U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia
at Inclusive Fashion Show
Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa
October 05, 2018
(As prepared for delivery)
Thank you all so much for being here tonight for the second annual Inclusive Fashion Show.
I’m very proud and happy that the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia is once again supporting this wonderful event.
And it’s exciting to have designers and models here this evening not only from Ethiopia, but from Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda as well.
I know we’re all excited to see the creative and inspiring designs that will be modeled on the runway tonight, but first I’d like to take a brief moment to reflect on why inclusivity matters.
Simply put, inclusivity is about giving every member of our community the chance to reach her or his fullest potential.
But it’s also about more than that: inclusivity also ensures that each of us is able to contribute fully to our collective success as well.
In any democracy, I can’t think of a goal that’s more important than making sure everyone is included.
Not just for the sake of the individual, but for all of our sakes as well.
While we often celebrate democracy for the individual freedoms and rights that come with it, democracy only works when we embrace our collective obligation to support each other in making our society better, and when we ensure that every other member of our society is fully empowered to play that role as well.
When someone is marginalized or excluded for any reason — whether because of disability, gender, religion, or ethnicity– we not only sell that individual short; we sell all of us short.
We reduce our collective capacity for success, and limit our ability to build a better future.
The people we’re celebrating tonight are wonderful.
They’re not wonderful despite any disabilities they might have, or because of any disabilities they might have: they’re simply wonderful – period.
What they remind us, is that each of us, without exception, has something to give.
None of us should need to be reminded of this, but too often we do.
That’s why the United States is invested in promoting inclusivity, both at home and in Ethiopia, and of course in the other countries represented here tonight as well.
Last year, we sponsored the first inclusive fashion show here in Addis Ababa to highlight that a disability is not an inability, and to showcase the incredible capabilities of our participants.
The success of last year’s show made a repeat performance this year an easy choice to make.
And for us at the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia, this program complements our efforts to improve the accessibility of our Embassy facilities and resources as well.
We’re partnering with the Ethiopian National Archive and Library Agency to build an elevator at their main library, to ensure that all Ethiopians have access to the knowledge that’s stored there, including at the American Center we’ve established at that location.
At all five of our American Spaces – two in Addis plus one each in Bahir Dar, Jimma, and Dire Dawa – we’re installing software on our computers to make them accessible to people with visual impairments.
We’ve ensured that our Embassy compound itself, and all the resources it contains, are fully accessible.
We follow inclusive hiring practices as well, to ensure that all people have an equal chance to work with us.
As part of this commitment, we have a position on the Embassy staff called our Disability Advisor, filled by one of our Ethiopian colleagues named Rigbe Gebrehawaria.
Rigbe mentors and provides support to our employees with disabilities, ensures that the Embassy provides the necessary workplace accommodations for them, and shares all Embassy hiring opportunities with organizations that support persons with disabilities.
Before she joined our Embassy team, Rigbe was a U.S. government Mandela Washington Fellow, and back in 2017, it was Rigbe who first proposed the idea of an Inclusive Fashion Show.
She was instrumental in organizing tonight’s event as well.
As with every other program our Embassy maintains, much of our engagement on inclusion focuses on trying to set a positive example, while sharing the lessons we’ve learned when we’ve fallen short.
The founding principle of the United States is quite simple: all people are created equal.
The United States continues to try hard to live up to that ideal.
In 1990, we adopted a law called the “Americans with Disabilities Act,” to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in all aspects of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and communications.
It was a huge step forward, though it was long overdue, and it’s something we continue to work on implementing fully.
In Ethiopia, as in the United States, ensuring inclusivity in all its forms isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.
As Ethiopians strive to achieve their country’s bold new vision – for full democratic participation, broad-based economic growth and development, and lasting peace and security – it’s essential that every single Ethiopian be able to contribute fully to achieving these goals.
That’s what inclusivity is all about.
So I salute our models, and I congratulate each one for being here tonight.
Thank you for the wonderful show we’re about to enjoy.
But even more importantly, thank you for reminding us that Ethiopia can, and must, fully unleash the tremendous talent that exists in this country, and that lies within every single one of its citizens.
I’m very happy to note that there are a number of Ethiopian organizations working hard toward that goal, and I’d like to express my gratitude for their support to this event:
The Ethiopian Women with Disabilities National Association;
The Support & Care for People with Disabilities Association;
The Ethiopian National Association of the Blind;
The Ethiopian National Association of the Deaf;
The Ethiopian National Association of the Intellectually Disabled;
The Nehemiah Autism Center;
Dwarf People in Ethiopia; and
Katim Dance Team.
Your tireless efforts to support persons with disabilities, and to encourage the inclusion of all Ethiopians in building their country’s future, are invaluable.
I’d also like to recognize and warmly thank our partners in putting together tonight’s fashion show:
The Fashion Designers Association;
The Hub of Africa Addis Fashion Week;
The Ethiopian Center for Disability & Development; and
The Ethiopian National Disability Action Network.
And of course, a huge thank you to our sponsors:
Essey Water; and
And most important of all, my sincerest thanks to the outstanding designers and models – from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda – whose work we’re about to see.
Thank you all again, and please enjoy the show!