Remarks by Vice President Harris In a Moderated Conversation With Ambassador Marykay Carlson and Young Women
AMBASSADOR CARLSON: Wow. Great to see everyone. Thank you so much. I’m MaryKay Carlson, the U.S. Ambassador. It is my honor to be here to help moderate today.
I am so honored that we are here to recognize and be with Vice President Kamala Harris. And I want to thank all of you all for joining us and thank especially all of our friends who have helped make this event possible.
Vice President Harris is a fearless advocate and champion for women and girls. She is using her global leadership to advance the standing and status of women around the world. When she travels abroad and throughout her diplomatic and foreign policy engagements, the Vice President deliberately and consistently prioritizes gender issues, and makes an effort to meet with and lift up in the stories of women in each country she visits. That is why we are all gathered here today.
This builds on her work throughout her entire career fighting for women and girls. As District Attorney of San Francisco, Attorney General of California, a United States Senator, and now as Vice President, she has fought for the health, safety, and wellbeing of women.
Now, please join me in standing to welcome Vice President Kamala Harris.
Please have a seat. All right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon!
AMBASSADOR CARLSON: We are so excited to get started. Thank you so much, Vice President, for being here with us.
You made history last year, becoming the first female Vice President of the United States, an event that inspired so many women and children all around the world. And I know so many young women here today are excited to hear from you. So thank you so much for being here.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Ambassador Carlson. It’s good to be here. And it’s good to see so many young leaders. This makes me so excited about the future of our world.
So I look forward to our discussion, but it is good to see all of you.
AMBASSADOR CARLSON: All right, let’s get started.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let’s do that.
AMBASSADOR CARLSON: As Vice President, you’ve traveled all around the world, on behalf of the Biden-Harris administration, working to strengthen alliances and partnerships. And this is your second trip already to Southeast Asia. You’ve met with more than 100 world leaders.
Can you tell us a little more about your global work and, in particular, your engagement with women and girls, which I know you’ve made an effort to meet with along your travel? What is your approach?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I start from the belief that you can judge the status of democracies, judge the status of societies based on the status of women and certainly based on the status of women and girls.
And so, if we want to measure how well we are doing, well, then let us take a look at how are women and girls in our societies, in our nations. How are they doing? And that is — that is my approach. That is how I think about it.
And I think about it in the context of understanding the capacity but also understanding the struggles, understanding the accomplishments but also understanding the disparities.
But, always, I approach this from a perspective of believing that anything and everything is possible as long as we have the courage and ability to articulate what is wrong and what the solution looks like.
And, thankfully, on so many of the issues where there are disparities and inequities, the solutions don’t require that much creative thought. The solutions are really quite at hand in terms of what we know anecdotally, what we know because we have studied these issues, we’ve debated these issues, and we’ve lived these issues. So I come at it, on a macro level, from that perspective as a whole.
AMBASSADOR CARLSON: Thank you.
I know that you just met backstage with leading Filipino human rights activists. What is your message to those who are fighting for human rights?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Don’t give up.
So, there is so much about the fight for human rights that requires us to remember that we are not alone, because it is a very — it is a — it requires movements. It requires working against systems that have been designed, in many situations, to neglect, if not be more affirmative, in overlooking or even attacking human rights. So when I think about the fight for human rights, I think about it in the context of what it requires for the fighters.
And one of the things it requires is that you remember you are not alone. And when I spoke with the leaders backstage that I spoke with, that was one of the points that I made and that we discussed.
Because fighting for human rights means, one, obviously, starting with a recognition where there are violations of human rights. That means seeing some of the worst of human behaviors. That means understanding and seeing what suffering looks like, what pain looks like, what unfairness looks like.
And for someone and anyone who has a level of empathy and understanding about that, it requires a great level of endurance to stick with it — if you care about it and you understand what it means.
So I start by saying, “Remember, you are not alone, and it matters.”
And then we have to also talk about it in the context of understanding — we talked about, for example, the universality of human rights. Human rights are not — they are — they are rights. You know, in the United States, we talk about “inalienable rights,” “God-given rights.”
And I think it’s important to start from our perspective of knowing, not just believing — but knowing you’re born with rights; you’re born with these rights. You are not asking someone to do you the favor through the benevolence of their existence to grant you these rights. They are your rights — God given.
