Reta Jo Lewis
Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs
Paris City Hall
Paris, France
January 31, 2013

Good morning, everyone. Thank you for that kind introduction. It is a pleasure to once again collaborate with Elisabeth Gateau.

I would like to express my appreciation to the city of Paris and to the United Cities and Counties Local (UCLG) Standing Committee on Gender Equality, with the support of the UCLG regional sections and the patronage of UN Women, for sponsoring this forum to examine the role of women in all aspects of 21st century society, and in particular in local decision-making.

I am enthused to participate with my distinguished panelists in this important discussion about the current state of female political leadership and how to ensure that more women are included in decision-making, particularly at the local and regional levels.

I thank the women who are here today who represent local and regional governments for caring so passionately about the status of women around the world and contributing to the global struggle for gender equality.

I serve as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs. I lead an office that is charged with building strategic peer-to-peer relationships between the U.S. Department of State, U.S. state and local officials, and their foreign counterparts around the world.

Secretary Clinton has made it a priority to engage our subnational leaders and utilize them as an extraordinary source of innovation, talent, resources, and knowledge. After all, it is the states and cities that are the engines of growth at the ground level where the transition from policy to practice becomes most visible.

U.S. state and local leaders are trusted partners in the Department of State’s 21st century diplomacy as we strive to make America more competitive in the global marketplace. Today’s subnational leaders are the global leaders of tomorrow. We strive to leverage our resources and relationships to support economic development at home and abroad and to build stable, secure, and prosperous societies.

Building peer-to-peer relationships and encouraging this engagement at the subnational level has limitless potential. Building peer-to- peer relationships gives state and local leaders around the globe an intimate glance into the American way of life, and more importantly, into our democratic institutions and system of governance. Even at a more basic, but equally important level, these interactions develop trust – an attribute essential to developing strong bilateral ties.

Stepping back to take a look at the data on women leaders at the U.S. state and local level, it is clear that much work remains to be done:

o In 2013, only 5 U.S. governors are women;

o Only 12 women serve as mayors of the 100 largest U.S. cities;

o And, only 1,769 women serve in state legislatures (or 24% of 7,383 seats).

These statistics point to a real problem – clearly women are facing obstacles to reaching high-level state and local executive offices. And, until we meet this challenge at the subnational level, women will never achieve equal representation in nationally elected office.

Secretary Clinton has said that the empowerment of women in business and government represents “perhaps the most consequential long-term opportunity to promote sustainable development, democracy, and economic growth.”

Embracing this vision, my office works closely with the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues led by Ambassador at Large Melanne Verveer. In addition, we collaborate on the advancement of the status of women and girls with governors, mayors, and other state and local officials individually and through our work with organizations such as the National Governors Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Secretary Clinton also has said that “in the 21st century, the most important players in international affairs will be the ones who make things happen, who get results.” State and local officials are the leaders in policy implementation and thus we view them as partners in addressing our global challenges.

Even more important than their role is their make-up. Although women account for more that 50 percent of the global population, they hold only 20 percent of parliamentary seats throughout the world. It is essential for governing bodies around the globe to be inclusive and representative. To put it simply, women must be a voice for their communities, states, and nations.

I look forward to engaging in dialogue with you today as we discuss ideas to ensure that the participation of women in decision-making in politics, economy, financial, and human development becomes a global priority in the 21st century.