U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia
at the Opening of the Second Annual
Career Day on Women in Diplomacy
March 18, 2015
U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa
As prepared for delivery
In-de-men-ader-achu! Good Morning!
I am honored to be with you today for the opening of the second annual Career Day on Women and Diplomacy. We are here to commemorate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month and build upon the positive energy and outcomes from last year’s successful event. I would like to thank my friend Ambassador Dr. Desta, Director General of the Women’s Directorate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for her vision in committing to empowering young women like you at events such as today’s Career Day. The United States, along with many other important partners, stand beside her in what we hope will be a continuing campaign.
As you know, International Women’s Day is a day of celebration applauding the achievements of women worldwide. That said, we have all witnessed the struggle for equality and empowerment of women in the workplace, and that includes women entering the diplomatic world. Increasing numbers of women in diplomacy is a symbol of hope and modernization for the 21st Century, yet despite our advancements, women are still underrepresented in senior diplomatic positions.
Personally, I owe much of my success as a diplomat to strong mentors and role models, both male and female. Thankfully, there were also many courageous and strong female diplomats who came before me and who paved the path for those of us in the profession today. Some of you may already be aware of the amazing progress we’ve made in the last 100 years, but I believe it bears repeating, and is an important lesson to not give up in the face of challenges. Lucile Atcherson became the first woman to be accepted into the U.S. Diplomatic Corps back in 1922, a very brave move at that time. However, during her career, there was a regulation that prevented women who married from entering or remaining in the Foreign Service. It wasn’t until 1972, after many legal battles, that the U.S. State Department overturned its ban on the marriage of female diplomats.
Ethiopian women diplomats, as well, have experienced similar challenges and obstacles. Thankfully, there have been important female role models in the field of diplomacy and foreign affairs within Ethiopian society. The first female Ethiopian Ambassador was Weyzero Yodit Emiru. Since then, there have been thirteen other women promoted to Ambassador in Ethiopia. This is important, because without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspective at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved.
In the United States, we completely agree. During her tenure as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton stated that “No society can achieve its full potential when half the population is denied the opportunity to achieve theirs.”
We know that opening the door for women and girls to educational opportunities leads to more choices and opportunities. Indeed, we also know that birth rates, HIV infections, incidents of domestic violence and female genital mutilation all decline when education rises.
In positive news, we are now seeing more and more women entering government and taking on senior positions, including heads of state, yet the obstacles remain and the numbers are still disproportionate given that women make half of the global population. When women’s voices and experiences are overlooked, their absence has a direct impact on society, on peace and security, and on strengthening democracy in their communities and nations.
I am proud to be a part of the global diplomatic family and will personally continue to work on issues related to girls’ education and women’s empowerment while I am in Ethiopia. As a testament to that, last week, nine of my fellow women Ambassadors and Country Representatives and I launched a pilot mentorship program for young women in diplomacy. This six-month program pairs ten entry-level female diplomats from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with ten female Ambassadors and Country Representatives based in Addis Ababa. It aims to inspire the young diplomats to learn and grow in their profession, to give back to their society and to help them develop as future leaders by experiencing “diplomacy in action.” As I have personally experienced in my career path, the impact of a positive mentor can be instrumental in a young person’s professional development. We hope that this program will prove to be beneficial and continue well into the future.
I want to close today with the same quote that I included in last year’s Career Day remarks because I feel that it embodies very important advice to all of us here, especially the young, university women. It is a quote from former Ambassador Sinknesh, who consistently pushed for the advancement of women through mentoring and motivational speaking.
“Power is not something that people will give you. You have to struggle, you have to be very assertive and you have to be vocal about what you want rather than expecting it to fall in your lap, even if you are good at what you do….If everything is comfortable, you won’t create anything and you won’t grow.”
I encourage all of you gathered here today to be assertive, to be vocal and to continue to grow into strong women who are leaders in your communities, your country and the world.
Thank you! Amaseganelu!