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Women: Drivers Of Positive Change

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Empowering women is critical to global progress and prosperity. This was U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's message to the women of Africa.

"This is not just a moral imperative," she said, "it is an economic one as well. When women are accorded their rights and afforded equal opportunities in education, health care and gainful employment, they drive social and economic progress. When they are marginalized and mistreated, as is the case in too many places in Africa," said Secretary Clinton, "prosperity is impossible."

The women of South Africa have helped to make the country an economic anchor for the continent. Across the country, women are leading small and medium-sized businesses that are the foundation of economic progress. One of these entrepreneurs is Sally Marengo. She started the KPL Aluminium and Zinc Die-Casting factory, which now manufactures car parts in Befordview.

Across Africa, women are driving positive change. Kenya's Wangari Maathai has launched an international movement on behalf of environmental stewardship. Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has taken the reins of a nation once gripped by civil war and proven that women can lead at the highest levels.

But in many parts of Africa, and indeed the world, the picture is not so encouraging. Laws deny women the right to own property, access credit or make their own choices within their marriage. Women comprise the majority of the world's poor, unfed, and unschooled. They are subjected to rape as a tactic of war, so-called honor killings, maiming, trafficking, genital mutilation, and other violent degrading practices.

"In the face of such depravity," said Secretary Clinton, "the world must speak with one clear voice: this violence must end." The United States is working to develop partnerships across Africa to ensure that the rights of women are protected and respected, and that they have the opportunity to pursue an education, find a good job, live in safety and fulfill their own potential. The United States believes in Africa's promise. It is a continent of opportunity, home to more than 800 million people -- more than half of them women -- ready to build, create, and thrive.