100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day By D. Brent Hardt, Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean

D. Brent Hardt, Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean

On this 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, it is important to recognize that women globally have made significant gains. Despite the progress, vast inequalities persist. The potential of women to contribute to economic growth and prosperity, social progress, peace, and good governance is still untapped in too many places. Gender-based violence not only destroys the lives of individual girls and women, families, and communities, but also robs the world of the talent it urgently needs.

As the world marks International Women’s Day, Secretary Hillary Clinton will participate in a celebration in Washington, D.C. with First Lady Michelle Obama to announce the International Women of Courage Awards to 10 honorees from around the globe. The recipients represent the women who work in their countries against corruption and injustice, and who fight for human rights, good governance and economic opportunity. They are agents of change. Overcoming poverty, discrimination, and violence, the honorees not only champion the rights of women and girls, but also serve as an inspiration to us all.

For 2011, the Eastern Caribbean boasted one nominee for this prestigious award, Ms. Sheila Roseau, Executive Director of Antigua’s Gender Affairs Directorate. Ms. Roseau will be honored locally by the U.S. Embassy for her work to protect women from violence. She has been a leading advocate for Antigua’s Domestic Violence Prevention Act, established a sexual assault referral center, and lead the charge for legislation to fight trafficking in persons.

If we are to build a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world, we cannot leave half the population behind. We cannot successfully tackle the challenges that confront us in relation to the environment, security, economics, development, and more, if women are not engaged at every level of society.

The U.S. is committed to the empowerment of women not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is the smart thing to do. When women make progress, countries make progress. A mountain of research shows that investments in women correlate positively with alleviating poverty and increasing prosperity. The education of a girl is the most effective development investment that can be made with enormous positive consequences for her future and her family’s future.

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s youth workforce development projects now operate in five of the OECS nations plus Barbados. Young women make up the majority of participants in these projects that offer vocational training, internships, and eventual job placement. The latest project focuses on developing entrepreneurial opportunities for young women and men.

Circumscribing women’s participation and leaving their potential untapped, shortchanges women and shortchanges our world. We vitally need women’s talents, experiences, and leadership. Today we celebrate the contributions of women. Everywhere they are making a difference. Many do so with great courage and often at great personal risk. They are changing the world for the better. Today, we salute all Women of Courage.

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