Celebrating International Women’s Day

On March 8, we mark the 101st anniversary of International Women’s Day.  In the early years, this day honored those who fought for equal rights for women, including the right to vote, hold public office, and end discrimination.  Today, we observe International Women’s Day to reflect on the progress that has been made, to celebrate the courage and determination of women who have made a difference in their communities and countries, and to focus on the next steps in assuring that women are equal partners in society. 

As Secretary Clinton has stated repeatedly, the major security, governance, environmental, and economic challenges of the 21st century cannot be solved without the participation of women and girls at all levels of society.  I think we can all agree that if women are healthy and educated, their families flourish.  If women are free from violence, their families flourish.  If women have an equal chance to work and earn a fair wage, societies flourish.  And if women serve in governments and their voices are heard at full volume, their presence has a direct impact on society, on peace and security, and on strengthening democracy. 

We can also agree that year after year, we see more and more women assuming prominent roles in all facets of life.  For example, here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, five of the deputy ministers in the new state-level government are women.  However, despite the advances we have seen, the truth is that many women, here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the U.S., and around the world, still face daunting challenges.  Why aren’t there more female leaders in top positions in government and in the political parties?  Why are there so many women in the ranks of the unemployed?  Why do so many women and girls still suffer from domestic violence and rape, and why do so many of the perpetrators get away with at most a slap on the wrist? 

These are some of the tough questions that need a response from our governments and citizens. In December, President Obama released the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, charting a roadmap for how my government will increase support for  campaigns against domestic violence and increasing women’s economic security, and push for ways to increase women’s participation in politics and also help prevent conflict and keep the peace.  Bosnia and Herzegovina developed a similar plan in 2006, and we look forward to intensifying our current efforts with government authorities and the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina to ensure meaningful participation of women in all aspects of society.

Over the past five years, the U.S. government has invested approximately $10 million dollars into women’s political and economic empowerment, and I have asked my staff to find more ways to support the women of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I am honored that my government can support NGOs that work to empower women, help establish closer networks between women entrepreneurs, and encourage young women-politicians as they learn the skills they need to run successful election campaigns.    

Progress never comes as fast as we would like, but we cannot afford to be pessimists.  Our common goal to empower women is a historic effort that will not be achieved overnight.  It will require persistence and long-term commitment, from politicians, civil society activists, educators, students, businesses leaders, and, most importantly, from the new generation of women leaders. 

March 8 is only one day of the year.  I ask what will you do on the other 364 days of the year to improve the participation of women in all aspects of life in Bosnia and Herzegovina?  As a husband and a father of daughters, I say thank you to those who are working to bring change, and I look forward to a day when every individual, regardless of gender or other characteristics, is an equal and valued member of society.