Travel Diary: Secretary Clinton Holds a Town Hall on Global Youth Issues in Tunisia

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
February 26, 2012

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered remarks on youth at a Town Hall in Tunis, Tunisia on February 25, 2012. Secretary Clinton said, "Now, the future is always somewhat uncertain, but what is certain to me is that it will be the young people of Tunisia who determine what the future will be. And many have asked: Why after so many years did change finally come to Tunisia and that change here in Tunisia spark change across the Arab world? And why did young people here in Tunisia strike the first blows for freedom and opportunity?

"Well, the first and general answer is that the rights and dignity of human beings cannot be denied forever, no matter how oppressive a regime may be. The spirit of human rights and human dignity lives within each of us, and the universal aspirations have deep and lasting power. A second reason is that you belong to a remarkable generation of young people, not only here in Tunisia, but across the world. It is an optimistic, innovative, impatient young people that I see everywhere I travel. Because in addition to your own courage and determination, there are underlying dynamics that are affecting young people everywhere -- changes in demographics and technology, economics and politics that are bringing together this unique moment in history.

"Young people are at the heart of today's great strategic opportunities and challenges, from rebuilding the global economy to combating violent extremism to building sustainable democracies. And I have fought, as some of you know -- some of the women that I was just saying hello to who are leading change here in Tunisia -- I have fought for years to put women's empowerment on the international agenda. I think it's time to put youth empowerment there as well.

"Now I realize, being young, you may be skeptical. It was a long time ago, but I remember being young myself. But the needs and concerns of young people have been marginalized too long by political and economic leaders. And the fact is today, the world ignores youth at its peril, because just look at the demographics. From Latin America to the Middle East to Sub-Saharan Africa to Southeast Asia, we are seeing what experts call a youth bulge. There are now more than 3 billion people under the age of 30 in the world. Ninety percent of them live in the developing world. And the numbers continue to grow.

"And you are living in a world that your parents, and certainly your grandparents, could never have imagined -- satellite television, the internet, Facebook. My late mother used to say, 'What is this about faces on the internet?' (Laughter.) And new communications technologies shrink your world but expand your horizons. Now everybody can see how others are living -- living in prosperity, dignity, and freedom, and they rightly want those things for themselves. And we can also see, as we have seen, terribly over the last weeks, what's happening in Syria. And I really commend the Tunisian Government for hosting the conference which was held yesterday."

Secretary Clinton continued, "So here's what the United States is trying to do. We're forming youth councils at our embassies and consulates to have direct contact with young people like yourselves, because for every problem, we want to seek a solution. We've also created an Office of Global Youth Issues in Washington to ensure ways to partner with you. And we have a young 24-year-old activist, Ronan Farrow, who's here today, who is our advisor on global youth issues.

"To paraphrase Steve Jobs, we not only need to think different; we need to think big, because if we don't, we will miss this moment in history. Now what do young people want? I think they want the same thing as what all of us want -- peace, prosperity, and dignity, a chance to participate, a chance for your voices and your votes to be heard and counted.

"And there are tried and true approaches that work. In economics, we need to encourage entrepreneurship. And we have here representatives from NAPEO. Where are our NAPEO representatives? We have Tunisians who have been successful in business who are partnering with us and others to create more economic opportunities. It is focused primarily on creating jobs for young people. And we've created the Global Entrepreneurship Program that connects investors with young people who have good ideas and are willing to work hard to see them realized.

"For example, this past fall, we sent a delegation of American investors and business leaders to Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria to meet and mentor young entrepreneurs. One of the people they met was a 25-year-old Algerian who is pioneering new e-commerce tools for communities with limited access to financial services. He came from a poor village in Algeria, and he knew that the people in his village did not have access to credit, did not have access to markets, yet they had cell phones. So using cell phones, he is providing applications that give people access to credit, to mobile banking, to information about how to start a business and how to build a business plan. An accomplished Tunisian scientist along with other Tunisian entrepreneurs have received scholarships to study business and further develop their ideas in America.

"We're going to build a momentum by organizing a Global Youth Jobs Alliance to bring in more partners and reach more people. And one area we're going to emphasize is expanding English language training all over the world, and especially here in Tunisia, because English has become the language of commerce, and to great extent the language of the internet, although obviously it's available in other languages. But it serves as a port of entry into the global economy. The Peace Corps is returning to Tunisia, and they will be emphasizing speaking English. We're using the internet to do English language instruction. We're already helping thousands of Tunisian young people with job placement and skills training. And we want to expand university educational exchange programs between the United States and Tunisia. This spring, a team of expert educators from America will travel to the Maghreb to build new links with regional business schools and training centers.

"Ultimately, we know what government needs to do. They need to crack down on corruption wherever it occurs, crack down on cronyism wherever it occurs, and diversify their economies and open their markets. I hear sometimes from leaders in this region that there is a certain fear about opening their economies, but I think that does a great disservice to the people of these countries that have so much energy, and especially to young people. Opening the economies will particularly advantage the young people of Tunisia and other places."

Secretary Clinton concluded, "So I think we're at an especially important moment. And I want to speak directly to the young women who are here, and those you represent across Tunisia, the region, and around the world, because some of the obstacles that young women face are unique. In too many places in the world today, laws and customs make it harder for women to start a business, run for office, even make personal decisions. Tunisia has stood out as a place that protected the rights of women and sent a message that there was no contradiction between culture and religion and opportunity and empowerment. And so for the young women and the young men who are here, Tunisia will need all of its sons and daughters in order to have the success you are seeking.

"We know something about how hard it is to build a democracy. We have been working at it for a very long time. We are now the oldest democracy in the history of the world, but we had lots of obstacles along the way. We fought a civil war to free African Americans who had been slaves. We had to amend our Constitution to let women vote. We continue to try to perfect our democracy. So don't be too impatient, but don't be in any way complacent. You have to keep those two in mind at the same time.

"Each of you deserve the same opportunity to live up to your own God-given potential. And I am very confident -- I am very, very confident that Tunisia will be successful because of you. Thank you very much."

You can read a transcript of the Secretary's remarks here.



February 26, 2012

Ayman in Malaysia writes:

Excellent the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton


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