In the early days of World War II, years before I was born, my mother was living in Paris, helping to treat the wounded in Montparnasse. The day before the Nazis entered the city, she escaped on a bicycle, made her way across France, finally reaching Portugal, where she boarded a ship that brought her home to the United States.
Less than a year after she passed away, my brother found a letter she’d sent my father during those days when war was everywhere. It’s a letter that my brother, sisters, and I still cherish. Speaking of the war effort, she wrote simply: “There is something for everyone to do.”
I’ve always thought it was a beautiful expression, and I try to hold onto it in my work as Secretary of State. It’s a reminder that while we’re not all going to solve every problem the world faces, there is something that each of us can do that can make the world a little bit stronger and make even just one life a little bit better.
One of the lessons my mother taught me and my siblings — and which my sister Peggy, particularly, carried on in dedicating her life to global women’s issues — is that there is no greater return on investment than the work to protect and advance the security and fundamental dignity of women and girls around the world.
Placing women at the center of our foreign policy isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also a strategic necessity. Societies where women are safe and empowered to realize their full potential are more stable, prosperous and secure.
The State Department is doing its part. Just look at the progress we’ve made this past year.
Preventing and Responding to Gender-Based Violence
We’ve taken concrete steps to protect women and girls and address gender-based violence at the onset of humanitarian emergencies.
That’s the goal of our Safe from the Start Initiative. And we’re building on our efforts by leading the Call to Action on Protecting Women and Girls in Emergencies.
We’ve also launched the Gender-Based Violence Emergency Response and Prevention Initiative. This public-private partnership between the Department of State, Vital Voices, and the Avon Foundation provides emergency assistance to survivors of extreme acts of GBV.
I’m especially proud of our $10 million commitment to support the goals of the United Kingdom’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. Foreign Secretary Hague and I came together last month to bring greater attention and focus to this issue. And the United States will continue to make protecting and empowering vulnerable populations a top priority on United Nations bodies such as the Commission on the Status of Women, the Commission on Population and Development, and the Human Rights Council.
Women, Peace, and Security
We also know that peace is more durable and societies are more stable when women’s voices are heard at the negotiating tables and in peace building.
The Obama Administration has worked hard to ensure that women are fully represented in peace and security efforts in conflict and post-conflict areas, from Afghanistan to Yemen to Burma.
And in Syria, we’re working with international civil society groups that provide ideas and training on negotiations, mediation and coalition-building. Syrian women can be strong voices for peace and reconstruction, and they need our support.
Advancing Women’s Political and Economic Empowerment
That’s as true when it comes to ending conflicts as it is jumpstarting economies.
I say it all the time: no team can win with half its players on the bench. Believe me, as the proud father of two daughters and as the husband to an extraordinarily accomplished philanthropist and activist, I know the value of playing on that kind of team.
I’m proud of the State Department’s efforts to integrate gender issues in our work across all regions and subject areas. That’s why I launched the Full Participation Fund to support our bureaus and embassies as they advance gender equality through diplomacy and development.
And that’s why we launched the Equal Futures Partnership. The United States is committed to tearing down barriers to women’s political and economic participation. I was proud to join with representatives from 23 other countries at the UN last fall to elevate this important initiative.
President Obama and I firmly believe that as the opportunities for women in all of our countries grow so will the possibility of prosperity, stability and peace throughout the world.
Here at the State Department we are committed to working toward these goals with our partners throughout the Administration, across the private sector, and around the world.
That’s what this is all about. We remember that there is something for everyone to do, that someone else’s life depends on it — and that we all benefit when those lives know a brighter future.
John Kerry is the Secretary of Department of State