Blog: HRC launches No Ceilings

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Wednesday
Nov 06
2013
November 6, 2013

Secretary Clinton Launches No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project

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On November 1, 2013, while giving remarks at the Pennsylvania Conference on Women, Secretary Clinton announced a new Clinton Foundation initiative, No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project. No Ceilings will bring together partner organizations to evaluate and share the progress women and girls have made in the 20 years since the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. This new effort will help chart the path forward to accelerate full participation for women and girls in the 21st century. Read Secretary Clinton's remarks announcing No Ceilings below.

Hello! Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you, Pennsylvania. Thank you all. Oh, my goodness, it is – it’s wonderful to be back here in Philadelphia and to be at the Pennsylvania Conference 10th anniversary. I want to thank Ed Rendell for not just his introduction, but for conceiving this conference and for continuing to support it. And I have to say that I think the women of Pennsylvania have always had a great friend in Ed Rendell, your former governor. In fact, I think when I left the State Department, the first call I got was from Ed, saying, “Would you come to the Pennsylvania Conference?” I said, “Well, just tell me when. I’ll be there, Ed.” 

I also want to thank Leslie Stiles and her great team for keeping this conference going and taking it to new heights. And I, like all of you, was especially moved by Linda Cliatt-Wayman’s incredible presentation, and I want to give her another round of applause for doing one of the great jobs of anyone of principle.

I also want to recognize in this great crowd the only woman in the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, who’s out here somewhere. When I was in the Senate, I worked often with Allyson in the House, and I’m pleased to see her here and so many of you who are standing up, speaking out, working for the continued opportunities that girls and women here in this commonwealth and across our country and, indeed, the world deserve.

As a First Lady, as a Senator, most recently as Secretary of State, I have had the privilege of representing our country all over the globe. And I have met women from every walk of life in 112 countries. And I’ve also continued to speak with and listen to women in our own country. And I believe that women everywhere can be and are agents of change, drivers of progress, makers of peace – all we need is a fighting chance to show what we can do in every part of life.

But too many women here and around the world still face ceilings – ceilings that hold back their ambitions and aspirations, that make it harder for them to pursue their own God-given potential. It’s laws; it’s customs; it’s all kinds of attitudes that limit access to markets and to justice and to security. But these ceilings, they don’t just hold back women and girls. They hold back entire economies and societies because no country can truly thrive by denying the contributions of half its people. The great unfinished business of the 21st century is helping women and girls break through these ceilings and participate fully in every aspect of life once and for all.

That is now the major focus of my work at the Clinton Foundation. We are bringing together international institutions, governments, businesses, NGOs, a wide range of leaders who have done much to advance women’s progress at home and around the world for a new initiative we call No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project.

Now, its roots go back two decades, but we hope its impact will be felt much longer. When I became First Lady in the early 1990s and started looking into conditions for women, I met activists who were working tirelessly, shining a light on the mistreatment. I wrote and spoke out. But I found very often that the leaders ignored what their own people were saying. So in September 1995, I jumped at the chance to lead an American delegation to the fourth annual UN Women’s Conference in Beijing, China. Now, the Chinese had arrested a high-profile dissident, and there were many in our government who thought that I should not go. But I believed then what I believe now: I don’t think you should shy away from confronting human rights abuses and oppression. And I hoped that my participation would shine a bright light on the status of women around the world.

Now, in the end, more than 189 governments sent representatives, and thousands more of NGO activists and journalists attended. When I, representing all of you, took the stage in Beijing, I said something which was so obvious, but it needed to be said: Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.

Now, that means it is a violation of human rights when women face violence in their own homes; when women and girls are sold into slavery and prostitution; when women are burned to death because their marriage dowries are considered too small; when women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war, and when young girls are brutalized by genital mutilation; when women are denied the right to plan their own families. These are all violations of human rights. And I wanted the world to condemn them with one voice.

Well, the Chinese cut off the video in the conference center. But somehow the word got out and when I left the room, there were women standing in the hallways and hanging over balconies. And most importantly, the 189 nations agreed to an ambitious platform for action that called for, and I quote, “The full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life.” That was a clarion call to the global community to work for the laws, reforms and social changes necessary to ensure that women and girls finally have the opportunities they deserve to fully contribute to the peace, progress and prosperity of their societies.

