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International Women's Day 2012: Honoring Women in an Age of Participation

By Ambassador Alfonso E. Lenhardt (March 8, 2012)
Alfonso E. Lenhardt, Ambassador of the United States of America to the United Republic of Tanzania (Photo: U.S. Embassy, Dar es Salaam)

Alfonso E. Lenhardt, Ambassador of the United States of America to the United Republic of Tanzania.

Promoting and ensuring the rights of women and girls is one of my highest priorities as U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania. No nation which seeks to advance can do so without the immense talents and contributions of women. That tenet holds true worldwide - just as relevant for the United States of America as well as for the United Republic of Tanzania.

Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton has noted that "What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations will flourish." These words have particular relevance as we celebrate International Women's Day around the world and as we continue to make strides for women's progress.

On December 10th, 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three extraordinary women who have led the fight for human rights and democracy in their home countries - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. Their achievement signifies recognition on the world stage of the essential role that women must play in the hard work of building peace and sustainable communities in the 21st century.

Also in December 2011, President Obama released the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, charting a roadmap for how the United States will accelerate and institutionalize efforts across the government to advance women's participation in preventing conflict and keeping peace. This initiative represents a fundamental change in how the U.S. will approach its diplomatic, military, and development-based support to women in areas of conflict, by ensuring that their perspectives and considerations of gender are woven into the fabric of how the United States approaches peace processes, conflict prevention, the protection of civilians, and humanitarian assistance.

This International Women's Day, Secretary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama will host the 6th annual International Women of Courage Awards, honoring 10 remarkable women from around the world. These women have shown exceptional bravery and leadership in advocating for women's rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk. Their stories represent just a few of the emerging leaders found in every corner of the world.

Yet, as we rightfully honor achievements, we must also be reminded that International Women's Day is an opportunity to renew the call for action, investment, and commitment to women's equality. We are at a moment of historic opportunity. Secretary Clinton has referred to this era as "the Participation Age." This is a time where every individual, regardless of gender or other characteristics, is poised to be a contributing and valued member of their society.

Around the world, we are witnessing examples of the Participation Age. Here in Tanzania many women work tirelessly to promote the rights of women and girls. They are true heroes whose efforts make a real difference in countless lives.

One such example is Maimuna Kanyamala, the U.S. Embassy's 2011 Tanzanian Woman of Courage recipient, promotes women's rights in Tanzania as Executive Director and founder of Kivulini Women's Rights Organization in Mwanza. Ms. Kanyamala has advocated for women's rights with special emphasis on mobilizing communities to prevent violence against women and girls in the Lake Victoria Region.

Justa Mwaituka, the 2004 recipient of the U.S. Embassy's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major for Justice Award, promotes the rights of women and girls as KIWOHEDE center director. Her NGO leads efforts on behalf of girls education, exploited women and children, and against domestic violence, sexual abuse, and trafficking in persons has served over 2,000 women and children funded throughout Tanzania. She provides these services through private sector and individual support with a mission to improve women and girls' socio-cultural, economic, and living conditions.

These are just two examples of women leaders. I have also had the honor of meeting women private sector leaders who have applied lessons learned at the FORTUNE 500/U.S. State Department Global Women's Mentoring Partnership Program to empower Tanzanian women. This program offers aspiring women professionals across the globe the opportunity to draw on the knowledge and expertise of America’s most accomplished corporate leaders. Tanzanian alumni have returned to promote philanthropy and invest in Tanzanians by offering young women opportunities to serve internships in their companies, thereby grooming a new generation of women entrepreneurs. Their example makes Tanzanian women and girls proud, and demonstrates a commitment to give back generously to others who need that first chance to succeed.

Women are a cornerstone of America's foreign policy because the simple fact is that no country can hope to move ahead if it is leaving half of its people behind. Women and girls drive our economies. They build peace and prosperity. Investing in them means investing in global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for everyone-the world over.

As we honor them today, let us renew our resolve to work for the cause of equality each and every day of the year.

Alfonso E. Lenhardt is the Ambassador of the United States of America to the United Republic of Tanzania