October 1, 2022

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Remarks at International Women’s Day: Turning Toward the Future

7 min read

Wendy R. Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State

Casablanca, Morocco

What a perfect way to celebrate International Women’s Day—to be with all of you. In the first instance, I just want to applaud all of you for what you are doing.

It is such a pleasure to be here with such a fabulous, accomplished group of women in celebration of International Women’s Day.

I want to begin by congratulating the Association of Moroccan Women Entrepreneurs, and particularly your President—and pardon me, as I will undoubtedly mispronounce someone’s name—but thank you, Leila , very much, for organizing such a wonderful program today.

I had the pleasure of meeting Leila’s mother Farida, as she was introduced, as well, earlier today—and thank you for doing this program in English for me this evening, I appreciate it. I know how proud Farida is of this amazing event and all Leila’s work advancing women’s entrepreneurship here in Morocco. I told her that I always think of my mother on this day because this was her birthday. And she was a woman entrepreneur in real estate.

So it is a pleasure to share the stage with Morocco’s Minister of Solidarity, Social Integration, and Family. Aawatif , it is wonderful to be with you. As I said to you, I would love to have the title of Minister of Social Solidarity. What a wonderful thing to bring everybody together. So thank you, very much.

Thank you as well to Casablanca Regional Wali Said—now I’m going to not get this right—Ahmidouch, Head of the Casablanca-Settat Regional Council Maazouz Abdellatif. I know that Casablanca’s first woman mayor wasn’t able to join us, but I know she has given her support to today’s event, and we are grateful for everything she does every day to empower Moroccan women every.

I want to echo something that Secretary Tony Blinken said earlier today in Estonia—which is for all of us, on this International Women’s Day, I for one, and I’m sure all of you, are giving a thought to the women of Ukraine.

More than 1.7 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have fled the war that Vladimir Putin unleashed on their country—often leaving their husbands behind to fight. Ukrainian women are giving birth in subway stations turned bomb shelters. They are caring for children with cancer in the basements of hospitals as they hide from missiles. They are taking up arms alongside Ukraine’s men to fight for their democracy and defend their homeland. The women of Ukraine, like all of you, embody the strength, resilience, and dauntless courage of women everywhere—and our hearts are with them today and every day.

International Women’s Day provides us with an annual opportunity to recognize the achievements of women and girls around the world—like all of you amazing entrepreneurs that are here today.

And it also gives us a chance to recommit to advancing the rights of women and girls—in our own countries, and around the world.

We have decades of evidence that when women and girls can participate fully and equally in education, in business, in government, in civil society—in every sphere of public life—then countries are more secure, more peaceful, and more prosperous.

When women are fully able to participate in their societies, we see stronger and more inclusive economic growth—the kind of growth that lifts up poor families and middle-class families alike. We see improvements in security, justice, and the rule of law.

And when women are at the table where decisions are made, we even see improvements in global peace and stability. When women participate in peace negotiations, the resulting peace deals are 35 percent more likely to last 15 years or longer. When the number of women in a national legislature increases by just five percent, that nation also becomes five times more likely to resort to peace to resolve international disputes.

That is why the United States is committed to advancing the rights of women and girls around the world, and to integrating gender equity and equality across all our foreign and domestic policy. We simply cannot build the world we want to see without the full and equal participation, rights, and dignity of women and girls everywhere.

Supporting women entrepreneurs is one of the best tools we have for advancing equality for women and girls. That’s because entrepreneurship equals financial empowerment and financial freedom. When women can start and grow their own businesses, they are less likely to be financially dependent on others in their lives—and that has all kinds of secondary effects.

Financial autonomy for women means less poverty for women and families. It means women have more power to influence decisions in their communities. It means greater recognition across society for women’s capabilities, our leadership, and our humanity.

Morocco has made important strides in recent decades to support women’s rights. In 2004, Morocco’s new family code made significant reforms to advance equality for women and girls. Thanks to the tireless work of women’s rights activists across Morocco, the 2011 revision to the Moroccan constitution recognized that men and women enjoy equal rights. And in 2018, Morocco adopted legislation criminalizing violence against women.

Despite this progress, however, the percentage of Moroccan women in the labor force remains quite low, one of the lowest in the world—and it’s actually lower than it was two decades ago.

Morocco’s New Development Model—a priority of King Mohammed VI—has put increasing women’s participation in the economy at the forefront of Morocco’s strategy for economic growth. The United States wants to support Morocco to reach its goal of increasing women’s participation in the workforce to 45 percent in 2035, up from 22 percent today. We are proud to be a partner to Morocco and Moroccan women in advancing women’s economic opportunity and supporting women entrepreneurs, including through the State Department’s POWER program.

POWER convenes women business leaders and entrepreneurs, in the United States and around the world, to help women develop their professional networks—as you all are doing here today—identify market opportunities, and break down barriers that hold women back economically. I am very glad that the State Department, led by our CDA David Greene, who is here with us today, and our mission here in Morocco were able to leverage the POWER program to support today’s event.

In spite of the progress we’ve made in advancing women’s rights—here in Morocco, at home in the United States, and elsewhere around the world—we have to be humble and acknowledge that there is more work to do. Not a single country has achieved gender equality—including the United States.

As you were told, I am the first woman to serve as Deputy Secretary of State. That took until 2021. I was the first woman to serve as the Undersecretary for Political Affairs. That took until 2011. It is, frankly, crazy that it took so long—but it did.

Now, there are some benefits to having this silver hair that I have. And one of the benefits is that I don’t have to worry quite so much about what people think about me. So if I walk into a meeting or a briefing and I’m the only woman in the room, which happens rather frequently, whether I’m visiting one of our embassies or meeting with a foreign delegation, I say something about it. Sometimes people take it on board, sometimes they dismiss it, often they’re sort of uncomfortable—but I always say something. Because if I don’t, who will?

When I served under President Obama, the top three positions on the National Security Council were all held by women. But men’s voices were still heard differently. In so many meetings, we’d go around the table, and a man would repeat a point one of the women had already made—without acknowledging it. You all have probably had that experience occasionally.

So my colleagues and I started speaking up when this happened. We’d say things like, “I’m so glad you agree with what Lisa just said.”

Now, I don’t know if the men always noticed. But it felt good to have each other’s back. We learned, in other words, that we women were all better off if we stuck together and reinforced and supported each other.

Throughout my career, I’ve benefited from having women mentors and colleagues who I could turn to if I needed to gut-check my reaction to something, to talk through a strategy, or sometimes just to vent, just to complain. Building a network of supportive colleagues is especially helpful when you’re in the minority in your field, in your organization, or in your field of study.

And building your support system is key for preventing burnout. That’s what you all are doing today. Helping each other out. Because let’s face it—it’s often just really hard to be the first, or one of the first, to do what you’re doing. If you can’t look around and see people who look like you in similar positions, it may be hard to imagine how you can get there yourself.

That’s why events like this one today are so important. By coming together as a community, you’re forging the kinds of networks, partnerships, and friendships that will help you achieve your goals and provide an example to younger women who wonder if they can do what you have already done.

We need each other to get through the hard times—to cheer each other’s accomplishments in the good times—and to make connections, suggest resources, and even just to offer a sympathetic ear during all the times in between.

The future is really bright for women entrepreneurs here in Morocco and around the world. So my appeal to you today, very much what this organization is all about, is: don’t stop chasing your goals, your ambitions, your dreams, and your power as leaders. And keep supporting each other. Because we have to stick together.

Thank you again for having me, and happy International Women’s Day.

 

More from: Wendy R. Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State

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