Public Opening of Global Colloquium of University Presidents

April 4, 2011

By Amy Gutmann

Good evening. It’s my pleasure to welcome you to the Opening Session of the Fifth Annual Global Colloquium of University Presidents. It’s also my pleasure to welcome university presidents and faculty experts from 24 universities—representing 18 countries—in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Australia, South America, and North America. Our special guests include U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and U.N. Under Secretary-General, Michelle Bachelet.    As we gather, we are all deeply saddened by the deaths of U.N. workers in Afghanistan last week….and in the Congo today.  They gave their lives working to bring peace and prosperity to every corner of the global community, and the world is better for the difference and contribution they made.  

The Global Colloquium was initiated by five university presidents in response to the Secretary-General’s request for greater involvement of the global academic community in exploring international public policy.  The five sponsoring Universities are: Columbia, NYU, Penn, Princeton, and Yale. We annually convene the Global Colloquium on behalf of the Secretary-General. Twenty to twenty-five University Presidents from around the world join each Colloquium to discuss an important and timely topic. Each president is accompanied by a faculty expert.

The topics we address here range from academic freedom…to the social benefits of the research university…to sustainability and global climate change… to the role of science in meeting global challenges.

The focus of this, our Fifth Global Colloquium, is empowering women to change the world. Empowering women was the goal of the great American suffragist, Susan B. Anthony.  135 years ago—and several blocks from here—Susan B. Anthony stood in front of Independence Hall—the birthplace of American democracy—and read her now famous “Declaration of Rights for Women.” Anthony asked for “no special favors, no special privileges, no special legislation. We ask justice, we ask equality, we ask that all the civil and political rights that belong to [male] citizens…be guaranteed to us and our daughters forever.”

The quest for equal rights for women and girls has echoed throughout history.  We hear it as early as the first century of the Common Era, when Ban Zhao—the first female Chinese historian—wrote her Admonitions for Women.  In it, she states, “In the Book of Rites, [an anthology of articles by Confucian scholars], it is said boys are taught to read, and at fifteen they are sent to school. Girls should be taught in accordance with this model as well.”  

We hear it when feminist Simone de Beauvoir writes that “Society, being codified by man, decrees that woman is inferior…”  

And we hear it in the words of Wangari Maathi [wan-garee maat-hi]—the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize—when she writes that “African women in general need to know that it's OK for them to be the way they are…to be liberated from fear and from silence.”

Today, this quest resonates in every corner of the global community.
It resonates when we learn that six out of ten of the world’s poorest people are women and girls…
It resonates when we recognize that two-thirds of the world’s adult illiterates are women…
It resonates when the WHO tells us that 30 to 60 percent of women in most countries have experienced violence at the hands of a husband or boyfriend….

And, as Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn write in Half the Sky, it resonates when more girls have been killed in the last fifty years—simply because they are girls—than men killed in all the battles of the twentieth century.

Today, we gather not simply to listen to these facts—but to respond.  

It’s fitting that we do this, here, in Philadelphia, which was one of centers of the early women’s rights movement in the United States. And it’s fitting that we do this, here, at Penn. Penn has long been the home of empowered women:  from Penn alumna and suffragette Alice Paul, who founded the National Women’s Party…to alumna Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, the first African-American woman in this country to earn a Ph.D…to the present. But our goal is still an aspiration…and our work far from complete.

All of us assembled here—women and men alike—share a fundamental conviction: that the world will only realize its full potential—and not just economically—when women are empowered.  …When women can fulfill their promise…  …When women can manage their lives…  …And when women have a voice in the decisions that shape their futures.  As Burmese freedom fighter, and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Aung San Suu Kyi noted, “The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring,   tolerant,   just   and peaceful life for all.”  

The empowerment and true equality of women remains a worthy and urgent goal for all societies—not just those in the developing world or developed world.  It’s a goal, as Susan B. Anthony recognized, that asks for “no special favors, no special privileges.” It’s a goal to be reached if we don’t want to squander the potential of half the global community. And it’s a goal that all of us can do our part to achieve.    How we do our part is what we’re here to discuss.  

We couldn’t have a greater supporter in this effort than our pre-eminent guest, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.  The Secretary-General has made gender equality central to all of his work at the U.N.  He has established a new U.N. agency—headed by Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile—to deal with all gender issues.  The Secretary-General has focused the world’s attention on the global epidemic of violence against women—in the home, workplace, public squares, and civil society.

Speaking on the occasion of International Women's Day 2010, the Secretary-General eloquently noted that "gender equality and women's empowerment are fundamental to the global mission of the UN to achieve equal rights and dignity for all….But equality for women and girls is also an economic and social imperative. Until women and girls are liberated from poverty and injustice, all our goals—peace, security, sustainable development —stand in jeopardy."

The Secretary-General’s entire career has been devoted to peace, security, sustainable development, and equal rights for all. Before his tenure as Secretary-General in 2007, Ban Ki-moon served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the Republic of Korea. His long tenure with the Ministry included postings in New Delhi, Washington D.C., and Vienna. He also served as both Foreign Policy Adviser and Chief National Security Adviser to the President.

Throughout his service, Ban Ki-Moon’s guiding vision was to ensure a peaceful, and prosperous, Korean peninsula.  As part of his efforts, in September 2005, he played a leading role in bringing about the “Joint Statement on Resolving the North Korean Nuclear Issue,” a landmark agreement at the “six party talks.”

 The Secretary-General’s ties with the United Nations date back over three decades, to 1975, when he worked for the Foreign Ministry's U.N. Division.  Later positions included Chief of Staff to the President of the General Assembly.

Above all, Ban Ki-Moon is a most ardent and admirable advocate for global peace and cooperation—for human rights, and women’s rights.  It’s our great privilege to welcome to Penn, and to the Fifth Global Colloquium, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.