Today American Ambassador David Hale participated in the opening ceremony for the May Chidiac Foundation’s “Women on the Front Lines” conference, as part of the American Embassy’s celebrations throughout the month of March for Women’s History Month and for International Women’s Day. The American Embassy co-sponsored this event, which focused on inspirational female leaders.
Below are Ambassador Hale’s remarks from the event.
Good morning, and thank you very much, Dr. Chidiac, for inviting me to participate today. It is a pleasure to be here, as you kick off the third year of the Women on the Front Lines conference. May, you may remember we first met in 2008. And like so many people, men and women alike, I’ve been impressed by your courage and leadership since then. You are a role model for female leaders not just in Lebanon, but around the world. This conference focuses the spotlight on the struggles that women face across the globe, and is yet another example of your dedication to advancing women’s rights.
Secretary of State John Kerry recently said, “Women’s progress represents human progress, because no society can succeed if it leaves half of its population behind”.
In the United States, we have come a long way, and we still have a long way to go. The standard of course is not just a seat at the table, but whether a seat at the head of the table is available as well. In our Congress, of its 535 members, just 20% are women. We have yet to see a female president. Of the 500 top American companies, only 23 are led by women. In the State Department, where I work, we may be doing a little bit better at the leadership level: three of the past four former secretaries of state were women; and they were women who were not defined by their gender, but by their accomplishments.
In my own family, my grandmother was the first woman who gained the right to vote. And it was only during my mother’s generation that women began to attend college at rates that were comparable to men. I still remember as a little child in the 1960s, hearing my mother complain – quite loudly, incidentally – that her bank required my father’s approval for her credit card application, even though it was her money.
In my lifetime, I have seen the strides my country has made towards equal rights for women, through the experiences of my own family. We are proud that we have made progress, but humble about the fact that it has been a long road and we are not nearing its end yet.
Over the years I have spent working in Lebanon, I have been influenced by many Lebanese leaders, men and women alike. I have to say, some of them I have had the privilege to know, and to call my friends. I admired Hala Maksoud, who dedicated her life to advocating for the civil rights of Arab-Americans and worked extensively on behalf of Arab women. And the late Laure Moghaizel who fought for Lebanese women, making strides in voting and inheritance rights, and serving as a founding member of the Lebanese Association for Human Rights. And I have been impressed and honored to know so many other strong, amazing Lebanese women, many of whom are here today.
Across the world, we celebrate women’s history month in March. It is a chance to reflect upon and celebrate women’s contributions to history and society, and to identify what more needs to be done, not just in March but all year round. The American Embassy here in Beirut works every day with Lebanese partners to promote women’s involvement in business, society, politics, education, and elsewhere. We work together on scholarships for public high school students, English language courses for adult women, and exchange programs for high school girls interested in science, technology, engineering, and math. Gender equality is a crucial component of U.S. foreign policy. An investment in women and girls across the globe is an investment in the prosperity, stability, and peace of our world.
The rise of violent extremism threatens all of us, regardless of gender. Yet, history shows that women and girls suffer disproportionately in the face of such violence. At the same time, history also shows that our values are stronger than any extremist ideology, and we will prevail. Among our most cherished values is gender equality.
I wish you all a successful conference, as you take on the role of women in politics and finance, the dangers to female journalists in conflict zones, and female leadership in the non-profit world. I’m very honored to be with you today. Thank you.