Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
International Women's Day Luncheon
Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C.
March 8, 2010
Good Afternoon, buenas tardes.
It is a pleasure to be with you this afternoon to mark International Women's Day.
Thank you, Tim Wirth, for that kind introduction and to Will Davis at the UN Information Center Washington, Pat Ellis at the Women's Foreign Policy Group, and the UN Foundation for making today's event possible.
I would like to thank all those who work at non-government and international organizations and in civil-society, the Executive Branch and the diplomatic community who have joined us to observe this very important day.
Let me just start off by saying how proud I am to be part of the Obama Administration and to serve my country as the Secretary of Labor. And I am proud to be part of an administration dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls, both at home and abroad.
I'm also honored to work among an extraordinary group of women leaders in this administration including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Melanie Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, and Tina Tchen, Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.
I am proud to say that throughout my career I have been committed to improving the lives of women and girls, both in the U.S. and abroad. I entered public life to improve opportunities for families like mine, hard working families that wanted a better life for their children.
While in the California State Assembly and State Senate, I authored 17 bills to prevent domestic violence, and championed labor, education, and health care issues.
And I served as the former Co-Chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues while serving as a member of Congress.
I grew up in a time when graduating from high school was an accomplishment, and expectations of young women were very low... especially for women of color.
I remember my high school guidance counselor telling me that I was best suited for a career as a secretary... an office assistant to be exact. Well, he has right after all. I ended up as a Secretary, but not quite the one he had in mind.
You must know that I am a product of the women's movement... the social justice movement... and the civil rights movement.
I come from a home that valued hard work and taught me to provide a lending hand to your neighbor when they are in need.
And being a child of those movements, what I see today is how far we have come, but I also see how much farther we still have to go to support women and girls here at home and abroad.
I think of the several women I have met in my travels across the country. Women who have lost theirs job in this current economic crisis. These are women who are trying to feed and clothe their children without a guaranteed income, or without a doctor to see because they have lost health their insurance. That's the crisis we face here at home.
Then, I think of hundreds of women and girls who have been brutally murdered in Ciudad Juarez, just minutes from the U.S. border, and the many young women that face a daunting future.
And on the other side of the world, I think of a young girl in Africa. She could well be the first girl in her family to go to school. She could be allowed to go to school only because her parents know that she will be fed there, by the UN's World Food Program.
These days she will be encouraged to attend school Monday through Thursday, because on Friday she will receive a bonus ration to take home to her family.
I see such progress in that child, but we must ask, what is our responsibility to ensure she has a quality education and live up to her full potential? As individuals and as a country, how can we support her?
The short answer is, we support her and the millions of women and girls that are struggling for their equal rights and their dignity here at home and aboard by not forgetting them in our every day work, but commemoration and acknowledgment is not enough. We need tangible progress.
Let me outline a few areas where we are working to make a difference in the lives of women and girls across the globe.
In September 2000, world leaders gathered at UN headquarters to support women and girls and to fight poverty through the Millennium Development Goals.
Although they include goals like halting the spread of HIV/AIDS to providing universal primary education, the third goal, in particular, addresses gender equity, which can move half the world's population in the right direction.
Every day, millions of girls can't go to school. Mothers are stuck in low-paying jobs with little chance to advance.
While women are slowly gaining ground in political decision-making, progress is inconsistent. The best weapon to fight poverty is to make sure women have the resources and opportunity to raise themselves out of the vicious cycle of poverty.
We must work across many fields to ensure equality and opportunity, in the workplace, in schools and in every community worldwide.
We can start by looking at the challenges we face here at home.
During these tough economic times, more and more women are becoming the primary breadwinners for their families.
And even though women have made great strides in education and in the job market, we need to take a closer look at the realities.
As Labor Secretary, I am committed to restoring protections against pay discrimination and promoting programs to advance women in the workforce.
Here in the U.S., women make up nearly half of the labor force, but we still hold a majority of low-wage jobs and hold very few positions at the top. An astonishing 59% of low-wage workers are women, and women make up 67% of the part-time workforce.
Millions of working women don't have one, single, paid sick day!
We still face unchecked discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
And the recession has again brought to light long-standing disparities in employment status among racial and ethnic groups.
This is unacceptable to me and to our President.
And while we are working to help American families get back on their feet, this Administration is making investments in women and girls, at home and aboard, a priority.
The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring basic protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers.
The President also created the White House Council on Women and Girls, and is making global women's empowerment a core pillar of our foreign policy.
He created the first Office for Global Women's Issues at the State Department and his Administration is working with the United Nations and other international institutions to support women's equality.
During his trip to Egypt, the President underscored the importance that the United States places on women's rights and education.
President Obama affirmed that “A woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.”
