I am delighted to welcome you all to Jordan for this important international conference… as we gather to launch the Global Women's Action Network for Children.
And “global” we are. Looking around the room, I see women here from as near as Bahrain and as far away as Botswana and Bolivia . Indeed, from the podium, it feels like I am at the UN General Assembly… though I will say, this group of delegates is much more vibrantly dressed…!
I am delighted to see so many old friends… and let me say a special thank you to Marian Wright Edelman… Mary Robinson… Madeleine Albright… Melanne Verveer… and Mahnaz Afkhami. I think it is a very auspicious sign that a conference focused on women and children has been convened by five women whose names all basically start with the syllable “Ma”… which corresponds to the word for “mother” in so many languages of the world! The five of you have labored hard to bring this network to life – and now it is up to all of us to help it grow big and strong.
I also want to acknowledge my colleagues from Jordan 's National Council for Family Affairs, who are doing so much to make Jordan fit for children… and Jordan 's children fit for the world.
And I look forward to making many new friends here as well… as we share experiences… examine challenges… and explore solutions together.
I am especially pleased to be hosting all of you here in the land I call home. Last month, we in Jordan were proud to celebrate our 60 th anniversary of independence… yet we believe that the driving force of modern times is inter dependence. In the 21 st century, no country can afford to stand apart from the world. To thrive, it must be a part of the world – and Jordan is embracing that challenge.
Likewise, people today are interconnected as never before – through ties of commerce… culture… communication… and a growing moral consciousness that tells us it is wrong to leave strangers to suffer when we have the means to help them at hand.
You all understand that. And that is why you have come to the Dead Sea – as officials… experts… artists… and activists… from every corner of the planet… to launch a new network that tackles some of humanity's oldest tragedies: The needless deaths of millions of mothers and babies every year… and the wasted potential of tens of millions of girls who are kept out of school.
Some women in this room know from personal experience what it feels like to grow up in poverty… to walk miles for medicine… or to struggle for schooling… in a country that has little to give.
But many of us were lucky to be born in societies and circumstances where access to health care and education could almost be taken for granted. A simple stroke of geographic luck sets our lives on a hopeful trajectory.
Yet, women and children should not have to depend on luck for their shot at a future.
Life is not a game.
And as I stand here… 35 years old… the mother of four children… with so many goals and adventures and dreams for my family to look forward to…I imagine a baby born the same day as me in a village in Sierra Leone… where the average life expectancy is 34 years old. What has happened to that little girl?
It is simply wrong, in this age of high-speed, hi-tech innovation, that millions of people around the world are scrabbling just to survive. By building bridges between powerful leaders and organizations for women and children, our Action Network aims to chart a path of progress that all can follow.
We will work on two tracks – as bold and persistent advocates for women and children… and as actors who mobilize political will to do what we know works … to turn the tide on maternal mortality… inequality… and children's suffering.
It will not be easy – for as all of you know, the trends today are grim.
For every minute I speak to you, a woman will die from pregnancy or childbirth.
For every day we spend together, 22,000 infants will perish.
And in poor countries, some 58 million girls are not in school… which leaves them more vulnerable to poverty, violence, illness, and early marriage… and increases the chance they will bequeath a legacy of loss to the next generation – not only lost opportunities for themselves, but lost progress and potential for their homelands.
Yet, our desire for change is matched by our conviction that change is possible.
We have seen it ourselves in our own countries, sometimes against difficult odds – as here in Jordan , where we have 99 percent of our girls and boys in primary school… and where we are proud to have recently launched the first comprehensive health web portal in the Arab world.
We have seen it in our regions. Today, Algeria , Egypt , Lebanon , the Palestinian Territories , Qatar , Syria , and Tunisia are also close to the goal of universal primary education. And a number of Arab countries are making good progress in reducing child mortality. In Oman , the mortality of children under five has declined from 30 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 10 per 1,000 in 2004.
But just as importantly, we have been inspired by women far beyond our borders – like the volunteer counselors I met at the Ritanjali Learning Center in a poor district of Delhi, India … who were helping young drop-outs gain the confidence and skills to return to the regular classroom…
…or the teenage girls who came there each day to learn to braid hair and paint henna, so they could earn not just income but a priceless sense of self-worth.
I have been inspired by the teachers I met at the Mother-Child Education Foundation in Istanbul… who were working not only to give Turkey's youngest citizens the best possible start to life, but also empowering underprivileged mothers with literacy and parenting training.
And the South African doctors and nurses I met in the Kangaroo Mother Care Unit in Cape Town … where tiny, fragile, premature babies… no larger than your hand… were cradled in pouches close to the hearts of their scared but devoted mothers…
…a caring, low-cost approach to incubation that maintains the bond between mother and child at a crucial stage of development.
Our challenge now is to multiply these successes on a global scale… to generate a kind of “reverse domino effect,” where every woman lifts another up and passes the gift of strength on.
And as we do, the rewards to humanity will be revealed all around us – as I saw last month during my visit to America , where I had the honor of sharing Oprah Winfrey's stage with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf… and I heard the story of a poor but determined Liberian girl named Patience.
Patience is 12. She lives with her grandmother in a dusty rural village. Her mother died in the civil war. She says her father is not around to help.
But Patience will not have to wait any more for a chance at a better future. She is now in school for the second year. She dreams of becoming a nurse. As she says with a smile, “If a woman can be president, I can be anything.”
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is lifting the girls of her country as she climbs.
Now, let us do the same – we fortunate ones, who are blessed with so many advantages. Let us use our voices to speak for the voiceless… our power to strengthen the powerless.
And let us always remember the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Thank you very much.