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Secretary Clinton Gets It Right: Women are Key to Africa’s Future

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Secretary Clinton Gets It Right: Women are Key to Africa’s Future

Posted by Maggie Fick on August 10, 2009

Secretary Clinton Gets It Right: Women are Key to Africa’s Future

Women can be the rock on which a freer, safer and more prosperous Africa is built. They just need the opportunity.
–Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, August 9, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is using her first trip to Africa as America’s top diplomat to emphasize the importance of Africa’s women to the future of the continent and to the United States. At every stop on her tour thus far, Secretary Clinton has made an effort to show that it is a priority of the U.S. government to work with partner nations across Africa to empower women as a key means of promoting development, security, and democracy on the continent.

Even if you are not following the Secretary’s trip to Africa closely, it is hard to miss her clear effort to show that empowering women is not a peripheral concern as the US works to address complex crises on the continent such as the conflict in Congo and the radical al-Shabaab insurgency in Somalia. 

Speaking in Nairobi, Kenya, at the 8th Forum of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the Secretary began to build her case:

The social, political and economic marginalization of women across Africa has left a void in this continent that undermines progress and prosperity every day. Yet we know across Africa women are doing the work of a whole continent – gathering firewood, hauling water, washing clothes, preparing meals, raising children, in the fields planting and harvesting, and when given the opportunity of economic empowerment, transforming communities and local economies … It is not only a moral imperative; it is an economic one as well. Everywhere I go, I see the hard work and the progress that women can make if unleashed, if given just a chance.

In Pretoria, South Africa, Clinton attended and spoke at a National Women’s Day dinner, which is celebrated on August 9 every year in South Africa, in honor of the 20,000 South African women who marched in protest against repressive apartheid legislation. Clinton remarked:

I am often awed by the history of the women’s struggle in my own country…And of course, now, when I look at South Africa and I see the role that women played in the struggle for freedom and liberation, and the roles that women are playing now in every aspect of South African life, it is gratifying, but it is not satisfying.  Too many women in this country and across Africa and across the world are marginalized, left behind, and denied the rights that every human being is entitled to.

In this address, Clinton spoke powerfully about the responsibility of South Africa and the United States to make women’s equality a reality and not just an ideal at the highest levels of their respective governments and in the corridors of power, but also for the everyday women who have been “left behind.”

South Africa’s City Press published a powerful op-ed by Secretary Clinton on Saturday, which I quoted to introduce this post. In the piece, she emphasized that the women of South Africa “have helped to make the country an economic anchor for the continent,” and that these women are a perfect example of how much can be accomplished “through civic responsibility, commitment to the rule of law and a diversified and inclusive economy”—in other words, when women are given the chance to take the lead.

As Laura noted in a post earlier today, the secretary made it clear that her purpose in going to Congo is to draw attention to the alarming prevalence of the use of rape as a weapon in the eastern region’s decade-long conflict. Her remarks signal that she feels personally compelled to speak out about this devastating situation affecting hundreds of thousands of Congolese women, children, and men.

Secretary Clinton deserves praise for her continued commitment to working to empower women around the world. She could not be more right: Africa’s future is dependent on the ability of African governments to recognize the rights of women and work to change the status quo that has undermined half of the continent’s people for so long. Her leadership has set the tone for the Obama administration moving forward, and I, for one, hope and expect to see the fruits of these efforts in the years to come.

Check out Enough’s interactive map charting Secretary Clinton’s trip from Kenya to Cape Verde, with frequent updates from and coverage of the trip.


Photo: Secretary Clinton speaks with women at the University of Nairobi during her first stop on a seven country trip in Africa. Courtesy of the State Department on flickr