Your Excellencies, Friends, Ms. Sukhudyan: It’s wonderful to see all of you here tonight. And I thank you for joining us on this special evening.
The very first thing that I’d like to say is: Please join me in congratulating all the women in attendance on the occasion of International Women’s Day!
Tonight’s event is important to me, as a diplomat and as a woman. Tonight, we continue our celebration of International Women’s Day with the presentation of the Embassy’s first ever “Women of Courage Award.” This award recognizes an Armenian woman who has demonstrated exceptional courage, innovation, and leadership in the pursuit of equality, opportunity, and justice.
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, “Today, the United States is making women a cornerstone of foreign policy, because we think it’s the right thing to do, but we also believe it’s the smart thing to do as well. Investing in the potential of the world’s women and girls is one of the surest ways to achieve global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for women — and men — the world over. ” We simply cannot solve the global problems confronting us when half the world’s population is left behind and when half the world’s population is not engaged in coming up with the solution.
Just like in much of the rest of the world, in Armenia, women make up approximately 52 percent of the population. And as elsewhere, as one goes higher up in both business and government, there are fewer and fewer women represented. In Armenia, women constitute only 9% of the National Assembly — yet at the same time, women make up 62% of workers in the lowest paid, non-managerial positions in government.
Armenian women are capable, hard workers. We need them as business leaders and in the NGO sector, so Armenia can fully develop and prosper. Armenian women are committed, practical and yet idealistic. We need these talented women to become actively involved in public life, because when women lead, things get done. I’d remind you of the words of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who commented, half in jest, “In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”
Without the actions, the ideas, the voices of enough women in leadership positions, countries — whether it is the U.S. or Armenia — are building their future with one arm tied behind their backs. In a highly competitive world, Armenia needs all of its brightest, most capable people participating in governance and in other leadership roles in society and business.
This process of including women in public life and leadership roles begins with encouraging, supporting, and recognizing the women throughout Armenia who work every day to make their communities a better place to live. Women, who educate and protect their community’s children, who give voice to the voiceless, and who make right that which they see to be wrong.
Awards like this are important not just because they single out one person’s efforts and one person’s remarkable courage, but also because they bring attention to the many daily acts of courage of women — and men — throughout Armenia, who are working to create positive change and to build the foundation for a stable, just, and prosperous Armenia.
Events such as this spread awareness of the problems that all of our societies face and encourage others to get involved as well. As the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “… to leave the world a better place … to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Tonight, we honor Ms. Mariam Sukhudyan, a remarkable young woman of courage. An ecologist, an advocate for vulnerable groups, a good and decent woman who saw a wrong … and knew that she needed to act to try to right it.
Ms. Sukhudyan has a long history of volunteer work. She has campaigned to protect Armenia’s forests, wildlife and environment. She has volunteered in schools for special needs children. When she arrived at Nubarashen Special School Number 11 and found neglect and abuse of the children in its care, she knew that she had to act to stop it and to speak out against the abuse of children at the hands of those who should be protecting them. Not just for those individual children. And certainly not for her own benefit. But for justice, for the welfare of this country’s children, and for the future of Armenia as a country where the rule of law prevails.
This past December, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton challenged all of us when she said , “Every one of us carries the same responsibility and the same opportunity as Eleanor Roosevelt or Aung San Suu Kyi, and history will hold us to the same standards. We will be judged by what we’ve done to try to help those others who do not have the rights that we take for granted.”
Mariam Sukhudyan certainly lives up this standard. She acted with courage to help children whose rights were being infringed and who could not speak for themselves. Bravo, Mariam, and congratulations.