Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking Monday at Wellesley College, urged young women in the Middle East and North Africa to dedicate themselves toward building democracies in their countries.
Clinton appeared at her alma mater as Wellesley opened the new Women in Public Service Institute.
About a year after the protests and revolutions of the Arab Spring roiled the region, Clinton warned that the fragile democracies now emerging could shut women out if they do not make their voices heard.
“If you do not participate, others will hijack your revolution,” she said. “They will very often begin, from the first day, to undermine the hopes and aspirations that you were protesting for.”
The institute is part of the Women in Public Service Project, founded by Clinton, the U.S. State Department, and the sister schools Wellesley, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke and Smith, with the goal of putting more women into political leadership positions around the world.
At Wellesley, 50 delegates – rising leaders from 21 countries in the midst of political and social transformation – will plunge into a two-week intensive course on the nuts and bolts of political leadership. They will learn how to move legislation, hold a press conference, negotiate a peace agreement – skills that Clinton said mark the transition “from protest to politics.”
The institute will rotate to each founding school every year, said Clinton.
Many of the Wellesley delegates, according to the college, participated in the Arab Spring, a series of uprisings that began in December of 2010 when the citizens of Tunisia revolted against dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Ben Ali fled the country a month later. A wave of protests followed in other countries.
“You are among the young people transforming a region and inspiring the world,” Clinton told them. “We are looking to you for your leadership to turn the promise of change into real and lasting progress.”
But the numbers, said Clinton, show a global politics in which the voices of women often go unheard. Women occupy less than 20% of seats in parliaments and legislatures around the world, she said. The goal of the institute is to bring that number up to 50% by 2050.
“What happened in the Middle East and Northern Africa was such an explosion of opportunity, yet it had to be seized,” said Clinton. “If we didn’t have a group of young women who were prepared to claim their right to participate, the process, I feared, would be tilted against women’s rights and opportunities.”
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