  As Chairman of the International Development and Foreign Assistance Subcommittee of Foreign Relations, I can attest that this must be the bedrock of our foreign assistance programming if it is to be successful.

I defy anyone’s assertions that women’s empowerment should take a back seat to other so-called “more important” priorities.  Decades of research and experience prove that when women are able to be fully engaged in society and hold decision making power, they are more likely to invest their income in food, clean water, education, and health care for their children.

This creates a positive cycle of change that lifts entire communities out of poverty. Simply put, when women succeed, we all do.

Accordingly, I was very pleased by last week’s release of the new USAID Policy, which makes integrating gender and including women and girls central to all U.S. international assistance.  This policy, which updates guidelines that were over thirty years old, recognizes that the integration of women and girls is basic to effective international assistance across all sectors like food security, health, climate change, science and technology, growth, democracy and governance and humanitarian assistance. It aims to increase the capacity of women and girls and decrease inequality between genders, and also to decrease gender-based violence.

This new policy is as welcome as it is necessary. As Secretary Clinton declared earlier this year: “Achieving our objectives for global development will demand accelerated efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment. Otherwise, peace and prosperity will have their own glass ceiling.

Unfortunately, as we know, there are still places that this glass ceiling exists, and there are major obstacles to women. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women will experience some form of violence in her lifetime. Women and girls in emergencies, conflict settings, and natural disasters often face extreme violence, including being forced to exchange sex for food. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that up to 70 percent of women in some countries describe having been victims of domestic violence at some stage in their lives.

 The United States has the potential to be a true leader in preventing and responding to violence against women and girls, an issue that is inextricably linked to U.S. diplomacy, development, and national security goals

While violence against women and girls is both a major consequence and cause of poverty. Violence and poverty go hand and hand. Violence prevents women and girls from getting an education, going to work, and earning the income they need to lift their families out of poverty.  We know that one in three women will be the victim of physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.  But we also know that women have the potential to lift families and communities out of poverty. 

Violence against women and girls is an extreme human rights violation, a public health epidemic. and a barrier to solving global challenges such as extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS and conflict. It devastates the lives of millions of women and girls—in peacetime and in conflict—and knows no national or cultural barriers.



     Today, let us reaffirm the commitment to end gender-based discrimination in all forms, to end violence against women and girls worldwide, and to encourage the people of the United States to observe International Women's Day. On this day and every day, I am proud to stand in support of women across America and worldwide. Investing in and focusing on empowering women and girls is one of the most efficient uses of our foreign assistance dollars and one of the best ways to make the world more peaceful and prosperous. As Secretary Clinton pointed out, “Women’s rights are human rights” – and nothing is more fundamental, in my opinion.  With That, Mr. President, I would yield the floor.