Hillary Clinton paid tribute to the role of women in international security and delivered harsh words for President Donald Trump last week. In her remarks at the annual Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards for Advancing Women in Peace and Security, the former Senator, Secretary of State and presidential candidate called the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to international development, health and diplomacy a “grave mistake for our country.”
Scroll past the video below for a full transcript of the remarks.
Good morning! Thank you! Thank you so much. Wow, let’s do that again.
This warm, warm welcome is one of the many reasons that I always appreciate coming to this campus, to this great university. And I am so pleased to have a chance to talk with you today about an issue that, as President DeGioia said, is one that has really provided the impetus for a lot of the work that is being done here at the university, particularly in the institute that has been the first of its kind anywhere in the world studying women and security and the contributions that can be made.
And I’m grateful to President DeGioia’s visionary leadership and to this university for your commitment to nurturing diplomats, peacemakers and leaders. I am one of those who thinks we need more peacemakers, diplomats and leaders who are devoted to the ongoing and difficult work of bridging divides, of bringing people together, of trying to find common ground.
Now, some of you may have been here back in 2011 when we announced the creation of this institute. It came about for an ultimately profoundly simple reason. About a decade earlier, there had been a landmark resolution passed in the UN Security Council affirming women’s crucial roles in peace and security. But the promise of that resolution has, with very few exceptions, remained largely unfulfilled. This is something that I talk often about with my close friend and predecessor, Secretary Madeleine Albright, who bleeds blue and gray.
Because we thought back in the ‘90s that we needed to do more to elevate the rights and opportunities of women and girls on every level—obviously, education and health and economic opportunity, but also to unleash the potential for involvement in ending conflicts, in creating more secure environments for all people to live in and thrive. So on that day, back in 2011, we came here to Georgetown to declare that the issue of women’s full participation in peace and security could no longer be relegated to the margins of international affairs.
I believed then —and, I have to tell you, I believe even more fiercely today—that advancing the rights and full participation of women and girls is the great, unfinished business of the 21st century.
It seems self-evident. It’s not only the right and moral goal for us to be pursuing. After all, women represent half of humanity, and we do have a fundamental right to participate in the decisions that shape our lives. But—and this is what I want to really impress upon you—this is strategic and necessary for matters of peace, prosperity and security. It is not a partisan issue. It’s a human issue. A rising tide of women’s rights lifts entire nations. So each year, when I’ve had the chance to come back for these awards, I am inspired, although increasingly not surprised to see how far this institute has come. Georgetown is very fortunate, in my highly biased opinion, to have my dear friend, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, at the helm and backed up fully by the leadership of the university because the leaders — as President DeGioia just read out—that you’ve recognized, women and men alike, have come from different backgrounds, certainly different countries, but united in the belief that women are not only victims of war, but must be viewed and helped to become agents of change, makers of peace and drivers of progress.
That was the principle behind our efforts at the State Department in the first term of President Obama. We wanted to set a standard, and I’m proud of it because I do see it as strategic and necessary. Not just a nice thing to do on the margins somewhere deep in the bowels of the State Department, but front and center. Because standing up for the rights and opportunities of women and girls must be a cornerstone of American global leadership. And therefore, it must be woven throughout our foreign policy with the resources, staffing, accountability and attention needed to back up that commitment.
What I was very pleased by and excited to know is how the U.S. military also recognizes the role of women in peace and security. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working alongside and standing beside some of our military leaders right on this stage. Admiral Sandy Winnefeld, former vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michèle Flournoy, former undersecretary for defense for policy, helped to put new emphasis on stopping rape and gender-based violence in conflict zones and post-conflict areas and empowering women to help make and keep peace.
This is especially important now, when we have, across the globe, more than 60 million refugees fleeing not only conflicts, but famine and drought and disease. And we have to come to terms with that because, again, it’s not just somebody else’s problem. It will affect the stability of nations and regions, which in turn, could very well bring problems, whether it be conflict and terrorism or disease and criminal activity to our shores. Global progress depends on the progress of women. I know we’ve seen positive results of that theme being actually implemented ever since the U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995. But I’m here also to say we are seeing signals of a shift that should alarm us all. This administration’s proposed cuts to international health, development and diplomacy would be a blow to women and children and a grave mistake for our country. Some of you may have seen the recent letter from more than 120 retired generals and admirals to Congress and the administration, urging the Congress and the White House not to retreat from these programs, which represent our values. These distinguished men and women who served in uniform recognize that turning our back on diplomacy won’t make our country safer. It will undermine our security and our standing in the world.
