It is a great privilege to stand here before you on the stage of the largest women’s university in the world. And I came to – (applause) – this university as a matter of destiny, because you see, Ewha and I share a connection. (Cheers and applause.) I am a Methodist, my family on my father’s side comes from Scranton, Pennsylvania – (applause) – and I must say that Wellesley College is a sister college for Ewha University. (Applause.) So being an honorary fellow seems right at home today.
I also note that in this audience are some Korean-American friends from New York and California. There are several Wellesley graduates whom I met backstage as well – (applause) – and an extraordinary number of talented young women, faculty members, and administrators.
Learning about this great university and the role that you have played in advancing the status of women made me think about so many of the women throughout history who are inspirations to me: Madame Scranton, someone who started teaching one young woman, and from her dedication and hard work came this university; Eleanor Roosevelt, a pioneering First Lady of the United States and a voice for democracy around the world, and one of the driving forces behind the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. Now, that was more than 50 years ago, but just a few weeks ago, one of Korea’s most accomplished leaders, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, called on all nations worldwide to push for more progress on women’s equality. And I want to thank the Secretary General – (applause) – because he said that women’s empowerment is the key to progress in developing nations.
People who think hard about our future come to the same conclusion, that women and others on society’s margins must be afforded the right to fully participate in society, not only because it is morally right, but because it is necessary to strengthen our security and prosperity.
Before I came out on stage, I met a number of young women who are in political office here in the Republic of Korea, and I hope I was looking at a future president of this great nation. (Applause.)
As you think about your own futures, keeping in mind security and prosperity and the role that each of us must play, is essential because of the urgent global challenges we face in the 21st century. We need all of our people’s talents to be on the very forefront of setting a course of peace, progress, and prosperity; be it defending our nations from the threat of nuclear proliferation and terror, or resolving the global climate crisis or the current economic crisis, and promoting civil society, especially women’s rights and education, healthcare, clean energy, good governance, the rule of law, and free and fair elections. All of these matters speak to our common desire to make a nation that is safe and strong and secure.
More than half a century ago, this university became the first to prepare women for professions that were formerly reserved for men, including medicine, law, science, and journalism. At about the same time, your government wrote women’s equality into your constitution and guaranteed protections for women in employment. And there have been other rights and protections for women encoded in Korean law in subsequent decades.
These advances coincided with Korea’s transformation from an undeveloped nation to a dynamic democracy, a global economic power, and a hub of technology and innovation. The inclusion of women in the political and economic equation, calling on those talents and contributions from the entire population, not just the male half, was essential to the progress that this country has made.
As I have been on this first trip as Secretary of State, I have visited Japan and Indonesia, and tomorrow I will be in China. I was very impressed by my visit to Indonesia, a young democracy that is demonstrating to the world that democracy, Islam, modernity, and women’s rights can coexist. I met elected women officials. I met high appointed members in the foreign ministry and other cabinet positions in the government. It would be hard to imagine the progress that Indonesia has made in the last ten years, moving from a stagnant autocracy to a burgeoning democracy, without women being part of the reason.
And on Sunday, I’ll meet with women in China to hear about their efforts to improve opportunities for themselves in their own country, another reason why women have to lead the way if there’s going to be higher standards of living, a healthier population, and an actively engaged citizenry.
But no country has yet achieved full equality for women. We still have work to do, don’t we? And just a few weeks ago, President Obama signed into law a new provision protecting women from salary discrimination, a step that was overdue. So there is a lot ahead of us to ensure that gender equality, as President Lee mentioned, becomes a reality. And we also need to remain vigilant against a backlash that tries to turn the clock back on women and human rights, countries where leaders are threatened by the idea of freedom and democracy and women are made the scapegoats. The abuses of women under the Taliban are horrific reminders that just as women had been central to progress in countries like ours, the reverse can happen as well.
Some of you may have seen the news reports some weeks ago of young girls in Afghanistan who were so eager to go to school, and every day they went off with a real light in their eyes because they were finally able to learn. And one day, a group of these young girls were assaulted by a group of Taliban men who threw acid on them because they had the desire to learn. We have to remain vigilant on behalf of women’s rights.
We see this kind of suppression in different forms in different places. In Burma, the valor of Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous struggle for freedom of expression and conscience. To the North, 70 percent of those leaving North Korea in search of a better life are women, a sad commentary on the conditions in their own country.
