Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you. Good morning and welcome to the State Department once again. I am so grateful that all of you have joined us here today for what has become, in our view, one of the most important and special occasions of the year here in Washington. I want to thank my friend and colleague, Ambassador Melanne Verveer who has been, as you know, a tireless champion for women and girls for decades. [Applause.] Melanne and her team have not only made this event such a special occasion year after year, but they have helped put women and girls at the center of everything we do here at the State Department and in the Obama Administration. So thanks again, Melanne. Although, it was left out of her mention of the 7th grade girls that one of them is her granddaughter. So…[laughter]…she is very committed to the next generation, and I thank you for everything you have done and will do.
Now, why is this a special occasion? Well, for one thing, it is the way we mark International Women's Day, to gather leaders and activists, and particularly our honorees here in Washington to recognize their remarkable achievements. And for the fourth year, we are so honored to be joined by the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. [Applause.] Now, I do take a point of personal privilege in talking about the First Lady, because I have just an inkling of what her life is like every day…[laughter]…and I want to publicly thank her for being an inspiration for women and girls and families and communities here in the United States and around the world.
It's always an honor to share a stage with her, and I think it's also a reminder that we have a lot of work to do. It is, of course, about the leadership and the voice of a first lady or a secretary of state, but it is much, much more than that. And what Michelle and I have tried to do in our own ways is to lift up the voices of others, because we want a great crescendo of voices, an international chorus that says clearly and unequivocally that women and girls deserve the same rights and opportunities as their fathers and brothers and sons. And today, we will hear remarkable stories from our honorees. They come from diverse and distant places, but in one important way they all walk the same path. They, too, are working tirelessly for justice. They are working for accountability. They are working for freedom, and they are working tirelessly to improve the lives of women and girls.
Whether pushing for change in the halls of government in the Maldives, the courts of Saudi Arabia; whether making sure women have a voice in Libya's future and a role in Pakistan's government; whether enduring imprisonment or abuse for trying to assist other women and girls at risk, these women, who you will meet today, are all making a difference in the face of adversity, often under the threat of violence that is sometimes hard for those of us here in Washington or across our great country even to imagine. And while we honor them today, we know that tomorrow their work will and must continue so that every woman and girl someday will have the opportunity to live up to her own God-given potential.
As I often say, this isn't just the right thing to do; it is also the smart thing to do. Improving the lives of women improves the lives of their families, strengthens their communities, and does create more opportunities for economic growth and prosperity. We know that investing in women's employment, health, and education levels leads to greater economic growth across a broad spectrum. It also leads to healthier children and a better-educated population overall. We know that political systems that are open to full participation by women produce more effective institutions and more representative governments. And we know that the work that so many of you do will be done day after day as it moves us closer and closer to realizing the vision of equality.
As long as you are on the front lines of this struggle, the United States will be with you, and we will use every tool at our disposal to help you. That's why next week when all of the United States ambassadors from around the world gather here in Washington, I will be issuing the first ever Secretarial policy directive on gender. This guidance…[applause]…this guidance, which complements the recently released USAID gender policy, will instruct our embassies and bureaus to implement specific steps to promote gender equality and advance the status of women and girls in all of our work in order to further both our national security and our foreign policy goals.
Now, this issue is not just a priority here at the State Department or at USAID, but across the Administration, and that is why we are so pleased that the First Lady is here lending her support. She and President Obama have made it absolutely clear that women and girls will be a focus of what we do here at home and around the world.
Last year, Mrs. Obama traveled to South Africa and spoke at a forum for young women leaders from across Africa. And she told those bright, young women that now is the time for their voices to be heard. For them and for so many others, she said that the power was in their hands to help usher in an era when women would no longer be second-class citizens, and they would be able fully to participate in open and accountable government. I cannot think of anyone better to carry that message and to signal America's commitment to advancing the rights and opportunities of women and girls, and I'm so grateful to both President and Mrs. Obama for all they have done to make this a priority.
So please join me in welcoming our First Lady, Michelle Obama.