Defense Secretary Mattis said it well when he said, “If you cut funds to the State Department, that means he has to buy more ammunition.” So the work that is done here at this institute, here at Georgetown, making the evidence-based case for the role of women and peace in security is incredibly important. It’s always mattered, but today, it’s even more critical. As this institute has grown, so too has the body of evidence showing that when women participate in peacemaking and peacekeeping, we are all safer and more secure. Studies show —here I go again, talking about research, evidence and facts.
But in fact, when women are included in peace negotiations, agreements are less likely to fail and more likely to last. And we know that women’s rights and physical safety are often the very first targets of fundamentalists. We also know that women are often the first to spot conflict on the horizon, coming their way. And when their insight and information is ignored, it often leads to consequences that might have been averted. At a time when sexual violence continues to be used as a strategy by terrorist groups, when women are being recruited by ISIS and Boko Haram, evidence suggests leaders who want to do more to guard against terrorism and violence should work even harder to help support and enable the participation of women. Now, before anybody jumps to any conclusions, I will state, clearly, women are not inherently more peaceful than men. That is a stereotype. That belongs in the alternative reality.
But, history does show that when women are at the peace table, they bring together coalitions, and they work really hard to build consensus. And they are the ones most likely to shine a bright light on issues of human rights, transitional justice, national reconciliation and economic renewal. I’ve seen this. Over the years, I worked with the women of Northern Ireland and watched as they reached across sectarian divides to forge a lasting peace.
And when that process started back in the ‘90s, who would have ever predicted that Martin McGuinness, who just passed away, would ever shake hands with Queen Elizabeth? We’ve seen the women of Liberia force an end to a bloody civil war. If you’ve never seen the movie Pray the Devil Back to Hell, I highly recommend it because it shows, in very personal ways, the points that I am making from this podium today. The women of Liberia went to where the men had been talking about ending the conflict for weeks and weeks, a hotel in Ghana. They surrounded it, and they would not leave. They wouldn’t let those who had met to negotiate the peace out of a window or a door until they came to agreement. And then, of course, they ended up electing Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the first woman president on the continent of Africa.
I have seen women in the Democratic Republic of Congo survive the most horrific, almost unimaginable abuse and cruelty and then summon the resilience to rebuild and help others go on. In Colombia, which you will hear much more about in a few minutes, a country whose trajectory I have followed intently for years, we’ve seen women organize, agitate and negotiate to help bring to a close more than 50 years of bloodshed. While conflict raged and efforts to stop the violence failed, women not only took their places at the table, they opened up the peace process to women across Colombia and urged over and over again that all parties not walk away until they reached an agreement.
So if we are to build more just, free and peaceful countries and indeed a world, it’s not enough just to pay lip service to empowering women. We have to take seriously their concerns and give them the tools to be equal partners in helping to shape the world they inhabit. The leaders we are honoring here today have seen that firsthand. From Humberto de la Calle, the rock of the peace negotiations in Havana. Yes, a round of applause for Humberto. María Paulina Riveros, one of two women appointed to represent the Colombian government in the talks. Elena Ambrosi, who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes, like so many women, to help make peace a reality. And Jineth Bedoya Lima, a journalist who continued her pursuit of the truth and her advocacy for victims of sexual violence in the face of her own horrors.
Now like so many peace agreements, as hard as it was to get to it after 50 years of war, it is just the first step. Implementing peace will be a constant task. As hard as it is to imagine letting go of the peace that is so hard-won, there will be forces at work in the country from all sides to undermine it, to act as if it didn’t apply to them. To do everything possible to prevent it from becoming the reality in the lives of Colombians that it can be. Yes, the work will require difficult decisions, transitional justice and economic viability. But peace is truly within reach.
So, from peace processes, like the one we celebrate today, to important steps that nations and institutions are taking to recognize the role of women in confronting violent extremism and addressing climate change and standing up against terrorism and conflicts of all kinds, we’ve got to continue this work. And I am pleading that our government will continue its leadership role on behalf of peace in the world because the world must continue this work with or without U.S. involvement.
And the choice is ours to make. In this complicated, interconnected, interdependent world of ours, it’s not as though you can pick one or two, three things that you say, “Well, that’s all I’m going to work on.” Events move too quickly. Borders dissolve in the face of pressures. The great connectivity of the internet can spawn both opportunity and despair. So we have to ask, will we be left behind or will we continue to lead the way? I hope the answer is that we will do whatever it takes to make our country and the world stronger and more secure. Standing up for our values, for human rights, and opportunities, security for all. And continuing to finish the business of making sure that girls and women have the same rights as men and boys. And by extending and guaranteeing those rights, unleashing human potential, the likes of which the world has never seen. That is what I hope your generation, students of Georgetown, will be committed to actually making a reality.