Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
March 8, 2023
Thank you so much, Meroë, for that kind introduction.
And thank you for not telling how long I’ve spent in the Foreign Service – but I will tell you, it was more than half my life. [Laughter.] But that still doesn’t tell you how many years. [Laughter.] And thank you also, for sharing your story of service and for everything that you have done in your life for women, and what you will do for this new museum and for our country.
Let me thank all of you, for being here tonight to celebrate International Women’s Day and the promise and the progress on the Women’s History Museum.
That progress is so important. Because when I think back on the past year, even as we push for progress, I see an unfortunate pattern. Around the world, women and girls have been under assault. It’s sad and it’s horrifying. But unfortunately, it’s true.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban have banned women from working with NGOs. They have limited half of the population’s ability to participate in public life and in the economy. And they have prevented women and girls from attending secondary school and universities.
Last month, I met a young Afghan refugee whose family had settled in Virginia. She told me how grateful she is to continue her education in the United States, but how painful it is to know that girls in Afghanistan – her cousins and friends – are denied that same opportunity. I promised her that the United States will continue to push back against these archaic attacks on universal human rights.
In Ukraine, women and girls are facing dramatic increases in trafficking and gender-based violence. When I traveled to Kyiv last year, I met with women who had been raped and tortured by Russian forces. The pain etched on their faces is really difficult to put into words. We will not rest – none of us should rest – until Russia, Russia’s forces are held accountable for their atrocities.
In Iran, we have watched the Iranian people – led by courageous women – take to the streets under the banner, “woman, life, freedom.” I saw a video of young students in Karaj taking off their hijabs and shouting, “If we don’t unite, they will kill us one by one.”
If we don’t unite, they will kill us one by one.
All around the world women and girls are taking this lesson to heart.
That includes here at home, too. Today, on International Women’s Day, we must acknowledge that America’s women and girls are also under threat. The Supreme Court’s recent decision took away the established, fundamental, Constitutional right to abortion from millions of Americans.
At the UN, I feel acutely how this decision rendered my own country an outlier among developed nations in the world.
But as President Biden says, and I repeat: the fight is not over. From the Women’s March to the protests that erupted after the Dobbs decision, we are standing up for our rights – rights that we can never-ever take for granted.
And for our part, the entire Biden Administration remains deeply committed to protecting and advancing the rights of women and girls at home as well as around the world, including at the UN and through our foreign assistance. We are working toward building a country and a world where women and girls are equal, and they are included. Where we serve as ambassadors for peace and models of leadership.
To do this work – to come together, to stand up for human rights, and to fight for equality – we need two things: we need education and we need inspiration. Education to teach us what we need to know. And inspiration, gives us the courage to do what’s right.
Throughout my life, I have had the privilege of receiving an excellent education and meeting inspiring role models.
Women like the late Madeleine Albright, who once sat in the same chair that I’m sitting in at the United Nations, and who served as a powerful role model for all of us here in this room.
Women like Liberia’s former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female head of state of Africa.
I’d long admired her from afar – I went to Liberia for the first time in 1978 – that’s a long time ago. And Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was a powerhouse then. She was a Minister in the government. And when there was a coup, she was arrested. And that changed the whole trajectory of her life. And I was delighted when, some 30 years after being in Liberia as a student in the 1970s – in 2008, I was named the first woman to ever serve as Ambassador in Liberia and was able to work with her and to my Danish colleague – with Ellen Løj, who was the Special Representative of the United Nations. And we called ourselves the troika. And we really made a difference in that country.
They say you never get to meet your heroes, but Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was a hero. She was a hero that I met, and she became a friend.
I also think about women like my mother, who raised me without a high school education. She made sure that me and my seven siblings got a great education, and then she got one for herself – she received her G.E.D. in 1989, in her fifties. [Applause.]
There was no prouder moment in our family when we sat in the audience and watched our mother walk across the stage to get her diploma along with 12th graders who were graduating with her.
Now, it is our turn to pass on education, and inspiration, to the next generation.
Fortunately for all of us here, and for all of the women around the world, the Women’s History Museum at the Smithsonian will do just that. It will teach us about our past. It will teach us about our rights. It will teach us about our hard-won, hard-fought-for freedoms. When its doors finally open, it will unlock knowledge for countless visitors and viewers. And the museum will elevate the voices, and the stories, of women and girls who inspire us from all over the world. In fact, you are doing this already by being here in this room today.
Through their online exhibits and through the American Women’s History Initiative, you are sharing and amplifying the histories of our country’s women to children, and learners, and people everywhere. You are telling the stories of women who rallied for our rights, advanced our knowledge, served our country, shaped our history, and touched our hearts – I can’t wait until the museum opens. [Laughter.]
And that can make all the difference – it will make all the difference for young girls to see what they can be, because as a young person, I didn’t see this. I didn’t see Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. And now I know that little girls anywhere in the United States, wherever, from poor families, from wealthy families, disadvantaged families – anywhere in the United States can now see me and see them. [Applause.]
So let us continue to educate. Let us continue to inspire. Let us continue to be role models for this next generation. And let’s do everything we can to lift up women and girls across this country but also around the world.
Thank you very much.