Last year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton chaired a United Nations Security Council Session to adopt a strong resolution to end sexual violence against women and children in conflict-related situations. The resolution, drafted by the United States, outlines actions the UN and member states can take to help prevent conflict-related sexual violence and end impunity.
Also, the Obama Administration has once again joined the community of nations contributing to the UN Population Fund.
Among other important tools to help advance women's rights, President Obama's administration views the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women as a powerful tool for making gender equality a reality. We are committed to U.S. ratification of the Convention and look forward to joining the countries that have adopted it as a central part of their efforts to ensure that human rights are enjoyed fully and equally by all people.
And I am proud to say that my Department is doing all it can to support women here at home.
The Department of Labor's Women's Bureau, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary, is the agency of the federal government specifically tasked with helping to improve the lives of working women.
The Women's Bureau is working to help improve the lives of women and one way in particular is through economic security and financial literacy.
Through free classes online, as well as in a classroom setting, women can learn about everything from how to apply for unemployment insurance, to how to buy a home, to planning for their retirement.
And as we transition to a green economy, we need to also make sure our mothers, sisters and daughters are included in the green revolution.
This means we need to encourage women and girls to pursue careers in math and science areas where we are incredibly underrepresented, and it means training women for "non-traditional" jobs.
Since families are depending more and more on working women's wages it is more important now than ever that we:
- Encourage and support more young women in non-traditional and science, technology, engineering, math and health fields;
- Demand fair and equitable wages and work to close the pay gap;
- Reject discrimination and harassment in the workplace; and
- Provide flexible workplace and leave options that reflect the reality of today's labor force, including paid family leave, child care benefits and support services.
All of these issues are important to advancing the rights of women and American families in the workplace.
And working abroad, we must increase knowledge and information on child labor, forced labor and combating human trafficking.
The Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking is part of the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB). The office provides research on international child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking; provides funding; and oversees cooperative agreements and contracts with organizations engaged in efforts to eliminate exploitive child labor around the world.
The office also assists in the development and implementation of U.S. government policy on international child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking issues.
Last summer, I joined the International Labor Organization's observance of World day Against Child Labor, which was focused on girls escaping the worst forms of child labor. It marked the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the ILO's Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The United States was one of the first 169 countries to ratify this convention.
Since that time, the U.S. has been a leader in supporting global efforts to combat child labor.
We have also demonstrated our commitment to combating child labor by including adherence to international child labor standards as an eligibility criterion for our trading partners.
I would like to share with you a special video presentation that the Department of Labor put together on our work to combat child labor. Please view the screens for the video.
We must be the voices for children who cannot speak for themselves, and commit ourselves to ending exploitive child labor through universal education.
And the work performed by girls is often done in the shadows, tucked away from public view.
Given the hidden nature of some of the forms of work where girls toil including domestic service and commercial sexual exploitation it can be extremely difficult to collect accurate and reliable data on the numbers of girls affected and their working conditions. Also, we know that girls who work in hidden forms of child labor are more vulnerable to extreme exploitation and abuse.
And it can be far more difficult to rescue these girls and provide them with the services they need to turn their lives around.
Girls in child labor often carry an extra burden working outside their homes while also being expected to spend long hours on chores in their own homes, including caring for younger siblings.
I want to focus on three key facets of our efforts to stop exploitive child labor.
First education. Spending resources to educate girls is one of the best investments a country can make in their economic future. We know that mothers who have received the benefits of education are far more likely to send their own children to school than those who did not receive schooling.
Education is a key tool for breaking the cycle of child labor and poverty, and societies that do not invest in the education of their girls (and boys) do so at their own peril.
Second poverty. While accepting that education is a vital necessity, we also need to find effective ways for parents to overcome the grinding poverty that may cause them to choose work over school for their children.
Third, and lastly, awareness. To maintain the momentum of efforts that are bringing about change, we need to raise awareness about how child labor negatively affects children, limiting their future potential and that of our collective societies.
I am proud to announce that last year, the Department of Labor provided close to $60 million for projects to combat child labor globally. This is just a start and the Department of Labor plans to do more!
On behalf of the President of the United States, I would like to thank each of you for the work you do each day to improve the lives of people around the world.
Whether it is promoting gender equality and empowering women, combating human trafficking, feeding the hungry, improving maternal health, eradicating extreme poverty, or reaching out in a time of need to those affected by terrible natural disasters like we most recently witnessed in Haiti and Chile.
Know that we stand together united in addressing some of the world's most pressing needs including helping women receive equal rights, and equal opportunities throughout the world.
History has always shown us that when women work together and advocate for a common purpose, we can advance our common well-being and strengthen our families, our country, and our world.
Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity men and women to reach their full potential.
Let's seize this moment, because now is the time to stand together.
That's the President's commitment, and it's my commitment.
Thank you. Muchísimas gracias.