And I think it’s always important to remember that in the fight for human rights and then to remember, therefore, there’s a universality about those rights.
So we will not measure the rights that people have — the human rights based on cultures or nations but based on universal principles, the universal principles that should be grounded in an understanding of equality, grounded in an understanding of the freedom individuals should be able to have as a right to exercise certain decisions for themselves about their lives.
As a general matter, that’s how I see it.
AMBASSADOR CARLSON: Thank you very much. Now, our next question comes from an audience member, Pamela Mejia.
And she said, “I am a fashion, social entrepreneur. There is gender bias and inequality for women entrepreneurs. How do you think that we can increase the equity and the opportunity for women?”
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, one of the issues for women around the globe — and in particular entrepreneurs, but women around the globe — is access to capital. And that is one of the ways that we must be very targeted in our approach to — to measure and assess whether women have equal opportunity to have access to capital to start a business, for example; equal access to banking systems; equal access to financial literacy. All of those things that are absolutely critical to being able to then have a good idea, have a vision, have a dream, and then, through hard work, implement it and get it going in a way that invariably will benefit their family, their community, and all of society will benefit.
You know, on the issue of — of the economic wellbeing of women, I think we all know, and I feel very strongly, you lift up the economic status of a woman. Her family will be lifted. Her community will be lifted. All of society will benefit. Lift up the economic status of women, and all of society benefits.
But then the question becomes, “Well, okay, how do we get there?” Access to capital is one.
We talked about human rights previously. So among the rights that I believe that people have is the right to be free from violence, to be free from fear — those things that will be an impediment to growth, to success, to having dreams, to having vision.
So when we connect these issues, there is the connection between what should be a human right to live free from fear, to live in a safe situation that allows one to then thrive around things like having an idea, of being innovative — to the point of the person who asked the question, to be able to start something and grow it.
AMBASSADOR CARLSON: Without having to second-guess yourself all the time. What is this going to do? How is this going to affect my family? The fears that — sorry, the fears that, really, a lot of men don’t — don’t have to face.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the fears that also come — I mean, one of the — the — there is a real correlation also between violence against women and gender violence and the economic status of women. And there’s plenty of data to show when you lift up the economic status of women, they are less likely to be in fear for their physical safety. And often, it is as simple as because she then has an option and does not have to live in an environment where she is in threat of her bodily safety or the safety of her children.
I’ve specialized through my careers — for most of my career, I was a prosecutor specializing in crimes of violence against women and children. And the reality of it is that women will endure almost any abuse if it means keeping a roof over the head of their children and being able to feed them.
But if that choice doesn’t have to be made because she has an individual opportunity to achieve economic wellbeing, it is less likely she will be or remain in an environment or a situation that otherwise causes her harm.
AMBASSADOR CARLSON: Thank you very much. Going to our next question, we have a question that’s been submitted by Patricia Matute, a member of the Board of Directors of Ten Accomplished Youth Organization Awards Foundation. And she wants to know, ”Why is it important to have women participate in the political process and serve in leadership positions?”
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It’s so important. (Laughter.) You know, I’ll tell you — so — and I know, Madam Ambassador, you introduced me as being the first in a — my — I was raised by a mother all of five feet tall, who was passionate about — she was a scientist, actually. She was a breast cancer researcher, one of the very few women in that field, who fought always for women’s access to health and dignity in the healthcare system.
And she had two goals in her life: to — to end breast cancer — she was a breast cancer researcher — and to raise her two daughters. All five feet of her. But if you’ve met her, you would have thought she was 10 feet tall.
And she would say to me often as I was growing up, “Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, make sure you’re not the last.” And so, one of the ways that I think about a role of leadership, be it in elected office or in business or in the variety of ways that one can lead, is — is to understand that we will all still — sadly, at this phase of the world — likely be the first or the only in a room.
And it is important to know that the responsibility that we have is to not be the last and to chart a course where others can follow.
I think it is also important to remember that in those situations, be you — as I was talking earlier to human rights leaders, as — as leaders in any way — it is always important to also remember that even though you may be the only one in the room who is fighting for what you are fighting for or thinking about things in the way that you are thinking about them, I’d ask you — right now, actually, at this very moment — to look around the room. Just, everybody, look around the room.
