Malala's Vital Lesson for US Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

Byline: John Kerry

ONE of my first meetings as Secretary of State was with a group of courageous women from Burma. Two were former political prisoners, and although they had all endured incredible hardship in their lives, each of them was committed to moving forward -- providing education and training for girls, finding jobs for the unemployed and advocating greater women's participation in civil society. I have no doubt that they will continue to be powerful agents of change, bringing progress to their communities and their country in the years to come.

Opportunities to engage with such remarkable and inspirational individuals reinforce why it is so vital that the United States continues to work with governments, organisations and individuals around the world to protect and advance the rights of women and girls. After all, just like in our own countries, the most pressing economic, social and political problems cannot be solved without the full participation of women.

According to the World Economic Forum, countries where men and women are closer to enjoying equal rights are far more economically competitive than those where the gender gap has left women and girls with limited or no access to medical care, education, elected office, and the marketplace.

Similarly, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that if women farmers had the same access to seeds, fertilizer, and technology as men, it would reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 100 million.

Yet in too many societies and too many homes, women and girls are still undervalued, denied opportunities and forced to marry as children. Too many lives have been lost or altered for ever by gender-based violence. As the father of two daughters, I cannot imagine the pain suffered by the parents of the young woman known as "Nirbhaya", the 23-year-old medical student murdered on a New Delhi bus simply for being a woman, or the anguish felt by the parents of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot by extremists as she too rode on a bus, simply for wanting to go to school.

The outstanding treatment and care Malala has received at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham is a powerful symbol that people across the world stand united against those who want to silence women and girls through intimidation and violence.

I am inspired by Malala's undaunted commitment to her cause, by Nirbhaya's determination, while dying, to bring her assailants to justice, and by their fathers' courage in speaking out on behalf of their daughters and women everywhere. …