We saw a lot of progress in the decades since 1995. Beijing had been about claiming rights for women, and this new period was about changing laws and constitutions and conventions. In many countries, law that once permitted unequal treatment of women and girls were replaced by laws that recognized equality. I was very proud that in the 1990s, when my husband was President, he signed the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Violence Against Women Act, major legislation combating trafficking against women.

So it wasn’t just about other countries. It was about what more we could do here at home. And I was pleased when the United Nations created a new body of – called UN Women. I was pleased when the Security Council passed resolutions recognizing the crucial role of women in peacemaking and security. I’ve been following closely the research at the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, other institutions that are looking at the untapped potential of women and girls.

And finally, we began seeing across the world school doors that had been closed opening to women; jobs in the formal economy being available for women; women running for political office. So when I became Secretary of State, I wanted to make it a priority of our country to support and advance this progress. So our diplomats and our policymakers started viewing women around the world as partners, not problems. We invested in women entrepreneurs. We helped to train civil society activists. We raised all kinds of questions about what was happening to women with their governments at the United Nations.

And then, when I left the State Department, I realized that in September 2015, it will be the 20th anniversary of that conference, and it is time for all of us to take a clear-eyed look at how far we’ve come, but more importantly, what we need to do now for the agenda, that we do here at home and that we help others do across the world. Because after all, women and girls still comprise the majority of the world’s unhealthy, unfed, unschooled and unpaid. At least 100 countries have laws on the books that limit the participation of women in the economy. In some places, women cannot open a bank account or sign a contract. In others, they are restricted from what jobs they can hold. And even in advanced economies like our own, women earn 16 percent less than men for doing the same job.

So what good does it do if there are laws on the books but they’re not enforced? What good does it do if police in courts turn a blind eye to abuses? What good does it do if political leaders talk about empowering women, but when budget time comes around, the money is rarely there, and the kind of needs that women have to feed their babies, to feed their children are cut and cut and cut?

So we have an opportunity to take a look and come up with an honest assessment, because while the challenges we face are significant, they are solvable. In communities across the world where for generations, violence against women has gone unchecked and opportunity has been virtually unknown, there is a strong grassroots movement. More and more people are being galvanized, and we now have the benefit of technologies. Women can communicate. They can receive messages. From satellite television to Facebook, these new tools are helping to bring abuses out of the shadows and raise global consciousness.

So we could see a woman in a blue bra being beaten in Tahrir Square, in Egypt. We could hear and learn more about a young Indian woman brutally gang raped and eventually dying in Delhi. We could meet a 14-year-old Pakistani girl, shot in the head because she had the audacity to demand an education.

 When women participate in peacemaking and peacekeeping, we are all safer and more secure. And when women participate in politics, the effects ripple across the entire society. 

This all comes at a time when we have more empirical evidence than ever about women’s progress – indeed, about human progress. All that research conducted by all these groups has verified what we knew intuitively, that when women participate in the economy, everyone benefits. When women participate in peacemaking and peacekeeping, we are all safer and more secure. And when women participate in politics, the effects ripple across the entire society. Weren’t you proud when it was the women of the United States Senate who led the way to end the shutdown and prevent the debt default?

So even though I’ve been doing this for a lot of years now, I am more convinced than ever we are right on the cusp. It used to be, when I would go visit a president or a prime minister and talk about women’s rights, their eyes would glaze over. But when I would say, “And oh, by the way, empowering your women and their economic opportunities means you’ll increase the gross domestic product of your country” – in fact, based on the new research we had, I could show them it’d go up this much percent in Japan, and this much in Korea, and this much in Germany or the United States – or I could say, “If you look at what’s happening in India, villages led by women have more drinking water and child immunizations, a lower gender gap in school attendance and less corruption, so it makes for a more peaceful, productive community.” We have the technology, we have the data, so we are at this turning point, and if we, the women of the United States, act decisively, we can make a real difference not only far from home, but here at home.

That’s why we are launching No Ceilings. We want to know what we’ve achieved and what we have to do.