Just look around the room at all the people in this room. And when you’re in those moments, in your role of leadership, where you may be in a situation where you are the only one like you talking about what you are talking about, thinking about what you are thinking about, fighting for what you are fighting for, keep the image of what you just saw in your head and in your heart and know you are not in those situations alone.
That is critically important — critically important.
And so, therefore — there’s more to this — when you are in those situations, understand that while we applaud you for being in those situations, we have also charged you with the responsibility for being in those situations chin up, shoulders back, owning your voice, and speaking with the authority that you bring into that room.
Because half of it is knowing that what you are thinking and what you are feeling is legitimate and important and must be heard. And in that way, it’s bigger than you. So don’t think it’s about, “Oh, is it okay for me to say this?” Yes, because we have charged you with being in that room to speak for us.
It’s important to remember that and to know everyone is applauding you when you do.
AMBASSADOR CARLSON: Thank you very much. Very important not to be the last. (Applause.) You may be the first, but don’t be the last. I like that.
And our final question comes from attorney Maan Espinosa, another member of the audience. And she wrote in, “I lead a project called Project Urduja to empower young Filipinas to lead and be positive changemakers. The journey so far has its ups and downs. What is your advice for emerging leaders like me on how to sustain motivation and passion?”
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, it is — there’s a lot. One, know that you stand on the shoulders of people who came before you, who have charted the course to do what you are doing as young leaders.
So, I’m going to mention three women: Josefa Escoda, Concepción Calderon, and Cory Aquino, who were all in their 20s — in their 20s, when they started becoming known in their role of leadership. And so, part of what you must remember is that there are people who came before you who charted a course for you then to pick up the mantle.
And the way that I think about it is, you know, like relay racing. You know, you race and someone passes the baton and then — right? So, that’s what life is. It’s basically a relay race.
And so, the people who are heroes, whichever gender they are, they ran their part of the race and then they passed us a baton. And the question is: What will we do with the time we carry the baton? Which means there’s no time to get tired. Come on. Right? (Laughter.) You’re going to pass that baton at some point, but right now you’re carrying it. And the question is: What are you doing with it?
You know, there’s — so, you all know of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was — Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who was one of the great fighters for civil rights in the United States. And his wife, her name was Coretta Scott King. She too was a fighter for civil rights.
And she had a saying — which I repeat all the time, so I will share it with you. I’ll paraphrase it. She said the fight for justice, the fight for human rights, the fight for equality, the fight for fairness — she said that fight “must be fought and won with each generation.”
I think she had two points. One is that it is the very nature of these processes, these fights that whatever gains are made, they will not be permanent unless we are vigilant to keep them up.
Well, the second point, then, necessarily is: And therefore, knowing that’s the nature of it all, do not despair, do not be overwhelmed, do not be despondent, do not throw up your hands when it’s time to roll up your sleeves. It’s the nature of it.
And this is the thing that has fueled every movement that has been about progress is an understanding of that but also the optimism that fuels everything that we are doing.
Never think of what you’re doing as fighting against something. You’re fighting for something.
Well, isn’t that a noble pursuit? To fight for something that is motivated out of a belief and principles and faith in knowing things can be improved, things can be better. That’s optimism; that’s not despair. That’s optimism. And in that way, then, never let anyone take your joy from you.
I call myself a joyful warrior. (Laughter.) Right? Never let anyone take your joy from you. You do what you got to do.
And isn’t that a wonderful way to live? To know you have purpose. To know you can make a difference. To know — as you must know, I implore you — you must know you make and will make a difference invariably in the lives of people you may never meet, invariably in the lives of people who may never know your name or my name.
But if you stick with it, you will forever have an impact. Even if it’s on your little sister or brother or your cousin or your neighbor, you will have an impact by just the model of who you are — a model of someone who cares about their community, cares about their society, cares about the future of those things and the future of the world. What a noble pursuit. It matters.
AMBASSADOR CARLSON: Thank you so much for those inspirational words and for encouraging us to look around and get that energy from each other. (Applause.) You’ve certainly given us a lot to think about.
And I would also like to thank the members of our audience for submitting the questions that we had today.
And especially thank you to our Vice President, Kamala Harris, for being here with us today and for joining this very important conversation. Thank you all.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Thank you. (Applause.)