So part of my message during this trip and part of my mission as Secretary of State is that the United States is committed to advancing the rights of women to lead more equitable, prosperous lives in safe societies. I view this not only as a moral issue, but as a security issue. I think that it’s imperative that nations like ours stand up for the rights of women. It is not ancillary to our progress; it is central.
In 1995, when I went to the United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing and said that women’s rights were human rights, and human rights were women’s rights, people were so excited. But that to me was almost a sad commentary that we had to say something so obvious toward the end of the 20th century.
So here we are in the 21st century, and every day we make progress, but we can’t be complacent. We have to highlight the importance of inclusion for women. We have to make clear that no democracy can exist without women’s full participation; no economy can be truly a free market without women involved.
I want to use robust diplomacy and development to strengthen our partnerships with other governments and create collaborative networks of people and nongovernmental organizations to find innovative solutions to global problems – what we call smart power.
Today, I’ve come to this great women’s university to hear your thoughts about the future. The other night in Tokyo, I had the privilege to listen to students at Tokyo University, and I came away not only impressed by their intelligence and the quality of their questions, but encouraged by their concern about the future that lay ahead and what each of them wanted to do to make it better.
Today, I’ve held bilateral meetings with your president, your prime minister, and your foreign minister. We have discussed issues like the need to continue the Six-Party Talks to bring about the complete and verifiable denuclearization in North Korea, and how we can better coordinate not only between ourselves, but regionally and globally, on the range of issues that confront us. But in each meeting, we took time to reflect about how far this country has come.
Back in the early 1960s, there were a series of studies done where different groups were looking at nations around the world, trying to calculate which ones would be successful at the end of the 20th century. And many commentators and analysts thought that the chances for the Republic of Korea were limited. But that wasn’t the opinion of the people of Korea. And so for 50 years, you have built a nation that is now assuming a place of leadership in the world, respected for the vibrant democracy, for the advances across the board in every walk of life. And it is a tribute to your understanding of what it takes to make progress at a time of peril and uncertainty.
The relationship between the United States and Korea is deep and enduring, and it is indispensible to our shared security. Without security, children can’t even imagine their futures and may not have the potential to actually live up to their talents. Our two countries have joined together as a force for peace, prosperity, and progress. Korean and American soldiers have served shoulder-to-shoulder in so many places around the world.
We know that the most acute challenge to stability and security in Northeast Asia is the regime in North Korea, and particularly its nuclear program. It bears repeating that President Obama and I are committed to working through the Six-Party Talks. We believe we have an opportunity to move those forward and that it is incumbent upon North Korea to avoid provocative actions and unhelpful rhetoric toward the people and the leaders of the Republic of Korea. Remember that the North Korean Government committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and returning at an early date to the Treaty of Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
And I make the offer again right here in Seoul: If North Korea is genuinely prepared to completely and verifiably eliminate their nuclear weapons program, the Obama Administration will be willing to normalize bilateral relations, replace the peninsula’s longstanding armistice agreement with a permanent peace treaty, and assist in meeting the energy and other economic and humanitarian needs of the Korean people.
Also essential to our shared security and prosperity is a resolution to the global economic crisis. Korea and the United States have both benefited from a strong economic relationship, and your leaders and I today discussed ways we can develop that relationship further. We are going to work on a vision of a much more comprehensive strategic relationship. We want more partnerships to bring not just government leaders together, but business and professional and academic and political and people-to-people. We want to work with Korea so that both of us will be leaders in getting at the root causes of global climate change and vigorously pursuing a clean energy agenda. And I applaud your country for being a global leader in this area, and for calling on the ingenuity and skills of the Korean people to promote green technologies that will create jobs and protect our planet and enhance our security.
Students here at Ewha have a long and proud tradition of engagement with the world. And you have the talent and the training to help shape that world. It may not be always obvious what you can do to make a difference, so do what you love. Do what gives you meaning. Do what makes life purposeful for you. And make a contribution.
I don’t know that Mary Scranton, who founded this university teaching one student in her home, could have ever dreamed of where we would be today. But that’s often the way life is. I never could have dreamed that I could be here as the Secretary of State of the United States either. (Applause.) You have to be willing to prepare yourselves and as you are doing to take advantage of the opportunities that arise, to find cooperative ways to work with others to promote the common good, and then follow your dreams. You may not end up exactly where you started out heading toward, but with your education and with the opportunities now available in your country, there is so much that you can do. And I know that you will be well-equipped to make your contribution that will contribute to the peace and prosperity and progress and security, not only of Korea, but of the region and the world that needs and is waiting for your talents.
Thank you all and God bless you. (Applause.)