Hamjambo, mabibi na mabwana. Mambo! Habari zenu! Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome.
Tonight, we celebrate phenomenal women in Kenya and around the world. These women come from all walks of life and are exceptional for different reasons. They are making countless contributions to building a better world, and doing so with wisdom, energy, compassion and grace.
Some of these phenomenal womenare here tonight and ladies, we celebrate you and thank you for all that you do. Tonight, we are going to hear from some of you, including Zohra Baraka of the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, and Ruth Knaust of My Dress My Choice, now known as Her Voice. We have already been hearing from Atemi Oyungu, an extremely talented jazz musician who has already had hits, to include her song “Happy.” The Nairobi Muslim Academy’s Choir is also here tonight,
and will perform for us in a few minutes. This group includes 15 very talented young women, all of whom are destined for great things.
And, we have the opportunity tonight to see the work of three very talented artists: Emily Odongo, Wambui Kamiru and Mary Ogembo. Thank you for agreeing to display your work this evening. Kenya has a vibrant art scene, and I’m thrilled to have the chance
to exhibit some of it tonight.
Finally, we have a poet here, Terry Wambui, who will recite “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou.
Maya was, of course, one of the phenomenal women I referred to. She was exceptional for so many reasons. She was a survivor – she persevered despite being victimized by sexual assault, the hardships of single parenthood and poverty, and the terrible racial segregation and discrimination of the period when she grew up in the United States. Nevertheless, she went on to become one of the finest writers of the 20th century.
When asked about her life goals she said, “My mission is not merely to survive but to thrive, and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”I think we can all agreethat she succeeded.
The fact is, every one of the women here has an amazing story to tell and an amazing journey. I hope you have the opportunity this evening to share your story with someone who does not yet know it.
For just a moment, now, I would like to reflect on seizing the future. The theme of International Women’s Day this year was “Making it Happen.” And the good news is – in Kenya and across the world, women are making it happen. In every area – in business, in politics, in art, in activism – women are making great strides.
Only a year ago, an extremely talented Kenyan actress named Lupita reminded us that “no matter who you are or where you’re from, your dreams are valid.” Time and again, we have seen that to be true. When women are free to dream and to achieve, everyone prospers. In business, women now lead some of the most important and advanced companies in the world, including Ginni Rometty at IBM and Marillyn Hewson at Lockheed Martin. In medicine, since 2008 four Nobel Prizes have been awarded to women, from Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who helped to discover HIV, to Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider, who uncovered fundamental processes in human genetics. By themselves, these three women have changed the lives of millions of people for the better, and countless more will benefit from their work in future.
And, of course, when discussing the Nobel Prize, I can’t fail to mention the extraordinary Wangari Maathai.
We owe Wangari so very much for her work in conservation and, far more broadly, for her leadership in building peace. So, tonight we celebrate women… their accomplishments and contributions across history.
But, as we do so, we should also remember that the work of ensuring equality and equal treatment for women is not yet done. Still, today, violence against women continues and is widespread in far too many places.
Female genital mutilation remains a serious, deadly and all too pervasive problem. Too many girls are denied education, forced into early marriages, or held in virtual servitude. And, too many women are still denied the right to vote, equal pay for equal work, or even the opportunity to work at all. This must stop. This must stop now.
For the women and girls, first and foremost, but also for all of us. For, as Secretary of State Kerry said, no country can get ahead leaving half its people behind.
So, I would ask that, this evening, as we celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of women, we also recommit ourselves to the challenge of ensuring equal rights and treatment for women. One day it will happen.
One day soon, we will celebrate our differences. One day soon, people will stop using our differences as an excuse for senseless discrimination or even violence. Together, step by step, action by action, day by day, we can make the dream of equality and equal treatment a reality for everyone. And that day will also be one for celebration.
To all of the women here, again, thank you so much for your many extraordinary contributions. And to everyone, thank you so much for joining me this evening.
Pamoja tusonge mbele. Asanteni sana!