Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues
Washington, DC
March 21, 2012

I want to congratulate each and every one of you for participating in this International Convention that is addressing the role of a national women's machinery for a more equal society for all. I only wish I could be with you in Ankara. And I salute you for marking the 3rd anniversary of the Turkish Grand National Assembly Equal Opportunities Commission.

Ensuring gender equality is a critical goal for our world. It is both the morally right thing to do and also the strategically smart thing to do if we want to advance political, economic and social progress.

It is a reality that still too often decisions are made regarding public policy without tapping the talents, perspectives and experiences of half the population. Public policy decisions affect women and their families, yet how often are their voices silent in the decision making bodies? And, how often are policy decisions made without applying a gender lens to the deliberations? In so doing, we are not only shortchanging women, we are shortchanging our communities, countries and world. Moreover, policies are less effective and results are less successful. So you are to be commended for your commitment to a national women's machinery for a more equal society.

I was in Turkey last year for the "Invest in the Future" conference on women's economic participation that we co-sponsored with our Turkish partner. Businesswomen from across the region came together to improve their skills, grow their networks and learn best practices in overcoming the obstacles that keep women from starting and growing their businesses. Women disproportionately are shut out of markets or networking opportunities; often they confront discriminatory laws and regulations -- in some places they are not able to inherit or own property. Others struggle to access the capital that will enable them to launch a new venture or grown an existing one.

The World Economic Forum does an annual gender gap report that looks at the gap between men and women in a given country on four metrics: health and survivability, access to education, economic participation and political empowerment. What they have found is that in countries where the gap is closer to being closed -- where men and women are closer to being equal -- those countries are far more economically competitive and prosperous. However, in no country is the gap closed.

The World Bank has noted that gender equality is smart economics. If you want to grow economies, women need to have an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce and run small and medium size businesses.

It also means that women farmers -- the majority of small farmers in some countries --- need to have equal access to the tools they need if agricultural productivity is to grow, hunger decrease and nutrition increase. Women are a vital force in the agriculture sector, but all too often are denied equal opportunity to be productive.

So national machineries for a more equal society matter. When women prosper all of society prospers: women and men, girls and boys.

You have made strides in Turkey. For example, you have increased the numbers of women in Parliament from 24 a decade ago to 79 today. You can be proud of the efforts you are making to pass laws to protect women from domestic violence and I know from my conversations with women across the sectors in your country that the work goes on with great commitment, despite the roadblocks that may occur.

As Secretary Clinton has said, "Global progress depends on the progress of women and girls. Democratic institutions cannot thrive and survive without the participation of women. Market economies cannot grow and prosper without the inclusion of women. Societies are not truly free and just with legal protections and rights for women, and nations cannot advance without educated and literate women. Women represent our hope for freedom and democracy, for stability and prosperity, security and peace.”

But it will not happen just for the wishing. You all know that. It can only happen if we remain committed to the struggle for equal rights ------- for women's rights are human rights.

In the Obama Administration, we have made women a key element in our foreign policy and we are working to integrate women's issues across all the work that we do - from economics to matters of security and from development to governance. We are also working to measure our progress - to develop indicators by which we can monitor and evaluate whether we are achieving results.

President Ataturk once said, "A society, a nation consists of men and women. How is it possible to elevate one part of society while neglecting the other half and expect the whole of society to progress?"

His observation rings as true today as they did when he first made them. No nation can possibly hope to move ahead if it is leaving half its people behind. I salute you for all that you are doing to further gender equality -- which has been described (and I believe rightly so) as the great moral imperative of the 21st century.

I wish you all the best and I know that in the months and years to come we will see the blossoming of your efforts. So thank you for all that you do and all that you will do.