As the U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s issues, I want to extend greetings to all of you gathered in Belfast for the first Women in Law and Business conference and to applaud you for supporting the important role that women play in the legal profession. You are part of a long tradition of women leaders in Northern Ireland who as peace builders, public servants, human rights advocates and businesswomen and more have made enormous contributions to building a better life for all the people of Northern Ireland.
Secretary Clinton — a lawyer by profession — has been deeply committed to the advancement of women’s progress around the globe. As you know, as First Lady, she strongly supported the critical role of the women in Northern Ireland in the peace process and in advancing economic opportunity. I remember so well — because I was with her — the many trips to Belfast that she made to recognize and lift up the vital voices of Northern Ireland — women across your great land who were making a difference in creating a better future. As she said when she launched the Northern Ireland Vital Voices Initiative which was a State Department program that she led in 1998, “We are here to advance the cause of women and to advance the cause of democracy, and to make it clear that the two are inseparable.” Returning as Secretary of State, speaking at Belfast City Hall, she acknowledged the same women for their unwavering commitment and extraordinary contributions to political and economic progress in the region.
This conference in which you are participating is providing opportunities to hone your skills, to network, to grow one’s expertise in the law and so much more. It is yet another example of women’s leadership in Northern Ireland. All around the world women in the law, whether as judges, prosecutors, professors, practicing attorneys, human rights advocates and more are ensuring that justice and the rule of law are a reality in the life of their societies. Women in the law are active in so many critical ways: ensuring that laws are implemented and enforced, that perpetrators of violence against women are prosecuted, that women’s rights are indeed protected as human rights, that equality under the law is a reality, that corruption is attacked, ethics advanced. In some places women in the law face enormous challenges, even threats to their lives.
You are part of this noble tradition. You are women making a difference. A few years ago, the State Department sponsored two outstanding women judges from Northern Ireland to meet with their American counterparts.
Melody McReynolds and Ruth Collins inspired their American hosts because of their commitment to professional excellence and equality. They, like all of you, epitomized the benefit that women lawyers bring to the legal system.
I have traveled to Northern Ireland more times than I can count since my first trip in 1995 with then First Lady Hillary Clinton and over many years since through Vital Voices. I have come to know the great women leaders of Northern Ireland, some are well-known, most are not, but each of them has made an enormous contribution to their society, to peace, economic progress and justice.
Your achievements are part of this great tapestry. You not only are a tribute to your profession in Northern Ireland, you are an inspiration to women around the globe who are struggling for their rights and for progress in their countries. You are women in the law—women who make a difference!
I wish you a rewarding conference and I thank you for all that you do and will do.