That’s why we are launching No Ceilings. We want to know what we’ve achieved and what we have to do. We’re going to work with technology partners to create a digital global review, and then distribute the data widely so everyone can use it – to see the gains and to see the gaps; to share this information across platforms; to be put to use by advocates, academics and decision makers. And we also want to collect stories from the women and girls around the world and here at home, stories of both adversity and triumph, of marginalization and inclusion, the obstacles overcome, the opportunities seized, the aspirations achieved. I want those voices to be heard, to inform debates, to shape policies, to inspire others.

No Ceilings will work with experienced partners to train and support the next generation of emerging women leaders, building on the platform that was accepted in Beijing, but also looking at areas that were not even imagined, like closing the digital gap. Technology, particularly mobile technology, is making a huge difference, but 200 million fewer women have access to that technology.

But I want to emphasize the importance of making sure we work toward the full participation and empowerment of women and girls here at home. Earlier this year, The Economist magazine published what they called a glass-ceiling index. It ranked countries based on factors like opportunities for women in the workplace and equal pay. I read it. Then I read it again. I thought there must be a misprint. The United States was not even in the top 10. Why? Well, women still hold less than 17 percent of corporate board seats in the United States, and only about 4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women; women are the primary breadwinners for 40 percent of American families with children, and most are single mothers, but our workplaces and our support systems haven’t caught up with this reality.

Today, American women may have more advantages and opportunities than at any time in our history, but the truth is that for too many American women, the dream of upward mobility, the American Dream, that very human dream remains elusive. Many American women today are actually living shorter lives than their mothers, especially those with less education, lower incomes – shorter lives than women in any other major industrialized country. That is a historical reversal in life expectancy. We haven’t seen anything like that since the Russian men’s numbers began to drop after the end of the Cold War. And it is certainly not what we would expect from the richest, most powerful nation in the world with the best medical care, the most advanced technology, the values that we have, and it is not anything we should accept.

Now, there may be no single explanation for why American women are living shorter lives than their mothers, but a lot of it has to do with unemployment and economic stress. The biggest declines in life expectancy are coming in communities that have been hollowed out by inequality and poverty – in struggling rural communities; in crumbling Appalachian towns; in places plagued by smoking, obesity, drug use, teen pregnancy and yes, domestic violence, where wages have stagnated and good jobs have disappeared; and where social networks that provided support to Americans in previous generations are weaker than ever; where schools are failing to keep up; where labor unions are shrinking; where government is certainly less trusted and families more fractured.

Women trying to build a life and a family in such places don’t just face ceilings. It’s as if the floor has collapsed beneath them. So we have our work cut out for us. It’s time for all of us to work together to try to reverse these trends, to combat the continuing scourge of domestic violence – to stand together, despite what we see happening in many places in the country, and defend the right of women to all the health care services that they need and deserve. To rebuild our economy to make sure equal pay for equal work actually is equal pay. To help create new jobs with rising incomes. To give parents the opportunity they need to be both good parents and good workers in taking care of their children. To focus on the jobs of the future by helping more girls and women succeed in science, technology, engineering and math. 

We need to help our girls see they are capable of doing anything, and stand behind our women as they break through the doors that are still closed – to overcome any obstacle, to crack any ceiling.

We need to help our girls see they are capable of doing anything, and stand behind our women as they break through the doors that are still closed – to overcome any obstacle, to crack any ceiling.

I know we can do this because I’ve seen it happen in our own country. I’ve watched the changes that have occurred in my own lifetime. I’ve watched the obstacles and the barriers fall. And I’ve also seen that courage and determination in so many people around the world: the women I worked with in the peace process in Northern Ireland; the homeless women who took it on themselves to build a village from scratch in Cape Town, South Africa; Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate, who endured years of house arrest so she could help lead her people to freedom and democracy. No ceilings – no ceilings can deny the God-given potential of half the world’s population. And no ceiling can stand in the way of renewing the American Dream for women and men, for girls and boys, for every single American who deserves to have the same kind of future with its potential for growth and success that so many of us were blessed with.

So yes, we want to name and to understand all the ceilings. We want to look at the need for a floor that no longer exists under so many of our fellow Americans. And we need to be convinced of the importance of this cause going forward. I’m absolutely confident that we can send a clear, unmistakable message: Ceilings in America are unacceptable. Ceilings around the world that prevent education and health care and jobs and opportunity are equally unacceptable. And we’re going to be about the business of making sure that those ceilings crack for every girl and every woman here and around the globe. So let’s get cracking, women of Pennsylvania!