Today American Ambassador David Hale hosted a reception in honor of International Women’s Day at his residence at the U.S. Embassy. Over the years, more than 2,500 Lebanese women and girls have participated in Embassy programs designed to promote women in a number of fields including science (such as TechWomen and TechGirls), business (Fortune Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Entrepreneurship Program), as well as traditional exchange programs such as the Fulbright Scholarship, the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study program, and the International Visitor Leadership Program, among others.
In attendance were alumnae of Embassy educational and cultural exchange programs, as well as female government officials and members of civil society. The reception featured remarks by Ambassador Hale and Rima El Husseini, co-founder and CEO of Blessing and founder of the Blessing Foundation.
For more information on Embassy educational and cultural exchange programs, please visit our website at https://lb.usembassy.gov/.
Below are Ambassador Hale’s remarks from the reception as prepared for delivery.
Tonight, we honor not only the achievements of extraordinary women who have fought for equal rights. We also honor the leaders of today and tomorrow who are building on past successes and striving to make the idea that we are all created equal into the reality of all being treated equally. All of you here this evening are instrumental in shaping women’s rights in Lebanon. We are proud to be partners, in one way or another, with each of you.
Gender equality is an essential element of U.S. foreign policy. While we celebrate today, we must promote gender equality every day. At this Embassy, that’s exactly what we do: work every day with Lebanese partners to support the equality of women. Together, we are promoting women’s involvement in business, society, politics, and education.
Here are some examples. Through the Public Diplomacy section, we offer the Department of State and Fortune’s Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership, which connects young, talented women from all over the world with Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women Leaders” for a month-long mentoring program.
Another example: MEPI works with civil society to help women develop basic employment skills and help with job placement; to prepare women for political office in municipalities and parliament; to assist victims of domestic violence learn critical coping skills to move on to better lives; to help women produce goods at home to earn independent incomes.
Does this make a difference? I’ll give you one example. You remember the rule that gave a father exclusive right to sign his child’s passport? A civil society organization successfully lobbied the government to require a mother’s signature, too. A MEPI grant helped them get organized. Now, the passports of minors require the signature of both parents. Mother and father have equal rights in this case.
USAID works to improve the lives of women and girls. Our programs are in economic development, education, environmental preservation, and many other sectors. USAID supplies loans to small businesses in order to help the business owners generate income and improve their lives, benefitting both men and women alike. This assistance has created 3,000 jobs, 55% for women.
We have a program to help schools and improve teacher skills. Both boys and girls are learning new technologies and getting interested in science and technology. USAID’s work in the water sector employs 99 female staff in the regional water establishments; over 1.5 million women are getting better water. We still face challenges in the quest for gender equality across the world, and the United States is no exception. Women comprise only 20% of the U.S. Congress. Out of the 500 top U.S. companies, only 23 are led by women. And the timescale for change has been remarkably brief. Just look at one family, my own. My grandmother was the first woman to gain the right to vote, in 1920. And when my Mother applied for a credit card in the 1960s, her bank asked her to get my father’s approval, even though it was her money. I still remember her rather sharp commentary on that one. So, in America, we are proud of our strides, but humble about the distance still to go. The issue is not just giving women a place at the table, but ensuring they have equal access to the head of the table. President Obama has highlighted some of the challenges we face in America, including the unfinished battle for equal pay for equal work. He said, “the strength of our economy rests on whether we make it possible for every citizen to contribute to growth and prosperity.” Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is an economic imperative that benefits men and women alike.
There is also a security dimension. We are, together, facing brutal extremists who want to deny a woman’s place as an equal. Right next door, innocent people are suffering; but women and girls are suffering even more. But our values – which include respect for gender equality – are far stronger than any false appeal of extremists. With our stronger values, we certainly will prevail.
This day, this month, we pause to recognize the women leaders and activists of the past. But our work on this front is continuous, to the benefit of men and women, boys and girls alike.