Just a month ago at the conclusion of the second "U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese State Councilor Liu Yandong announced the launch of the U.S.-China Women's Leadership Exchange and Dialogue (Women-LEAD). This week, the initiative began to crystallize with the arrival of 30 Chinese women leaders in Washington, D.C., to embark on a leadership exchange and partnership as part of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Under the auspices of Yale University and the All China Women's Federation (ACWF), the Chinese delegation will participate in seminars in New Haven and meet with counterparts in several other U.S. cities over the next few weeks. The Yale-ACWF collaboration, the first of several new public-private partnerships forged under the U.S.-China Women-LEAD Initiative, has developed a management and leadership program tailored to senior Chinese women leaders and provide a platform to enhance exchanges and high level dialogues between women from the two countries.
The morning of the May 10 inaugural event, rolled out the first Women-LEAD program. I had the opportunity to meet the delegation and introduce them to Mona Locke, a first generation Chinese-American, successful journalist, and wife of Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. During the course of the morning session, we discussed a range of issues and discovered we shared much common ground, despite as one Chinese delegate put it, “the distance between us.” The Chinese delegation expressed many of the same concerns voiced by women in our own society, from the challenges of work-life balance and dealing with difficult social issues such as domestic violence and divorce, to fulfilling the aspirations of rising up through the corporate ladder or serving in national and local governments. The Women-LEAD initiative will provide women with a platform to build partnerships across multiple sectors, from programs to grow agriculture programs in rural China to training women in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. Building such cooperation among women across various sectors is crucial to the future of our two powerful nations as well as to the global economy.
Given the caliber, professionalism, and tenacity of this first group of Chinese participants, I am confident that Women-LEAD is off to a good start. It is a powerful and crucial element to the overall U.S.-China relationship, and as Secretary Clinton noted, this first session of Women-LEAD was not an end unto itself, but “just the beginning.” The inclusion of women must not be separate from the broader aspects of U.S.-China relations, but rather must be part and parcel of our overall engagement. We can never forget their voices and the valuable contributions they can make towards better governance, economic growth, and human rights. They are the faces of China's extraordinary transition. Many of them were called to action over 15 years ago in Beijing at the Fourth UN Conference on Women, when then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton first proclaimed “women's rights are human rights, and human rights are women's rights.”
Our first session of Women-LEAD is an opportunity to recommit to this vision. The women have attained much despite the challenges and obstacles they have had to face. They serve as a testament to the progress that has been gained and a stark reminder of the unfinished business that remains with regard to achieving full equality for women even in one of the world's biggest and fastest growing economies. These dialogues between women are necessary to keep the momentum of progress moving forward, and to lay the groundwork of lasting peace and prosperity. Indeed, several of our Chinese counterparts summed up this initial encounter as a much needed dialogue that had already helped to “close the distance” between our two countries.