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Empowering All Women to Reach Their Full Potential

President Obama has made promoting gender equality and advancing the status of women and girls central to our foreign policy and national security strategy, including by leading by example at home.

Today is International Women’s Day, and I can think of no better way to mark it than with all the different events this week around women’s empowerment.

President Obama has made promoting gender equality and advancing the status of women and girls central to our foreign policy and national security strategy, including by leading by example at home.

A few events this week highlighted the theme of women’s empowerment:

Today, the First Lady attended the International Women of Courage Awards at the Department of State with Secretary Kerry, an annual event that recognizes the incredible strength and courage of women from around the world – women who have stood up for our most basic rights, even when it meant risking their own safety.  The First Lady emphasized that we must not only stand with these women and their efforts, but also use their example as a guide as we work to lift up the women and girls in our own communities. You can learn more about the women here.

This week, I traveled to New York City to participate in two events, on the private sector’s role in women’s equality. and on effective interventions to address intimate partner violence.

The first event focused on how the private sector is working to empower women in the workplace. I had a fireside chat with George Kell, Executive Director of UN Global Compact, the public-private partnership arm of the UN. The event also highlighted the Women’s Empowerment Principles, which offers businesses guidance on how to enable women to reach their full potential in the workplace, marketplace and community.

We had a wonderful and lively conversation about the innovative approaches the private sector is taking to overcome challenges to achieve gender equality in the workplace. These companies know that it’s not only the right thing to do—it also makes for a better bottom line.

The second event, hosted by the U.S. Mission to the United Nations during the annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women, focused on effective prevention and responses to intimate partner violence. Our goal was to come together to find more ways to make sure that a woman suffering from violence in her home has a safe place to sleep at night, a lawyer when she needs protection in court, and an advocate who helps her break free from abuse. 

In addition to the physical and emotional damage, intimate partner violence is also a significant barrier to women reaching their full potential. That’s why intimate partner violence is not just a women’s issue—it’s also an economic issue that affects all of society.  For example, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that domestic violence costs more than $8 billion dollars a year in lost productivity and health care costs alone. 

This event coincided with another landmark event this week: the President’s signing ceremony for the bill that reauthorized and strengthened the Violence Against Women Act.

Yesterday, at the signing, we heard the powerful stories of survivors- Diane and Tye—who inspired us with their strength and determination. Thanks to the VAWA reauthorization, they and so many women with familiar stories will have more access to the resources they need to help heal from the trauma of violence and protect them from violence.

In a statement today, President Obama said, “Empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do.  When women succeed, nations are more safe, more secure, and more prosperous.”

There are still challenges. There’s still work to do. But this week’s events reminded me that we are making progress, both at home and abroad. Together, we can help all women to have the opportunity to reach their full potential.